The electric atmosphere at Istora Senayan can be a formidable challenge for contestants, and particularly for those taking on local favourites. All the more when the challengers are first-timers at elite-level events in Indonesia.
Consequently, when Thom Gicquel and Delphine Delrue kept their heads in an hour-long thriller in the quarterfinals of the Indonesia Masters recently, beating no less a pair than Praveen Jordan and Melati Daeva Oktavianti, expectation turned into certainty. They had arrived.
The French pair, still fairly raw on the circuit – for they are both just 21 – were talking about how “crazy” the experience was. It was just a day after they’d taken down fourth seeds Dechapol Puavaranukroh/Sapsiree Taerattanachai. Beating Jordan/Oktavianti – champions in Denmark and France last year – on their home turf, to reach their first Super 500 semifinal!
“It’s an incredible feeling,” gushed Gicquel. “To beat in a row two top 5 pairs – I’m very happy. In front of this crowd against the Indonesians, it’s crazy. There was a lot of pressure but we were able to keep the focus and enjoy it. We managed to get them into our game, lots of blocks and mid-court.
“For both of us, to play in front of this crowd – it’s the best in the world – we’re happy. It’s a crazy feeling to play in Istora. There’s a lot of pressure because they shout a lot. But we like it.”
The French might not yet have the big titles to their name, but they have been climbing up the ladder and giving the big names a run for their money. The last two years have been exceptional – starting 2018 ranked outside the top 70, the graph has climbed upward steadily. By July last year, they’d broken into the top 20.
Through 2019, they beat many of Europe’s best pairs. A big shot of confidence was upsetting Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino at the Denmark Open last year. With a final at the US Open, and semifinals at the European Games, Canada Open, and the Syed Modi, Gicquel and Delrue served notice of their abilities.
“We knew we had the level, we showed at the Denmark Open where we beat Watanabe and Higashino. So we knew we can do it,” said Gicquel, of their mindset going into the match against Jordan and Oktavianti. “It’s the second year we’re playing the World Tour. The first year was difficult for us, it was hard for us to follow the speed. Now we can do it.”
At Indonesia, the French showed just why they should be counted as one of the most promising young pairs – they were quick, aggressive and unafraid to take their chances.
“I think we believe we can beat the top pairs. When we go on court we are confident and we have an aggressive game, so that’s what works for us,” adds Delrue, who still attends university twice a week (she’s a biology student) when in Paris.
The French duo credit their performance in Indonesia to the three-week training period at the national centre. Many players are in a scramble for Olympic qualifying points, but Gicquel and Delrue – although at No.12 in the Race to Tokyo – say they are focussed on their own game rather than the qualification.
“It’s looking good,” Gicquel acknowledged. “But there are pairs from Chinese Taipei and Russia just behind us, so we have to play our game without thinking of qualification because that will put a lot of stress. We have to just focus on what we can do on court.”