HTLS | Weight of expectations only acts as an added motivation for our partnership, say Satwik, Chirag
The duo come from diverse backgrounds and cultures, Shetty from Mumbai, Tulu-speaking, and Rankireddy from Amalapuram in Andhra Pradesh.
New Delhi: "He was my enemy back then," laughed Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, pointing to Chirag Shetty sitting on his right, refer- ring to the period when the latter was his opponent before 2016. "He used to always beat me in the junior days and I always wanted to take revenge. Never did I think that he would be my partner one day and the most important person in my life."
From being on-court "enemies" to being forced into a partnership to their rise to world No.I status, the finest Indian shuttlers today know, better than many, what it takes to join minds and missions. They symbolise a significant facet of leadership-partner- ship.
With five titles in the bag already this year-including a maiden badminton gold at the Asian Games for Indians-Shetty and Rankireddy are at the peak of their prowess today, even becoming the first Indian pair across all doubles categories to be ranked No.1 in the world last month.
While the reigning Commonwealth Games champions have been breaking bar- riers regularly in recent times, it wasn't always the same especially in the initial years when the then India's doubles coach Tan Kim Her of Malaysia broke their exist- ing partnerships to pair them together. They went through their hard times, still do on tour, but never do they point a finger in either direction when things don't go their way.
"If we are hard on each other, it would be the last time we will play together. In a part- nership you need to be backing each other as much as possible. If you are hard on your partner, at some point in a match or in future you will also make similar mistakes. Then you wouldn't want to be at the receiv- ing end," said Shetty to Managing Editor Kunal Pradhan at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on Saturday.
"You need to be as encouraging as possi- ble in those moments. Me and Satwik encourage each other as much as possible. It doesn't matter if you make a mistake even at 20-all, there is a still a chance of making it 21-all. It's not over until it's over. We try to be there for each other as much as possi- ble."
The duo come from diverse backgrounds and cultures. While Tulu-speaking Shetty hails from Mumbai, Rankireddy is an intro- vert who belongs to a small Andhra town called Amalapuram. Shetty loves to experi- ment with food - he loves his sushi and wants Rankireddy to try it, but the 23-year- old has still managed to avoid it, preferring to eat Indian food while travelling abroad for tournaments.
"It was quite difficult initially. We come from very different backgrounds. Our cul- ture and upbringing is very different. But our coach back then (Tan Kim Her) told us that doubles is like being in a marriage; you need to make adjustments and that is what we did. He used to tell us to have at least one meal together to have conversations," said Shetty, 26.
"To be really good doubles players on court, you need to be really good friends off court too. You need that camaraderie and friendship. Both of us are really good friends. That is one of the major reasons the way we perform on court."
Their friendship and partnership has reached such a stage where now Rankir- eddy has started experimenting with food. Shetty, on the other hand, gave in to watch Telugu movies which are Rankireddy's favourite.
"We sacrifice one day for one person. One day he joins me in having Indian food. Next day I might have Japanese," said Rankir- eddy with Shetty immediately interjecting with: "He still hasn't tried sushi!"
On court, Shetty handles the front while Rankireddy is known for his booming smashes from the back which has turned into a nightmare for all their opponents. Thrilling to watch with racquets in their hand, they are quite entertaining too. 'Maar, maar' or 'tera, tera' is often heard in arenas when the duo is playing with Shetty typi- cally instructing his partner to hammer the shuttle into the opposite court.
"He says maar, maar, maar (hit, hit, hit) at every shot I take. Whenever the shuttle comes to me, he asks me to hit. I tell him bhai mera position to dekh lo (please see my position). What if I am not in a position to smash," laughed Rankireddy.
Rankireddy and Shetty have now ticked almost all boxes there are in badminton. They have a World Championships medal (bronze in 2022). They became the first Indians to win a badminton gold at the Asian Games last month. They became the first Indian pair to win the Asian Champion- ships and also the first Indian men's com- bine to win gold at last year's Common- wealth Games.
On the BWF World Tour, they are the only Indians to win titles at all levels from Super 100 to 1000 and also recently became the first Indian pair to be ranked No.1 in the world. This is in addition to them guiding Indian badminton to its greatest triumph- the Thomas Cup crown last year.
But there's one thing left-a medal at the Olympics.
They were unlucky to be knocked out in the group stage in Tokyo two years back (they beat eventual champions Lee Yang and Wang Chi-lin of Chinese Taipei in the group stage) but going by their current form, it will be tough to bet against them.
"Expectations have always been there but you need to look at it in a positive manner. It is good that they have expectations because a couple of years back nobody expected anything from doubles; it is a very good thing. We will go out there and give it our best shot and hopefully come back with a medal," concluded Shetty