'Translating motivation into medals': Satwik-Chirag eye breaking into top-3 after stellar 2022

By, New Delhi
Jan 18, 2023 04:00 PM IST

The India duo of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty made a strong start at India Open 2023, beating Scotland's Grimley twins in straight games.

The first day at India Open was bittersweet for the Indian contingent but one pair that exerted dominance and kept the crowd on its feet was the famed duo of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy. The fire and ice combination was the perfect recipe on the opening day for Indian fans; Chirag’s aggression blended well with a passionate crowd at the KD Jadhav Indoor Hall, while Satwik’s immaculate play near the net proved too tough to handle for Scottish twin brothers Christopher and Mathew Grimley.

Indian badminton players Chirag Shetty (L) and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy at the India Open 2023(PTI)
Indian badminton players Chirag Shetty (L) and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy at the India Open 2023(PTI)

India’s top badminton men’s pair is coming on the back of a stellar 2022 season, winning two titles including a first Super 750 when they secured a top podium finish at the French Open. The duo had also played a crucial role in India’s Thomas Cup win when it came from a game down to beat the star Indonesian pairing of Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Mohammad Ahsan to give the team a crucial 2-0 lead. They also won the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games and became the first Indian men’s doubles pair to secure a bronze at the BWF World Championships in August.

Let’s rewind a bit, though. The year was 2021 and the Indian pair went into the Olympics as among the favourites for a podium finish. Satwik and Chirag had an impressive outing, winning two of their three games in the group stage but in a massive heartbreak, were knocked out on technicality of a three-way tie. They also missed out at the silverware in Worlds, enduring a tough end to the year.

Then, things changed for the duo.

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"I wouldn't call it a new year resolution, but just before the year started in 2022, we played in the World Championships. We lost in the pre-quarters there and couldn't come back with a medal. We stood a chance to win a medal there and we desperately wanted that. That hit us quite a lot. Even the Tokyo Olympics, coming back from them the way we did, it affected us,” Chirag recalled as Hindustan Times asked the duo on the process behind fighting the twin setbacks.

"When we started 2022 – again, not a new year resolution – but we wanted to win medals at the major events, win multiple titles at the HSBC World Tour events. That was what our aim was for 2022. It was the motivation that translated into the way we played last year,” Chirag said.

The motivation did translate into medals, and after the win over the Grimley twins on Tuesday, a reawakened duo stresses it can better the 2022 outings and break into the top-3 this year.

"We don't want to replicate 2022. We have the capability to do even better,” Chirag said with conviction at the press conference following the win.

“We are at 5th right now, and we won two tournaments last year. If we can add 3-4 titles more this year, we can break into top-3 and that's the main goal. Worlds is our target, as a pair we want to win major events like All England Championships too. Asian Games are also this year, and Olympic qualifications too, so this year is important for us,” said the 25-year-old Chirag.

No favourites on circuit

This has been a golden era in men’s doubles circuit; in addition to ‘Sat-Chi’ as they are popularly known, there are the ‘minions’ (Kevin Sukamuljo and Marcus Gideon) and the ‘daddies’ (Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan) from Indonesia, Takuro Hoki and Hugo Kobayashi of Japan and Malaysia's famed Aaron Chia and Sooh Wooi Yik, who are undefeated against the Indian duo in seven meetings.

With so many top contenders in the category, it’s often hard to single out favourites and Satwik reiterated that men’s doubles is a level playing field.

"At this level, it doesn't matter who you are playing. Everyone's level is same now. All top-32s are world no.1s now. There's no favourites on the court. There will be lot of upsets. Before, we would know who are the favourites, no we can't say that.

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