How Satwik-Chirag bounced back from their lowest point to win Asian Games gold
The first badminton players to win a badminton gold for India at the Asian Games - a stage coach Gopichand calls even harder than the Olympics - Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty said they were at their lowest point just a month ago.
Hangzhou: Satwik and Chirag - the brothers of destruction, India's best badminton hopes, Sankireddy - as the commentators were calling them to badminton fans' horror during the Asian Games semifinal, you could have called them by any of these names till Saturday evening. Now, they will forever be remembered as the first badminton players to win an Asian Games gold medal for India.
But Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, the man whose thoughts are as clear as a Greek philospher, and Chirag Shetty, whose effervesence is as fresh as an Elysian flower, were left in severe doubt about themselves after they faced the 'lowest point of their careers' only a month ago, they revealed after the momentous win at the Binjiang Gymnasium here.
"It has been a tough journey coming into this tournament. We were not playing at our best, we lost in the World Championship quarterfinals, we exited in the first round of the China Open. That was probably our lowest point. When we went back home, we trained even on Sundays with just one goal - play to the best of abilities, push as hard as possible in training, and let God decide what he wants to do with us at Asian Games," Chirag said moments after the win.
The Indian pair were knocked out in the quarterfinals at the Japan Open in July, the Worlds in August and in the Round of 32 at the China Open in September.
It was on the final day of the men's team event, when Satwik and Chirag managed to get a win over China, that they felt they were getting their old rhythm back, that they were finally playing at a level close to their best.
The men's doubles semifinal win over the Malaysian pair on Friday might have been over in two games, but by the time Satwik and Chirag got back to their rooms at night and were finally ready to soak in the anticipation of appearing in their first Asian Games gold medal match, it was already 1 am on October 7 - now forever etched a golden day in Indian sports history.
"We could not sleep last night because of the excitement. It was already late by the time we reached our rooms after treatment, I was awake till 5 am thinking aboutnthe final. I could also continuously hear bathroom noises from Chirag's room all night (laughs). Even before the match, we asked each other only one question - when did you get to sleep last night?" said Satwik.
"Even when my eyes were shut, I was not sleeping," Chirag said, adding how they both kept visualising the gold medal match all night long.
When the Indian pair was down 15-18 in the first game to their Korean opponents Choi Solgyu and Kim Wonho, it might have seemed that the lack of sleep was hurting them. But the thing about not getting sleep because of excitement about the next day is - things start happening in slow motion, just because all the possibilities have gone through the mind so many times.
And that is exactly what Satwik started doing then, said coach Pullela Gopichand.
"The way Satwik was working with the entire scenario after that 15-18 deficit in the first game was the most special thing from today's final. I was thinking he must be seeing the event in slow motion. When the Koreans were rushing to the net, he was pushing the shuttle to the back, when they were staying in the back court, he was blocking. That sort of clarity of thought on the court and awareness is special," Gopichand said.
Asian Games gold even harder than Olympics gold: Gopichand
Gopichand said Satwik and Chirag's Asian Games gold is a momentous achievement not just for Indian badminton, but for Indian sports in general.
"For me, the Asian Games is tougher than the Olympics as well - not from the perspective of scale of medal, but in terms of difficulty. All the top Asian teams - China, Japan, Korea, have two entries each here. At the Olympics, you might not have that many rounds of tough players to cross," the coach tried to put the achievement in perspective.
"Satwik and Chirag were one of the favourites to win these big events. I am happy they have peaked at the right time to win this prestigious Asian Games gold," he said.
On how the duo managed to bounce back from their worst point from just a month ago, Gopichand said, "Lot of credit should go to Mathias Boe, but also the strength and conditioning coach, the physios...for pushing them to play at this level here."
"Satwik and Chirag are the strongest badminton pair in the world in my opinion. Both of their defences are immaculate, they're probably the two hardest hitters in the world, they move really quick. Even when they are 10 percent down, they're still better than the rest of the world - itwas just a matter of time before they came back, that's what I've been telling them, that's what happened," he added.
"Today Satwik and Chirag have not only become the Asian Games champions, but also the world number 1. Its a momentous day for Indian sports," Gopichand summed up.