India’s up and coming men’s doubles pair of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy have always had memorable outings at the French Open. Stade Pierre de Coubertin in Paris has been a favourite for the duo.
In the three editions of the French Open World Tour Super 750 tournament that they have appeared in, Chirag and Satwik have always returned with something. In 2017, the first time, they reached their first-ever World Tour Super 750 quarterfinal here. Next year, they reached the semifinals and this year, the duo has taken it one step further.
By beating World No. 6 duo of Hiroyuki Endo and Yuta Watanabe of Japan in straight games — 21-11, 25-23 — Chirag, 22, and Satwik, 19, became the first-ever Indian men’s doubles pair to make it to the final of a Super 750 (previously known as Super Series Premier) event.
“Well, I'm extremely happy that we are contesting the finals on Sunday and hopefully, we'll be able to win it but I am pretty happy with the performance so far,” Chirag told The Bridge after the semifinal win in an exclusive interaction from Paris.
It had just been a couple of hours after the match and yet, there was no hint of tiredness in his voice. If anything, he sounded confident — confident of pulling off yet another big win in the final.
And why not? The young shuttlers have caused some huge upsets over the week. First, they ousted reigning World Champions, Indonesia's Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan, 21-18, 18-21, 21-13 in the pre-quarters. In the last eight, the Indian pair beat World No. 8 Kim Astrup and Anders Skaarup Rasmussen in straight games and then, came the semis.
“I think we have played pretty well over the past week,” Chirag said reflecting on the big wins on the road to the final. “Hopefully we'll be able to do the same tomorrow and keep our calm in the crucial stages of the game,” the lanky shuttler asserted as if reminding himself about the importance of keeping composed in tight situations.
This composure, that’s been the biggest change in Chirag and Satwik’s gameplay over the last year or so. If, a year back, they were losing after making it to the pre-quarters or quarters, this year they have been consistently making it to the later stages. In 2019, they have already made it at least to the semis of four tournaments. In two of these — Brazil Challenger and Thailand Open Super 500 — they went on to win the title.
Given the form they are in, it is not entirely improbable that they would add to their two titles in Paris. However, Sunday’s oppositions are Chirag and Satwik’s biggest test yet. They are up against World No. 1 Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo, or the Minions as they are popularly referred to.
Last year, here, Chirag and Satwik had crashed out in the semis losing to the very same opponents. In fact, in six meetings, they have been unable to get the better of the Indonesian pair. This time, though, things would be different, according to Chirag. He said:
Talking about the importance of not getting flustered in close moments, Chirag pointed out how he and Satwik maintained their cool towards the end of the semifinal match and sealed the victory.
“In the first game we went all out attacking but in the second game, they came back stronger and they started defending and they were ready for our smashes. So we had to mix it up with drops and half smashes as well, so yeah, in the final few moments both of us gave it our all. We had to keep our cool and we were telling each other to keep our calm in the crucial moments. We had to boost each other up at that moment,” he recalled.
The Mumbai-born shuttler added, “There were super tough rallies in the second game, I think we might have been tired momentarily but overall after a small break or so we came back to normal.”
“Earlier, we would have definitely been tired and our body would have given up. Nowadays even though the matches are going long, our bodies are perfectly fine and is and is able to take those matches,” he concluded.