Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty are making a custom of creating history. The ever-evolving doubles exponents continue to raise the bar every time. On Friday, the World No 7 scripted another high by becoming the first Indian men's pair to medal at the BWF World Championships. They are the second doubles partnership from the country after Ashwini Ponnappa and Jwala Gutta to bag a medal at the coveted event.
Bringing high energy on the court in Tokyo, where the ongoing edition is being held, the duo were on song against reigning champions and No 2 seeds Takuro Hoki and Yugo Kobayashi. Displaying nerves of steel, they were sharp and displayed a good all-round game to come out on top.
Sporting a bandana, Chirag showed ninja-like reflexes in front of the net while Satwik landed some heavy smashes when the need arose from the back to make their opponents sweat. The level of understanding between the two, who have been playing as a pair since early 2016, was a delight to watch.
After a strong start, the Indians had taken a handy lead and they always looked a step ahead of their rivals. The Japanese pair, as was expected, did show some fight towards the end and also had a couple of opportunities to pocket the opener. But Chirag and Satwik would just not yield. Despite intense pressure, the duo remained unruffled and managed to get out of jail.
The locals showed why they were the reigning champs in the second game and levelled. But Chirag and Satwik didn't hit the panic button. They embraced the moment to replay what they had done in the opening game. The Japanese pair were always chasing and tried to close the gap. But Satwik and Chirag never let them find their rhythm and eventually coasted to the finish line. The final score read 24-22, 15-21, 21-14 in favour of the Indians.
This is a huge return for the doubles duo who had put aside Commonwealth Games celebrations (they had won men's doubles gold) to focus on this event. "From the start itself I was telling myself, 'Don't be satisfied with CWG, you have the World Championships as well'. Once I'm done with the Worlds, maybe I can go celebrate, no matter how I play. But I want to go all-in in this upcoming Worlds," Satwiksairaj had told this newspaper just a few days after their historic gold in Birmingham.
That unforgiving attitude, hunger and drive to constantly improve is something that has seen their stocks grow. The duo had started the year with their first Super 500 title at the India Open. In the Thomas Cup, they had played a pivotal role in helping India do the unthinkable and return with gold. And that was followed by the aforementioned CWG success.
Having a strong figure in the form of Mathias Boe, an Olympic medallist, as a coach has also elevated their game. Boe, a champion operator during his playing days, has made subtle additions to their game, their lifestyle. "During my junior days, I could go out and eat whatever I wanted. Now, I'm realising that I don't have that luxury. Small things make a huge difference. If I go out, I'll be tired and that could affect my game," Satwik had said, when asked about the noticeable changes under Boe.Those small steps, often overlooked by many, are making Satwik and Chirag take giant leaps.
On Saturday, they'll be intent on going the distance. But a stiff test awaits. They'll be up against Malaysian pair of Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik, who are sixth seeds. History is against the Indians as they have never beaten them in five previous meetings.The odds might be stacked against them, but it would be unwise to rule the Indian pair out.
Arjun & Dhruv lose
Friday was a massive learning curve for MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila, the other Indian men's doubles pair. Up against three-time champs and No 2 seeds Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiaman of Indonesia, it was always going to be a huge ask for the No-2 Indian pair. That's what they found out. Arjun and Dhruv just couldn't get going. Playing against serial winners would not have helped. They lacked the energy, especially in the opening game, and eventually lost the match 21-8, 21-14.
In the men’s singles, HS Prannoy’s gritty run came to an end in the quarterfinals. Prannoy, who had beaten former World No 1 Kento Momota and India No 1 Lakshya Sen en route quarters stage, lost 21-19, 6-21, 18-21 against China’s Zhao Jun Peng.