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Testing Times: Satwik-Chirag aspires to break final jinx at French Open as Olympics loom

World no. 1 Satwik and Chirag lost three finals in a row on the World Tour, displaying their irritation in negating challenges from left-right combinations. As they embark on French Open, with Olympics just a few months away in Paris, the Indians aim to address this anomaly.

Testing Times: Satwik-Chirag aspires to break final jinx at French Open as Olympics loom

Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy will look to win their second French Open Super 750 men's doubles title at the Adidas Arena in Paris. 


Sudipta Biswas

Updated: 5 March 2024 6:10 AM GMT

The much anticipated French Open is back. As the world's top shuttlers descend in Paris ahead of the Olympics, there is obviously a buzz around this year's Super 750 event, beginning Tuesday.

For shuttlers, the tournament holds immense significance for two reasons - it gives them a chance to test themselves in the Parisian courts one last time before the July-August Olympics and for the crucial points they need to earn to improve their chances of qualifying for the showpiece event.

From Indian perspective, the focus will lie on world no. 1 men's doubles pair Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty - they are inarguably India's best medal hope in present circumstances, and women's singles star PV Sindhu, who has made a rollicking comeback at the Badminton Asia Team Championships (BATC) last month but lost to Aya Ohori since sustaining a knee injury at last season's French Open.

Though Satwik and Chirag were unbeaten at the BATC, they could not propel the Indian men's team beyond the quarterfinal where his teammates succumbed to a 2-3 defeat against Japan.

Likewise, on the World Tour, Satwik-Chirag remains winless since their historic Asian Games gold medal-winning feat in Hangzhou.

As they embark on BWF World Tour's European tour at the French Open, where they were crowned champions in 2022 for the first time, Satwik-Chirag's aim will be to break the final jinx.

While the pair ascended to world no. 1 twice in a span of four months after getting toppled by Liang Wei Keng and Wang Chang briefly and have been at the spot unscathed since January 23, they could not cut the mustard in the final in three events in a row.

Of course, there was remarkable consistency in what they did in these tournaments - by reaching the final in badminton's most competitive discipline - since the Asian Games. But on all three occasions, they were trumped by the lower-ranked yet fierce rivals.

Of their three defeats in the final, two of them came against Liang Wei Keng and Wang Chang of China - at the China Masters last year and Malaysia Open this season. At the India Open, Korea's Kang Min Hyuk and Seo Seung Jae beat the Indian pair in a hard-fought final.

Satwik and Chirag, however, are philosophical about their failure to overcome the final frontier. They look at it the other way round. "Losing is better sometimes, it will give a lot of motivation. For me, losing the final will give motivation to make the crowd happy the next time," Satwik would say in a recent interview with BWF.

He also emphasised that the defeats would only make them hungrier for success as they learnt lessons from these unfavourable results. "When it really matters it (the win) will come," stated Satwik.

The Indian duo has come out as one of the best pairings in the world in the last two years, soaring from a mid-top-10 position to the world no. 1 ranking, creating history for Indian badminton with title-winning displays at India Open, French Open and World Championships bronze in 2022.

They continued to iron out their defensive shortcoming to emerge as one of the most strong doubles pairings. After eight defeats against arch nemesis Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik, the Indians finally broke the deadlock in 2023, and when they trounced the Malaysians, they did it in style.

The Indian pairing is now unbeaten for three matches in a row against Chia and Soh since the Indonesia Open Super 1000 final. And on all three occasions, they won in straight games, displaying their spirited and tactical game. Needless to say, Satwik and Chirag have now deciphered the world no. 5 Chia and Soh's quick and explosive game.

In 2023, a much better season followed for the Indian combo with more titles and near finishes coming at regular intervals. By reaching the Malaysia Open semifinal and winning the Swiss Open Super 300, Indonesia Open Super 1000, Korea Open Super 500, and Asian Games gold, Satwik and Chirag achieved many historic firsts for Indian badminton and cemented themselves as one of the strongest contenders for the Olympic gold medal in Paris.

New nemesis: Countering Left-right combinations

While things look promising and hope soars due to their rapid rise, still there are a few concerns that Satwik-Chirag needs to address. In the defeats that followed last season and then this season, there is a common ominous trend - Satwik-Chirag's struggle against left-right combinations Kim Astrup-Anders Skaarup Rasmussen and Seo Seung-Kang Min, and against wily right-handed combo Liang-Wang.

The world no. 4 Astrup and Rasmussen hold a 6-3 head-to-head record against the Indians. It is not that Satwik and Chirag have never bettered them. But their half-a-dozen losses against the Dane pair suggested that there were still a lot of things to sort out for Satwik-Chirag in a discipline where things transcend in almost every game and match.

However, that they decoded the Dane challenge in the momentous Olympic year became evident in their most recent 21-7, 21-10 victory against Astrup and Rasmussen in the quarterfinal of the India Open.

But in the final, playing against another left-right combination, Seo and Kang, Satwik-Chirag struggled. The Koreans' lethal attack from the net and uncanny defence had undone the Indians. Kang and Seo are not as explosive as Chia-Soh or Liang-Wang, but their ability to not get bogged down by Satwik and Chirag's mighty smashes and retrieve everything will keep the Indians busy finding a solution to this tricky challenge.

Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty will look to find solutions to their irritation against playing left-right combinations.

The Koreans also serve well - mixing spin to the flat shuttle - to keep the Indian duo guessing all through.

While there was irritation about these losses, Satwik-Chirag has time and again proved that they know how to find the answers to get on top of their most annoying opponents on the World Tour.

As the test event for the Olympics begins on Tuesday, although at a different court at the Adidas Arena, Satwik and Chirag have their sights on coming on top again and reaching the peak by the winning French Open and claiming the All England Open in the subsequent week.

Among others, Sindhu, India's lone women's singles player at the French Open and contender for the Paris 2024 berth, will be observed closely as she is back in the Race to Paris after battling out the knee injury.

Similarly, much attention will be given to promising women's doubles pairings of Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand, who punched above their weight at the BATC by earning India the women's title maintaining an unbeaten record, and world no. 20 Tanisha Crasto and Ashwini Ponnappa as the race for the Paris Olympics berth gets fierce at the French Open.

World no. 7 HS Prannoy is also expected to find his vibrant 2023 form back at the French Open after his initial struggles this year.

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