CHENNAI: First game in the bag, one more to go. Things were going according to the script for Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty during their semifinal match of the ongoing World Championships in Tokyo on Saturday. Up against Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik, a pair who had beaten them in all of their five previous meetings, it seemed like the stars had finally aligned for the history-making Indian duo to march even further in Tokyo.
But it was so near yet so far for the Indian duo. A day after they had become the first men's doubles pair to medal at the Worlds, they bowed out. The World No 7 pair fought like warriors, they tried every shot in the book. But in the end, despite having their noses in front, they still fell agonisingly short. The duck against the Malaysians remain.
In an epic battle that witnessed physical prowess of both the pairs, the Malaysians had other ideas after the change of ends. They upped the ante and always stayed in front (barring 10-10 at midway stage) with some attacking play. The Indians, though, were making it harder for their rivals with some smart play of their own. Tailing 14-19, the Indians fought back to obtain three consecutive points and make the contest interesting.
However, with two game points to save, Chirag's racquet net broke and he tried to replace it swiftly. But that left Satwik exposed and the Malaysians duly made the advantage count to level the match. Lady Luck was also not on their side during pressing times. One such occasion was during the third game when the score was 15-16 with Chirag serving. Soh's second-time return bounced off the net to the other side.
As Chirag ducked, anticipating a return for Satwik, the latter was helpless and couldn't reach the shuttle after the net factor came into play. Earlier, when the Indians were leading 6-5, it was the same story with Soh's smash from the back trickling over after hitting the net. The Malaysians eventually went on to win 20-22, 21-18, 21-16 and will meet Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan of Indonesia in the gold medal match.
In a game of margins, all those unlucky moments proved to make a huge difference. Satwik lamented those incidents after the match. "It's unfortunate for us to be unlucky all the time in the crucial stage. Our strings kept going out repeatedly and we even kept getting the net cord in crucial times so it did irritate us. Against them (Chia-Soh) and even against Kevin (Indonesia’s Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon), we always feel we get unlucky at crucial times... so maybe we should pray a lot more (laughs). But yes, it was a tough loss, but a good week for us."
It has indeed been a good week for the duo, who have made a habit of churning out massive results. India Open gold, Thomas Cup gold, Commonwealth Games gold and now a bronze at the Worlds. Despite Saturday's heartbreaking defeat, Chirag is focussed on the bright side. "I think we are right up there. We surely wanted to get a medal and I'm happy that we could do it. Obviously, we wanted to go further in the tournament but nevertheless, there will be more chances in the future and we're looking forward to them," he said. Given their career graph and the way they have evolved over time, it won't be a surprise if the Indian pair are involved in more noteworthy battles in the days to come.