Not long after a significant men’s doubles victory against a top pair, Christo Popov will have to switch his playing mode to singles.
Everything will be different – the sense of space, the shots, the opponent.
Playing Viktor Axelsen on any day is a complex task. It gets even more tricky when he has to prepare for Axelsen a few hours after beating Mark Lamsfuss and Marvin Seidel, Europe’s third highest ranked pair at No.23.
But then, Popov brothers Christo and Toma Junior are a unique commodity in contemporary badminton, with both performing at elite level in singles and doubles. This kind of double-tasking was seen in the early years of the World Championships – Lene Koppen’s gold in singles and mixed doubles in the inaugural year of 1977 is a prime example – but it quickly died out due to the specialisation that set in and the enormous physical and mental demands of playing two vastly different categories.
“It’s not easy, but we have done it for maybe now two years professionally,” said Christo. “We’re getting used to it, but it’s always hard to switch from doubles to singles because it’s not the same pace, not the same shots, not the same footwork on court. I think it’s about getting a really good warmup before the match.”
Sometimes, of course, there is a hangover from singles into doubles and vice-versa. Toma Junior recalls with a laugh how they do tend to get mixed-up in court positioning from time to time.
“It’s not the same in singles and doubles because in doubles we are two on the court and we have to know where the other is. Footwork is important. At the beginning today he played a flat one and I took his side, and the whole court was empty. That happens sometimes.”
How long does it take to re-orient?
“It doesn’t take long,” said Christo. “Sometimes it costs a few points and they may be key points. I’d say maybe two-three points and then we can get a good pace.”
Despite the extra load, they have gained from the additional tools they have added to their arsenal.
“The speed of the racket and also the speed of the game, it’s good to have it in singles as a tool,” said Toma Junior.
Interestingly, they are in a unique position with Paris 2024 coming up, having a shot at qualifying not just in doubles but for two singles places.
“We both want to be in the top 16, and that’s our goal for both of us,” said Toma. “If he wins I’m happy, if I win he’s happy. There are no negative vibes. We have each other’s back.”