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''Satwik-Chirag opened the eyes of people': Pullela Gopichand on rise of doubles in India

Gopichand hailed Satwik and Chirag for paving the rise of doubles in India which has predominately been immersed into singles, with Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu bringing home successes in the last two decades.

Satwik-Chirag opened the eyes of people: Pullela Gopichand on rise of doubles in India
National chief badminton coach of India at the Kolkata Sports Journalist Club on March 4. (Photo credit: Syed Tawsif Ahmed/The Bridge)

Sudipta Biswas

Updated: 5 March 2024 11:53 AM GMT

Kolkata: India's chief national badminton coach Pullela Gopichand, on Monday, hailed world no. 1 Indian duo Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty for paving the rise of doubles in India which has predominately been immersed into singles, with Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu bringing home successes in the last two decades.

"Satwik and Chirag have opened the eyes of a whole lot of people that we can also be very good at the doubles game. This was one aspect that was missing in Indian badminton," Gopichand told The Bridge on the sidelines of the opening of Rev Sportz's 'Trailblazers 2.0' conclave at the Calcutta Sports Journalist Club.

"But I do believe that across all five events, we have a lot of talent. Of course, we need to streamline things and put a system in place. I am very happy that today young players of women's doubles or Satwik-Chirag or the experience of Ashwini (Ponnappa) has pushed the doubles forward," he added.

Gopichand also declared the pair of Satwik and Chirag as 'the pair to beat at the Olympics' before flying to Paris to be on the sidelines of Indian players' matches at the French Open, starting today.

Satwik and Chirag have carved a new era for Indian badminton by winning several titles on the BWF World Tour and clinching the first Asian Games gold in badminton for India in October last year.

"They are the pair to beat at the Olympics now. They are the world number one today and one of the brightest medal prospects for us," mooted Gopichand.

But, Satwik and Chirag have been winless since their Asian Games feat.

Though they have remained on top of the world rankings since January 23 and have been consistent, they lost three finals in a row. They lost to Liang Wei Keng and Wang Chang of China in back-to-back finals at the China Masters and Malaysia Open.

At the India Open, South Korea's world no. 2 Kang Min Hyuk and Seo Seung Jae, a right-left combination, defeated the Indians in the final. Against Denmark's world no. 4 Anders Rasmussen and Kim Astrup, another right-left combination, the Indian duo trails 3-6 in head-to-head record.

But Gopichand does not want to ring the alarm bell for Satwik-Chirag at this stage.

"I don't see that as a case of concern. They lost, yes. It happens sometimes when you are tired due to a long tour and extensive travel. What matters is whether they are prepared, whether they rest well and focus on their events, and whether are ready to win, which will happen at the Olympics," emphasised the 50-year-old.

Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy won the Asian Games gold medal in October 2023 in Hangzhou.

Promising women's doubles pairing of Treesa Jolly and Gayatri, the daughter of Gopichand, delivered outstanding performances at last month's Badminton Asia Team Championships (BATC) by remaining unbeaten and taking down world no. 6 Nami Matsuyama and Chiharu Shida of Japan in the semifinal. In the final, they got better of world no. 10 Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Rawinda Prajongjai of Thailand helping India win the coveted trophy.

While things look promising for the 20-year-old pair, Gopichand called for more consistency from world no. 23 Treesa and Gayatri as the fight for an Olympic berth gets intense from the French Open with world no. 22 Ashwini and Tanisha Crasto also in the fray for a berth.

For the first time, in the history of Indian badminton, two women's doubles pairings are in contention for a spot in the Olympics.

"The qualification will depend on the next four to five tournaments. They have done well at the BATC. They beat players who are in the top 10 of the world. They are pretty good at that thing, but they need to be more consistent. Age is on their side and I believe that as time goes by we will see more and more good performances from them," opined Gopichand.

The list of qualified shuttlers will be released on April 28.

'Anmol a fantastic talent'

Asked about India's next generation of shuttlers, Gopichand chose 17-year-old Anmol Kharb, the star of India's BATC win as she clinched three decisive rubbers against China at the group stage tie and then in the semifinal and final, as the one for future.

"Anmol Kharb is a fantastic talent. It was good that Anmol delivered at the BATC, especially in the final matches, and winning those matches was phenomenal. The way she played at the Asian Championships, defeating players from China, Japan, and Thailand at crucial junctures, bodes well for Indian badminton," he stated.

But Anmol is not the only one who has impressed Gopichand.

"Anmol won one national championship title which means she lost to other young players which means we have many other good players at the domestic level. We have Tanvi. I don't want to name all of them. There are at least five top women's singles players. In men's singles, there is the likes of Priyanshu Rajawat, and then there is one boy called Ayush Shetty coming up fast," said the coach.

Pullela Gopichand with Kidambi Srikanth

Asked about former world no. 1 Kidambi Srikanth's dismal run of form as his failure to win decisive rubbers at the Asian Games final and then in the quarterfinal of the BATC against Japan cost India dearly, Gopichand called for a change in approaches in his game.

"There were losses from 19-12 and 19-11 situations. These things do happen, and to Srikanth, this has happened a lot more. Very fair that you have asked this question. He has been working hard, so I can't say there's a problem in his work ethic," observed Gopichand.

"However, people have read him more and prepared themselves for the kind of game he plays. That is why he has to figure out new ways of playing and that is going to be tough. But he is putting in his effort and we have Parupalli Kashyap helping him daily. So I hope he will manage to pull himself off from this downward curve," he added.

'We need to do better for our young coaches'

Though things look promising for Indian badminton, with the shuttlers winning medals at the Olympics and on the BWF World Tour regularly, Gopichand suggested more respect and recognition for the young coaches taking up coaching after retirement.

"It is good that Kashyap, Gurusai Dutt, Arun Vishnu, and Manu Attri have joined the coaching ranks. I do believe that Indian players who retired coming back as coaches will be a huge benefit for us," the former All England Open champion turned coach stated.

"But we still need to ensure that coaching as a profession in the country is respected more and is paid well. In terms of recognition, respect, and monetary compensation, we have to do better. If that happens I think we will be very successful," signed off Gopichand.

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