Back from injury, Chirag Shetty-Satwiksairaj Rankireddy eager to roll
August was a topsy-turvy month for Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, who went from the high of winning the Thailand Open to being forced to pull out of the World Championships in Basel due to injuries suffered by both.
The world No 15 doubles pair is hungrier than ever to return to the tour. They will be on the prowl again this week at the $1 million China Open, where they will face Canadians Jason Anthony Ho-Shue and Nyl Yakura in the opener.
“Our injuries have healed and we’ve been training for the past three weeks. We are very eager to get back. China being a Super 1000 tournament, there’ll be lot of points available to take home,” says Shetty.
The duo was looking to become India’s only second doubles pair, after the bronze won by Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa in 2011, to medal at the Worlds. But injuries to Shetty (abdomen) and Rankireddy (shoulder) forced them to withdraw on the eve of their flight to Switzerland.
“The way we were playing, we could have beaten any pair. We were confident and mentally in the mode. The draw was also quite good and we could have won a medal if we’d played the way we did in Thailand,” says 19-year-old Rankireddy.
The momentum was with them. They had become the first Indian pair to win a Super 500 title on the World Tour, downing reigning world champions Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen in the final. The triumph propelled them to a career best world ranking of No 9.
“It was difficult (to accept),” says Shetty, 22, who trains under former international Uday Pawar in Mumbai. “We were coming from a tournament win where all the players who were to participate at the World Championships were playing. We were very eager to play but unfortunately with the injuries we could not risk it and had to take that call.”
The combine will be keener on their comeback, having sat out four months at the start of the season as well due to Rankireddy’s hairline rib fracture.
Rankireddy and Shetty have come a long way since they reluctantly teamed up after India’s then Malaysian doubles coach Tan Kim Her took the decision in September, 2015. Even the players complained, but after a difficult few months on the court, the partnership blossomed. From a ranking of 684 in March 2016, they broke into the top-50 a year later.
“Perhaps we were not confident of each other at the start… Both of us are tall, above six feet, we were backcourt players. But we decided Chirag will play at the net. Now I also play at the net and we rotate according to the situation,” says Rankireddy.
The youngsters have forged a strong friendship off the court too. “Chirag is very knowledgeable and supports me every time. We gel well, stay together, hang out and also go out for meals during tournaments,” says Rankireddy.
Their next big target is to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, for which they’ll need to maintain a good ranking going into next year. They hope they can resume winning and help change the attitude towards doubles in India.
“Winning a title was definitely a dream but there are a whole lot of dreams, like winning an Olympic medal. Our target for next year would be to enter the top 5,” says Shetty.
“Doubles always got step-motherly treatment. We were always told singles players perform better, but now things are changing. After our win, people have approached to manage us and we hope sponsors will follow suit. Hopefully, the win can do the change for doubles.”