Badminton: Can Satwik-Chirag lead India to a maiden Olympic medal in men's doubles?
The dynamic doubles duo of Satwik-Chirag can be quite explosive and with new coach Mathias Boe onboard, the young pair are expected to shine at the Tokyo Olympics.
Barely stepping out of their teenage years, the incredibly young duo of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty have already stirred up quite the storm on the global badminton circuit. Satwik, just 20 and Chirag, at 23 have revamped the country's conceptions about doubles in Indian badminton with their arrival. The lone Indian men's doubles pair to head to Tokyo Olympics, Satwik-Chirag will be shouldering the hopes of an entire nation who will have their eyes fixated on this dynamic combination as they make their Olympic debut.
In badminton, India has seen more success on paper in the singles category with the likes of 2012 London Olympics bronze medallist Saina Nehwal, 2016 Rio Olympics silver medallist PV Sindhu and former World No. 1 Kidambi Srikanth tending to the helm. At a juncture like this, Satwik-Chirag came along to change the perceptions and provoke new expectations from Indian badminton with their stellar performance at the 2018 Commonwealth Games where they bagged silver.
With around a month remaining for the Tokyo Olympics to begin, we are reaching the fag end of our countdown days and the excitement in the badminton camp is also increasing. With all BWF tournaments either cancelled or postponed due to the ongoing pandemic, Satwik-Chirag are looking to solely focus and practice it out the last few days at the SAI-Gopichand Academy, in Hyderabad.
A new dawn for men's doubles in Indian badminton
The rise of Satwik-Chirag has been meteoric and the World No. 10 doubles duo have forged a formidable partnership that has seen them emerge victorious in many a conquest. Initially trained under the wings of Malaysia's Tan Kim Her, a doubles specialist, Satwik-Chirag scaled up the rankings to a career-best of World No. 7 in 2019. In the process, they also started adding titles and collecting medals to their name.
Picking up the 2018 Hyderabad Super Open 100 title, the pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty raced into the finals of the Syed Modi Super 300 tournament in 2018 as well as the 2019 French Open. In 2019, Satwik-Chirag also bagged the Thai Open Super 500 title, an incredible feat by an Indian doubles pair, which permanently pitched them as hot favourites to qualify for Tokyo. However, the crowning moment of glory for this dynamic pair arrived at the 2018 Commonwealth Games when they won the silver medal after losing to the veteran British duo of Chris Langridge-Marcus Ellis, 21-13,21-16.
The Mumbai lad Chirag and the Amalapuram-born Satwik's combination works like magic for Indian badminton. Both being tall, well over six feet, can command the fast shots and also cover up court space briskly. Using their height to an advantage, Satwik seals points with his powerful smashes and Chirag flicks his racquet most eloquently and has nimble footwork.
Former doubles sensation, Jwala Gutta, in a recent interview on the Bakstage app where she spoke about the 'Indian Badminton Prospect' was all praises for the budding duo of Satwik-Chirag as they are on the brink of taking big steps in the world by playing at the Olympics.
"Chirag and Satwik, they are juniors and still have a long way to go. They have nothing to lose so they should go all out and give everything without any fear. They can take advantage of this opportunity, because probably no one is talking about them," pointed out Jwala Gutta, most starkly.
Is the hope for a medal from Satwik-Chirag realistic?
Historically, Indian badminton hasn't fared too well in the doubles category, especially at the Olympics from where they have returned empty-handed. However, the wind blows in a different direction this time and much of it is because of the kind of talent Satwik-Chirag have exhibited at the big stages. Currently training under Mathias Boe, the 40-year-old Danish superstar of doubles badminton, Satwik-Chirag's game is expected to improve and change under the Dane's expert guidance.
Although there aren't ample stats to show how the change in coaches have been working out for Satwik-Chirag and how the addition of 2012 London Olympics silver medallist Boe has helped, as the Indian pair have only played two tournaments since he came onboard. However, Satwik-Chirag has had a decent run in 2021 so far in the tournaments they have played - chief of which is a semi-final finish at the Toyota Thailand Open and another semi-final run at the 2021 Swiss Open, where they lost to all-Dane pair of Kim Astrup-Anders Skaarup Rasmussen.
Keeping this in mind and the fact that Mathias Boe is now a part of their coaching team, significant changes are expected to be seen in the game style of the World No. 10 shuttlers. Provided the draw is comfortable, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty actually do stand a solid chance to at least, contest for a medal. Fair enough, it will be their debut at the Games but the duo have been known to work wonders at pressure stages and it remains to be seen how the duo warm up to the Olympic challenge.