Ranked #10 globally, Mumbai lad, Chirag Shetty became a household name after winning the Commonwealth Gold in 2018, Silver in France Open and Gold in Thailand Super Series 2019. Known for great finishes in last 3 years, Indian duo of Chirag & Satwik is a powerhouse of speed, strength and long term sight. Supported by Target Olympic Podium (TOP) Scheme by Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Chirag is aiming high at the Olympics.
In this freewheeling chat with Cynergy, India's Top Ranked Doubles Player, Chirag opens up on his ambitions to make into top #5, rising expectations from him and the way ahead.
Being in Mumbai, one of the most sensitive zones in India, how is your fitness & practice schedule like these days?
Yeah, in Mumbai, we can’t practice outside as cases are on the rise. Past 2 months, we are training over web conference calls. 2 sessions a day, morning is yoga types and evening is more focused on strength & agility. With little relaxation in lockdown, I have started running for around 40-45 mins each day. That helps me with my fitness and agility.
Take us through your origins & how did this passion start in you.
Our native is Mangalore. But I am born & brought up in Mumbai. My father is a hotelier here & my mother is a housemaker. My younger sister plays badminton as well.
Chirag Shetty with his family
As far as my badminton is concerned, no one in the family had played this sport in past. My father used to play squash, but more as a hobby. But yeah, badminton was never in the family roots. I remember going to Goregaon sports club & playing alongside my father those days. My first coach [Mr. Manish Hadkar] then, noticed me playing with my father and offered me to join the practice at the club. I was just 7 then. Later I joined at Andheri Sports Complex for a couple of years, as Mr. Manish joined Mr. Uday Pawar sir. We shifted again to Goregaon sports club & I have been training here whenever in Mumbai.
After I completed my board exams, I was in double minds whether to pick up science or commerce in studies. Either I could take science and pursue my studies Or, pick up commerce and continue playing the sport. Due to my increased interest & passion in Badminton, I gave up science and picked commerce. I was around 16 then, and that’s when I started taking badminton seriously on a professional note. 2 years back, I completed all my studies.
Ever tried any other sport, other than badminton
Initially I wanted to play cricket, just like every other Indian. Had even enrolled for a camp at the Goregaon sports club but life had some other plans. My father actually always wanted me to play an individual sport and hence badminton.
Ever thought of playing Singles
I decided to completely pursue doubles when I was 17/18 years. I had personal inclination towards doubles & was better off playing doubles than singles. I would lose in Singles but win against the same player in Doubles. Singles needs fitness of highest level due to the agility needed and bigger space, while in Doubles we are more dependent on speed & power due to the lack of space. If I have to put that in athletic terms, Doubles is like 800m dash & singles is like 10kms run.
Indian duo of Chirag Chirag Shetty & Satwiksairaj Reddy winning Silver at the Super Series 750, at France open.
You were Ranked 7 once in 2019
Yes, around November 2019, we were ranked 7 worldwide. In the current scenario, I am already training very hard, but I think I need to train more wisely. Putting in more effort in some areas where I am lagging behind, like defense, will help me break into top 5 easily. I had initially planned to break into top 5 by end of this year, but it seems will stretch into 2021 due to Covid19. Attack wise, I am good and probably one of the best in the business. Defense is something I need work on in comparison to the top athletes globally.
Does the pressure of renewed expectations play on your minds, post CWG win..
There is definitely a pressure of expectations we carry on the courts. More so, after the CWG win. Everyone around us expect us to win the series and bring medals.
Having said that, the moment we enter the court, pressure just fades away. Most of the important matches I have played, I completely forgotten where I am right now and that’s how I have played my best.
For instance, in the finals of Thailand Open Super Series, we were leading initially and could have finished it in 2 games as we had a comfortable 3-point lead. In the third game, our start wasn’t that great (down by 3-4 points) but we came back hard to win the 3rd game. When we are playing against the reigning world champions (Li Jun Hui and Liu Yu), we have to the play the best game of our lives to win such moments. Nothing else plays on the mind, other than the goal of winning.
Coach reaction on the Thailand Series win, is still fresh on minds.
Yes. If you see the video, the coach directly comes on the court & hugs us. We were so ecstatic that we were lying on the floors with extreme joy. Every single person, relatives, family and friends were all delighted.
