Satwik-Chirag outwits world no.1 to win Korea Open; rises as India's biggest Olympic medal hope
On their way to winning the Korea Open title, Satwik-Chirag defeated world no.2 Liang Wei Keng-Wang Chang and world no.1 Alfian-Ardianto to remain unbeaten for ten successive matches. Now, back-to-back titles in the space of a month not only boost their confidence further but will also improve their ranking.
"We do not fear anybody; they might be thinking, 'Oh, we are playing Satwik-Chirag". It is not even a fortnight that India's greatest doubles duo made this statement, boasting a never-seen-before confidence in their game.
And at Korea Open, they walked the talk by beating Japanese Takuro Hoki-Yogo Kobayashi and Chinese Liang Wei Keng-Wang Chang in quarters and semis in straight games before fighting back from a game down in the final.
On Sunday, playing their second successive BWF World Tour final in the space of a month, the Indian starlets made another startling statement by displaying tremendous fighting spirit against world no. 1 Fajar Alfian-Muhammad Rian Ardianto in the Korea Open men's doubles final. For the world no. 3 Indian combination, it was their third World Tour title of the year.
Cool and calm fighters
Satwik-Chirag did not have the best start, however. They trailed for the entire opening game as Alfian and Ardianto gained control of the proceedings and troubled the Indians with measured body flicks and smashes. The Indonesians would take the first game lead, winning 21-17.
Six successive points - they retaliated from 10-19 to 16-19 - would help the Indian pair reduce their margin of loss, though. And that would shift the momentum in Satwik-Chirag's favour for the rest of the match. As a result, the second and third games would bear witness to their fighting spirit, which they displayed at the fag end of the opening game.
With their coach, Pullela Gopichand, helming the hot seat at the Jinnam Stadium in Yeosu, South Korea, Satwik and Chirag maintained their lead from the onset of the second game, with their smashes landing frequently in the Indonesians' mid-court. Add to that, Alfian and Ardianto's unforced errors.
What was deemed their strength in the first game turned out to be their biggest enemy in the second game and the decider. In the opener, Alfian and Ardianto pushed the Indians to the mid-court, not allowing them to gain control at the net. But in the following games, some flat exchanges by Satwik-Chirag forced them to hit the net often. As a result, the Indians took an 11-8 lead at the second-game interval.
Satwik-Chirag did not let their control slip, keeping their command over the rallies intact, even though misjudgment has cost them a couple of points in between. But they showed no sign of feeling the pressure, with a soft flick from Satwik finding Alfian wanting.
When it comes to using power smashes, Satwik and Chirag have remained their own best competitors. They rapidly charged Alfian and Ardianto, who looked clueless to the Indians' sage use of smashes. The only difference between Satwik and Chirag's smashes is that the one hit by Satwik came from high tosses, as Chirag deployed more of a flat crosscourt strike that often saw the Indonesian shuttlers failing to control and hitting the shuttle out of play, letting the Indians draw some easy points.
The firm grip that Satwik-Chirag put on a show in time enabled them to level the match at 21-13 on the second game point.
In the decider, as they came harder on their opponents, Alfian and Ardianto's defence opened up. With Satwik and Chirag shuffling their places rapidly, manifesting their imperishable camaraderie developed over time, not allowing the Indonesians to measure their positions, they surged swiftly in the game, taking an 11-8 at the interval.
The Indonesians tried to fight back, but Satwik and Chirag's improved defence, free-flowing rallies, intent to not buckle down under pressure, and fast attacks helped them prevail 21-14. It was their third successive win over Alfian and Ardianto.
With this title, Satwik-Chirag achieved another first for India, becoming the first Indian pair to win the Korea Open title.
"Go back, rest, and progress again"
This win also demonstrated their rapid surge in world badminton. After winning two World Tour titles in 2022 and a bronze medal at the World Championships, Satwik and Chirag have already won three titles in 2023, the biggest of them being the Indonesia Open Super 1000, which they won last month.
That the duo is meant for more incredible things, as envisaged by Mathias Boe and their former coach Tan Kim Her, is now widely evident. And they continue to improve their game at the right time, right in the middle of the Road to Paris qualification cycle.
On their way to winning the Korea Open title, Satwik-Chirag won four matches in straight games and defeated world no.2 Wei Keng-Wang Chang and now world no.1 Alfian-Ardianto to remain unbeaten for ten successive matches - a trend that they started at the Indonesia Open.
Now, back-to-back titles in less than a month meant boosting their confidence further besides improving their ranking, making them the new world no. 2 in men's doubles. Satwik and Chirag could soon realise the magnificent achievement of becoming the world no. 1 if they win the Japan Open Super 750 and the current holder of the position, Alfian-Ardianto, loses in or before the semifinals.
Even though they have won six World Tour titles now - five of them came in the last two years alone - Satwik and Chirag have no scope to be complacent. After the success in South Korea, Satwik says, "We played amazing badminton. We want to continue with the same momentum. We have a tournament again (Japan Open), next week. We go back, rest and progress again."
"Extremely happy that we could get the second title after the Indonesia Open," says Chirag, adding, "This is just a stepping stone; there are bigger things to be achieved."
Satwik and Chirag have their eyes set on achieving bigger things which are attaining complete domination over the World Tour and in Asia, which they have already done by winning the Asian Championships and now the Asian Games title will further suffice their ascendancy, before culminating with an Olympic medal, possibly gold, in Paris in 2024.