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French Open: Satwik-Chirag reaches 3rd straight final with win over world champs, Lakshya loses in semis

Satwik and Chirag avenged their India Open final defeat to world champions Kang and Seo of Korea by making light work of the left-right combination in 40 minutes. Lakshya, playing his first semifinal since July 2023, lost to Vitidsarn in a 78-minute contest.

French Open: Satwik-Chirag reaches 3rd straight final with win over world champs, Lakshya loses in semis

Chirag Shetty (left) and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy (right) will look to defend India's Thomas Cup title in April-May in China. 


Sudipta Biswas

Updated: 10 March 2024 7:59 AM GMT

There was so much at stake in the French Open men's doubles semifinal at Paris' Adidas Arena on Saturday night, as world no. 1 Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty went up against Korea's Kang Min Hyuk and Seo Seung Jae, the defending world champions, again in a span of two months.

The heartbreaking defeat against the right-left combination at the India Open final was still fresh. In January, the Indian pair went down despite taking the opening game quite easily. For the second week in a row, they failed to lift a World Tour title in 2024. At the Malaysia Open, the season-opening event, Satwik and Chirag succumbed to Liang Wei Keng and Wang Chang of China.

Just when it was expected to be a high-voltage game between world no. 1 and 2, Satwik and Chirag made light work of the Koreans, displaying yet again their uncanny ability to find ways to get better off their the most provoking opponents.

Despite being the number one pair in the world since January 23 in the most fiercely contested field of men's doubles, where achieving consistency is considered unfeasible, Satwik-Chirag handed Kang and Seo a straight-game (21-13, 21-16) defeat to reach their fourth straight final on the BWF World Tour and the third of the year.

It is important to change approach, quickly and swiftly to get results, as coach Pullela Gopichand would always emphasise. And none knew it better than Satwik and Chirag. In the past several months, they have shown it time and again, especially when they beat Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik in three successive matches last year after eight straight losses.

Likewise, against world no. 4 Kim Astrup-Anders Skaarup Rasmussen, another left-right combination, Satwik and Chirag at the India Open quarterfinal won in straight games, literally toying with the Dane pair.

Against Kang and Seo, the Indian duo's intent to ramp up the pace in the rally and draw lifts regularly would see them forcing the Koreans to stretch and go wide frequently. The pace and power Satwik and Chirag possess make things more difficult for their opponents, especially when they are in the position of constant retrieving.

While Chirag held forte of the left court with his quick reflex strokes, Satwik was vigilant at the short, often chop-blocking the flicks and half smash with his reflex return from the net. When in need, their swift understanding saw them exchanging spaces in regular intervals, keeping the Koreans guessing for the whole 40 minutes of the match.

The Indian pair will now be up against Chinese Taipei Lee Jhe-Huei and Yang Po-Hsuan in the final of the French Open, their third at the Super 750 event since 2019. The Taipei duo, ranked 16th in the world, beat world no. 6 Japanese paring of Takuro Hoki and Yugo Kobayashi in straight games.

Satwik and Chirag lost the 2019 final of the French Open but won the prestigious title in 2022. Now, at the testing event of the Paris Olympics and before the All England Open next week, they look well poised to break their final jinx. Satwik and Chirag have been medal less since their historic Asian Games gold medal winning feat in October last year.

The Indian combo has the advantage over Lee and Yang, a right-handed pair, as they beat them in their two meetings. But Satwik and Chirag should be wary of Lee and Yang, who have remarkable control over the net, because they have not played them since the 2021 World Championships.

Lakshya's impatience, Vitidsarn's defensive brilliance

Lakshya Sen, meanwhile, could not overcome the semifinal hurdle. Playing his first last-four match since July last year, he succumbed to a tactical game of world no. 8 and reigning world champion Kunlavut Vitidsarn of Thailand in a 78-minute-long men's singles clash.

Lakshya won the opening game 22-20, displaying his intent to engage in rallies and stay patient for most of the game, waiting for his chance to score with sharp and flat crosscourt smashes.

But he could not match Vitidsarn's defensively solid and attackingly menacing game in the next two games. With the Thai player targeting the Indian shuttler's forehand regularly, sometimes with smashes and often with defensive forehand reflex return mixed with a wristy angle, Lakshya gradually looked losing his patience.

At one point, in the third game, Lakshya lost an easy point just by going for a wild backhand smash as he ended up hitting the net.

The world no. 19, however, was not out of touch though. His precise down-the-line and crosscourt smashes made heads turn. He also broke Vitidsarn's defence on a few occasions with his relentless smashing.

But his inability to take control of the pace of the game, despite coach Vimal Kumar's advice after the second game, would see him losing the tempo. At the same time, one needs to give credit to Vitidsarn's defensive strength. Many a time, he converted Lakshya's attack into points by just changing the angle of his return.

Vitidsarn, on the other hand, would take massive leads in both games due to his immaculate use of pace and deft placement, often playing in the far-flung, to Lakshya's right.

Lakshya eventually lost 22-20, 13-21, 11-21 to make a semifinal exit from the French Open.

This was Lakshya's seventh defeat to Vitidsarn in 11 meetings, and his second consecutive defeat against the Thai star since the BWF World Championships in August 2023.

Ahead of the All England Open, with a spot at the Paris Olympics still at stake, Lakshya, who seemed to have recovered fully from physical fatigue and injuries, needs to be more diligent about the mental aspect of his game.

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