The rise & rise of Satwik and Chirag

World No 6 partnership become first pair from India to capture BWF World Tour Super 1000 event with success at Indonesia.
India's Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, right, and Chirag Shetty celebrate with their medals and trophies after their victory. (Photo | PTI)
India's Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, right, and Chirag Shetty celebrate with their medals and trophies after their victory. (Photo | PTI)

CHENNAI: The sky is the limit for Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, a supremely talented doubles pair from the country.

Over the years, they have made a habit of rewriting history books with enchanting performances. Before their arrival, this was a far-fetched dream as India could never quite stand toe-to-toe against other elite badminton nations in the men's doubles section.  

Sunday was yet another red-letter day for the Asian champions. Playing in front of a raucous crowd in badminton-crazy Jakarta, Satwik and Chirag were in their element as they captured the Indonesia Open title, thereby winning a BWF Super 1000-level crown for the first time in their career. This is monumental given that the cream of sport were fighting for the top prize and valuable points for Olympic qualification. Incidentally, this is the first time a doubles pair from the country has achieved the same. "Winning in Indonesia is really special. One of our dream tournaments. When we were starting, it was about at least getting an entry to play at Istora. From there, to now winning it, it's been a long journey," Satwik told BWF.

The victory was sweeter as they had, at long last, found answers against Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik of Malaysia, the No 2 seeds who had proven to be thorns in their first eight meetings. On the day, Satwik and Chirag — World No 6 and likely to climb the ladder after the latest hit — played with plenty of purpose.

The sharpness was visible in the way they operated and were especially dominant in net play, forcing their rivals to submission eventually.  Their defence, an aspect that is key at the elite level where margins are fine, was also on point as they won in straight games (21-17, 21-18). "In the earlier eight matches against them, we would hold ourselves back, but today we stuck to the plan. We felt they are humans, they are players, and they will also make mistakes. We stuck to the plan right till the end and never really gave them a chance to come back," Chirag noted.

As the match wore on, the gap was clear to see as the Commonwealth Games champions continued to maintain a stranglehold of the contest. "Even in the second game when they took a couple of points, we were like we don't have to hold ourselves back and play safe. That would have made the game a little slow and they are good at capitalising on," Chirag added.

One massive quality that's engraved in their mental make-up is their humility. That is something that has kept their hunger intact. Soon after pocketing the match, Satwik broke into his version of bhangra-style dance. Chirag was animated as always and had his T-shirt off, soaking in the magical moment. Given what had just transpired, this was a befitting scene. However, they are not getting carried away after this experience, especially after a narrow miss in the Tokyo Olympics. They are aware the road to the upcoming Olympics in Paris is a treacherous one, where just the strongest survive. "We have won this tournament, and next week we have another. We go back and reset. But I am still happy with the way we played. It felt like a new day, playing new opponents. We were down 8-0 in head-to-head, but I wasn't thinking much about it."

Before Sunday's final, the Indian pair had beaten top seeds, Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto of Indonesia, in the quarterfinals before recording a come-from-behind win against Korean pair of Kang Min Hyuk and Seo Seung Jae in the semifinals.
Given the manner in which they have learnt to navigate past rivals with different styles in trying circumstances, Chirag and Satwik's aptitude for the craft is certainly boundless and this bodes well for India ahead of bigger events in the days to unfold.

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The New Indian Express