TOKYO: Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty capped off a memorable campaign with a historic bronze medal in the men's doubles competition of the World Championships after going down narrowly to Malaysia's Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik in the semifinals here on Saturday.
The world number 7 Indian pair, which had claimed the Commonwealth Games men's doubles gold early this month, flattered to deceive as it squandered an opening game advantage to go down 22-20 18-21 16-21 to the Olympic bronze medallists in a pulsating 77-minute clash, bringing an end to the Indian challenge at the prestigious tournament.
It was the sixth successive defeat against the world number 6 pair for Satwik and Chirag, who had lost to the same combination at the CWG mixed team final early this month.
Despite the loss, it was a creditable show by Satwik and Chirag, who emerged as the first Indian pair to win a men's doubles medal at the showpiece.
It also ensured that India continued to return with a medal from the World Championships since 2011, the year the country won its first doubles medal with the women's pair of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa clinching a bronze.
In the semifinal clash, Chirag looked a bit off colour with his serve and defence, while Satwik tried his best to make up for it but in the end, the Malaysians proved to be a tad faster and more subtle in their strokeplay in a match that went down to the wire.
Coming into the match with a 0-5 head-to-head record, the Indians showed alertness and didn't allow their opponents to play their game.
They used the smashes judiciously to quickly move to an 11-5 lead at the interval. Leading 11-7, Satwik showed great defence in a fast-paced rally which ended with the Malaysian hitting long.
The Malaysians made a comeback after the break, closing in at 11-12 with the Indians missing their mark a few times. They soon drew level at 16-16 with Soh unleashing a powerful smash and then grabbed an 18-17 lead.
However, Satwik and Chirag moved back to lead at 19-18 with Aaron sending one to the net and then Chirag pouncing on an opportunity.
Another attacking rally put India one point away but Chirag faltered in a net shot as it was 20-20.
Chirag earned another game point and this time Aaron missed the line to hand over the opening game to the Indians.
After the change of sides, Aaron and Soh emerged as the better players and Chirag looked a little subdued. The Indians still managed to keep breathing down their opponent's neck before an error from Chirag gave a slender one-point advantage to the Malaysian at the break.
Playing below the tape level, Chirag found the net twice, while another one went long as Malaysia established a decisive 16-11 lead. A solid service return from Soh gave them three game points.
They squandered one but with Chirag losing his racquet string, Satwik couldn't negotiate the Malaysian attack as the match was levelled 1-1. The decider was a tight affair as Satwik and Chirag tried to attack Soh but with Chirag going wide the Malaysian led 5-3 at one stage.
A push and block strategy from Satwik saw India manage a 6-5 lead as Chirag was all charged up. However, Malaysia eked out a 10-8 lead before taking a one-point cushion in the final mid-game interval.
Aaron and Soh dominated the fast-paced rallies after the break to lead 13-11 but Satwik unleashed his trademark booming smash to keep it close.
Chirag produced a backhand whip near the net to make it 13-14 before a misjudgement from Soh at the baseline saw the Indians keep the equation to 15-16. However, Malaysia soon pulled away and once Chirag put another one at the net, Aaron and Soh had four match points.
A return to serve to go to net from Satwik ended the contest.