Mathias Boe touch for Indian duo Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy
- The world No.10 men’s doubles pair was greeted by a new member of the coaching staff - former world No.1 in men’s doubles, Mathias Boe.
Having refreshed themselves with a week’s break at home after the mentally exhausting three-week bio-bubble in Bangkok in January, Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy re-joined training in Hyderabad to prepare for the European circuit, which commences with their Swiss Open first round in Basel on Wednesday.
Only this time, when they returned to the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy (PGBA), the world No.10 men’s doubles pair was greeted by a new member of the coaching staff - former world No.1 (in men’s doubles) Mathias Boe.
The Danish great, who retired in April 2020, has been hired under Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) to specifically help three pairs - Shetty/Rankireddy, Rankireddy/Ashwini Ponnappa and Ponnappa/Sikki Reddy - qualify for the Olympics. Boe’s short contract is currently till the end of April and should a pair or more make it to Tokyo, the Dane will continue till the Games.
Currently ninth in the Race to Tokyo men’s doubles rankings, Shetty and Rankireddy are all but through to the Olympics. The situation is slightly more difficult for women’s duo Ponnappa-Reddy (No.28) and mixed pair Rankireddy-Ponnappa (No.31).
“I requested TOPS, Sports Authority of India (SAI), Badminton Association of India (BAI) and (chief national coach Pullela) Gopichand sir and they took it forward from there,” said Shetty, who has known Boe since 2014 and has also partnered him in the Premier Badminton League (PBL). “I have played with, against and now under him. In PBL, I partnered him in 2019 while he coached me in 2020.”
It was during the post lockdown period when the world tour was suspended that Shetty mooted the idea of bringing Boe on board. Like in the past, the 23-year-old was sparring with the 2012 Olympic silver medallist (with compatriot Carsten Mogensen) for two months in mid-2020 at the Goregaon Sports Club in Mumbai.
“I have a really good rapport with him,” said Shetty. “I was a junior the first time I met him when he’d come to Mumbai and we’d have a few practice sessions. Thereon, whenever he used to be in Mumbai we used to practice together. Back then he was the world No.1 and practicing with him was a big thing for me. Whenever I used to practice with him and leave for tournaments I ended up playing really well.”
Boe joined the academy on February 5 and immediately got into his role, making Shetty and Rankireddy put in five hours of training daily - three in the morning and two in the evening - to continue the momentum they gained by reaching the semi-finals of the Thailand Open in January - their maiden entry into the last-4 of an elite Super 1000 tournament.
“Getting to work with him will give us a huge psychological boost. The quality that you get from him on court, the stroke practice, it’s totally different because you’re playing against a world class player. Suddenly the on-court quality increases dramatically,” added Shetty, who has won eight titles with Rankireddy including the breakthrough 2019 Thailand Open.
A few weeks in with Boe, the pair is already noticing the difference the Dane’s training programme is effecting.
“There’s a lot more thought behind the strokes and shot selection. He tells us what to do when things are not working with service, catching (up) or pressing (shuttle) downwards,” said Rankireddy. “He’s teaching us new things, telling us how to play smart, how some shots can be done better. The quality of practice has been good and the intensity has been very high.”
The two-time All-England champion Boe also has the assistance of the other foreign doubles coaches - Namrih Suroto, Dwi Kristiawan and Muhammad Miftak. His distinguished experience of playing at the highest level for more than two decades, knowledge of contemporary badminton and the know-how of winning matches from the tightest of situations makes the two-time World Championship medallist a real asset, feel the players.
“What do I have to offer? Some of the things I have been best at: tactical aspect, reading and understanding the game, tactics against opponents. It is something you can call the European style of play,” said Boe during a podcast called ‘A Year On Tour With Vittinghus’ with compatriot Hans-Kristian Vittinghus.
“I want to share my experience with the players, especially Satwik and Chirag, who maybe have the best attack in the world when they are in their favourite position with Chirag at the net and Satwik at the back. They have some of the tools to be able to challenge them (the best) if they can change their game a little bit. This is a great opportunity to see if I can implement some of the things I have worked really hard with and have been good at in my career and transfer that to them.”
It is unusual to see a coach from Denmark working in Asia, with the exception of Morten Frost, who coached Malaysia from 2015-17.
One of the best readers of the game during his playing days, Boe was known for breaking the rhythm of his opponents by constantly adjusting the timing and pace of service. These attributes also helped Boe guide Denmark to the prestigious Thomas Cup title in 2016, breaking the domination of China, who had won the previous five editions.
“My profile fits well to try and do something different than what they are used to,” Boe, who refers to India as his “second home”, said.
“The question is, can I get it through to my four players. Implementing these things in such a short time span will be a challenge.”