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Fortified game and 'open talk': How Satwik-Chirag conquered Asia and became world no.1

Satwik and Chirag's topsy-turvy form before the Asiad would see their ascendancy to the top of the BWF World Rankings getting smashed. But an 'open talk' with coach Boe in Hyderabad would see them conquer Asia and become world no.1.

Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty Badminton

Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty (Source: BWF)


Sudipta Biswas

Updated: 12 Oct 2023 1:59 AM GMT

Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty ripped their shirts and flung their racquets soon after winning historic badminton gold for India at the Asian Games 2023.

Satwik-Chirag defeated South Korea's Choi Solgyu and Kim Wonho in straight games (21-18, 21-16) in the final, battling through sapped energy after two weeks of intense competition.

Given their killing form and intensity in their game now, it is hard to believe that just before the Asian Games, they lacked confidence and were not in their best form. At the World Championships, they were outpaced by Kim Astrup and Anders Rasmussen in the quarterfinal, while at the China Open, they bowed out in the first round losing to Muhammad Shohibul Fikri and Bagas Maulana.

On both occasions, the battle was intense, and the matches were decided in the third game. But there was a pattern repeated in these defeats. Satwik and Chirag were slow on their feet, and their defence was faulty, leaking too many soft points to the opponents.

Earlier in the season, at the Sudirman Cup, Thailand Open, and Singapore Open, they made second and first-round exits. Since these defeats came after early triumphs at the Swiss Open and Badminton Asia Championships, it left them in deep self-questioning.

They would regain their mojo by winning the Indonesia Open Super 1000 and Korea Open Super 500 titles - a feat no other Indian pair achieved in the past.

Satwik and Chirag in action at the Asian Games 2023.

But a sudden blip before the marquee Asian Games in China did not make Satwik and Chirag any favourite for the gold medal in a heavily competitive field, which is tougher than the Olympics, as coach Pullela Gopichand would say.

Satwik and Chirag have always been full of potential and profuse possibilities, and their rise to the top of the BWF World Rankings was well in the reckoning after two back-to-back titles in Indonesia and South Korea. But their topsy-turvy form before the Asiad would see their ascendancy to the top getting smashed.

Rejigging the game

This series of defeats needed an evolution of their playing style. Hence, Satwik and Chirag sit with their coach, Mathias Boe, in their Hyderabad training hub to have an 'open talk' in a bid to fine-tune their game.

Satwik did not bother to reveal that Chirag, the senior of the two, was covering his weaknesses on the court.

“For the first time, we had an open talk with our coach, about what we should change, about the game plan...I watched my videos. I was hiding, I was not taking my shuttles, I was waiting for Chirag to take all the shuttles. I’d serve and wait for Chirag to cover for me. I watched how I used to play. I took a step to make it more balanced," admitted Satwik in an interview with the Badminton World Federation (BWF).

Boe also pinpointed the area of their weakness where they needed to ramp up their game. He told them to "have hunger. Just show like you are top players, and then opponents will automatically fall apart.”

"Earlier, we weren’t playing to the best of our abilities," said Chirag.

“When we went back home, we trained even on Sundays. There was just one goal in our mind, that we had to push ourselves as hard as possible during training," he added.

Outfoxing the opponents

It did wonders. At the Asian Games semifinals, they outfoxed their arch-rivals Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik in straight games. Although they savored a straight-game win at the Indonesia Open final as well after eight consecutive defeats, the way Satwik and Chirag dominated Chia and Soh in the semifinals of the Asiad put their changed game full on display. Now, they have two successive straight-game wins over the Malaysian pair.

They did not mind engaging in the opponents' pacey game and fetched points, converting their defence to attack and outfoxing the opponents with swift back-and-forth transitions. Chia and Soh looked clueless against Satwik and Chirag's new style of playing, where they do not stick to one plan and interchange the game frequently.

In the final, the day before the curtains on the Games, their battle was intense against Choi and Kim. After trailing early in the first game, Satwik and Chirag slowed the pace and cut down on smashes to get the winners with wirsty flicks and drop shots. Instead of letting the Koreans proceed with their fast game, they relied more on placements to outfox their quick opponents.

For different pairs, Satwik and Chirag brought different strategies into play to win the points and the matches.

"It’s because of the hard work put in by both of us and our team and coaches that we managed to create history for India," Chirag said after winning the gold medal.

Their newly found form and style of play, with which they won the historic gold medal and team silver, also won the hearts of partisan Chinese crowds at the BJ Gymnasium arena, who kept cheering Satwik and Chirag in the final.

By attaining the gold medal Satwik-Chirag has finally ascended to the top of the world rankings. The duo celebrated the feat, dancing to the tune of Dangal. For India, there could not have been a better finishing than this.

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