Injuries followed you, but it helped you in a certain way during the Thailand Super Series
Yes, three back to back tournaments - Indonesia Open, Japan Open followed by Thailand Open lead to the injury. In the Japan Open, after the pre-quarterfinals match, I realized a pull in my abs. Next day, during Quarter Finals, midway in the match, the pain aggravated. I couldn’t really smash during the match. I rested for a couple of days thinking things will get better. However, in the first round of Thailand Open, abs got pulled again. In the 2nd round against Indonesians, I wasn’t able to smash and so was Satwik (carrying the shoulder injury). Both of us were not able to smash, which used to be our strength.
Indian duo of Chirag Shetty & Satwiksairaj during Thailand Open
In a way, it worked for us as opponents kept thinking that we will go for power smash, so they were going deep into defense. But with half smashes, we gained lot of points and won the games.
In that process, I was pulling my abs a lot. After the semifinals, I couldn’t walk normally without bending. I was on painkillers playing into the semis and finals. Only after landing in India, realized it was an abs tear. That’s the reason, why we had to pull of world championships tournament last year.
You have had encounters with the Indonesian Duo - Marcus Fernaldi Gideon & Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo in last 2-3 years.
We played them twice, in back to back weeks. Once in semi-finals at the China Open & then again in the finals at the French open. We have played them almost 12-13 times in last 3 years. Perhaps the only opponent, we have played most against in the last 3 years. They are world#1 now & we haven’t been able to win against them in those 12-13 encounters. We have come extremely close at times, but just not been able to cross the line.
I prefer players who are more on the defense, like Hiroyuki Endo & Yuta Watanabe (Doubles Winner of All England Championship 2020). Whenever we play then, we feel much comfortable as they lift the shuttle quite a lot and not so quick while attacking.
As for Marcus Fernaldi Gideon & Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo, they generally prefer hard flat drives, as they are short & very quick with their hands. At crucial stages, they somehow win those rallies with their experience.
What’s the badminton racket speed like, during those flat drives
These days we don’t get to see the speed of hitting, but at PBL we got to witness the speed. I had hit the speed of 420/hr. this year.
Tell us about your PBL Experience, and your fan moment there.
I am a part of Pune7Aces from last two years. I have known the owners personally from last 4-5 years. Great to have Taapsee as our owner, as it helps in getting the necessary visibility. We had a great outing this year, reaching upto the semifinals. Our leader is Denmark based player; Mathais Boe & as a team we now look to grab the trophy next week.
This year, I got an opportunity to play men’s doubles with my idol - The Indonesian great, Hendra Setiawan. He is an Olympic champion, the smartest guy on the court and who has won almost everything badminton has to offer.
Chirag Shetty fan moment, playing alongside Hendra Setiawan at the PBL 2020
So, Yeah, lots of great experiences at PBL. Every year I have played, I have got an opportunity to play with athletes with incredible career records. I have learnt a lot from them, and it has helped me improve my game at the international level.
Each year, after PBL, my graph & rankings has gone higher, which is a big testimony of how important such leagues are for the athletes.
Coaching at the Academy
Flandy Limpele left just before the lockdown. Right now, we don’t really have a dedicated head coach like Flandy Limpele in Doubles. The management is looking for one and hopefully once the situation improves, we will get someone good from outside.
For the singles yes.! India has produced some great singles athletes like Pullela Gopichand, Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Syed Modi, Prakash Padukone etc., but the best of performances hasn’t yet come from Doubles yet. We are improving in each game, but yeah, we don’t have a great history to fall back on. Badminton in India had always been singles centric, but things are slowly shaping now in the Doubles circuit & we are getting the due attention while coaching. For now, we need some outside experts to come in and help us in that regard.
Tell us about your Sponsors
Right now, I am employed with Indian Oil Corporation and also sponsored by Yonex. And I am supported by Gosports Foundation which is supporting India’s top emerging athletes. Grateful for all the support by the sponsors. Since 2017, I have not spent anything and have focused on improving my sport & winning medals for the country. Above all, I am also supported by The Target Olympic Podium (TOP) Scheme by Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. It is a flagship program of GOI and an attempt to provide assistance to India’s top athletes.
This article was originally published by cynergyservices.org