In 2016, much to the annoyance of Satwiksairaj RankiReddy and Chirag Shetty, the two shuttlers found themselves torn from their previous partners and were asked to play together. Neither of the two welcomed the change and within weeks of this experiment, they asked for a divorce from their coach.
Cut to 2018, Satwik and Chirag are not only fast friends, but the Andhra boy and the Mumbai lad broke into the top 20 in the recent world rankings and are all ready to make their men’s doubles debut at the upcoming Commonwealth Games.
Both Satwik and Chirag find their comfort zone at the back of the court, both like to attack. But after a few months of trial and error, Chirag now plays at the net while Satwik takes the back. Speaking of the good, bad and ugly in the game, to The Bridge, Chirag admitted that there was work to be done in some quarters.
‘We are both quick at the net and we have a good attacking game, probably one of the best in the world. But I feel like we still have a lot to work on with our defense strategies.’ he said.
For, Chirag at only 20 and Satwik still a teenager, it is not just the technical aspect where they need to improve but there is a whole world of learning in terms of mind games that the young pair are still waiting to unpack.
‘It’s when we are leading 19-17 or something like that we give in to our nerves and end up choking. I think we can improve this only with experience, as we play more and more tournaments. I think we can do a lot more if we can learn how to be more calm and composed and turn these big matches into winning ones,’ said Chirag.
‘This is something we have actually been working on for some time and I am probably not wrong in thinking that the results are showing. We have been playing quite a smart game lately and I hope we can continue that in the future,’ he added.
Learning to not lose nerves is something that Satwik has learnt from one of the best sources. Having had the good fortune to play mixed doubles with Ashwini Ponappa, learning to control the mind in crucial moments has been his biggest takeaway.
‘Playing with Ashwini Ponappa was so great. More than anything else, she has taught me patience, which is so integral. She really knows how to take care of tricky situations. That’s something she has taught me the most,’ he admitted.
While Satwik dabbles in both Mixed doubles and Men’s, Chirag chooses to stick to the domain of Men’s doubles. His reasoning resonates the very essence of team spirit. If Satwik’s legs were too tired, Chirag doubles for the both them.
‘You see, Satwik is already playing mixed doubles and if I do it too, there is a chance that we would both be exhausted for Men’s doubles. Right now, I can have his back if he is tired and we have struck a good balance. I would not want to disrupt that. Mixed doubles is anyway so different and it’s difficult to play both.,’ explained the 20 year old.
While the duo has been doing fairly well in the past year or so, there is a buzz among badminton fans that they do not get enough credit for the work they do and that they are constantly overshadowed by their counterparts in Singles.
Responding to that, Satwik and Chirag, sounded wiser beyond their years and had no hesitation in admitting that it is only their success that has given the shuttlers in Singles their deserved fame.
‘Sure we don’t get as much fanfare as our peers do in Singles but that is because they have done so well over the past few years. I have no doubt that if we match their standards in performance, doubles will become as popular and trust me, these are exciting times we are heading towards,’ said Chirag.
‘Also, until about two years ago, doubles players did not have the kind of specialised coaches that we do now. But now that the scene is changing, so will our standards. And I think the results are already showing,’ Satwik chimed in.
With their exposure in the Premier Badminton League, the improvement in the game of Satwik/Chirag pair was visible in their campaign so far in 2018. Having reached the semifinals in Indonesia, the duo seems confident. With their improved addition, the Indian contingent looks quite a tough cookie which shouldn’t crumble too easily.
Chirag, too , seemed all in favour of the PBL. He said, ‘PBL has helped us improve our game a lot. With so many matches and that too against players of such high standards, we are bound to improve just to stay on court. Besides just playing against big names, they are often helpful in simply understanding the game better.’
‘Sometimes just watching them handle situations, and studying their movements from such close quarters can be really helpful in understanding my own game.’ he continued.
He was also quick to add his disappointment regarding the new BWF rule about the service. According to the new rule, the shuttle has to be below 1.15 metres from the surface of the court at the time of leaving the server’s racket.
‘Changing rules so many times is a waste and this rule, in particular, is going to be so difficult for tall players. For us, it is still okay, but it will make life miserable for the taller shuttlers. I hope it’s changed again,’ said Chirag.
Satwik and Chirag, are among the younger ones who have made it big on the circuit already and with the surge in popularity of badminton over the last few years, it is likely that there will be more Satwiks and Chirags who will make India proud in the years to come.
‘When we started out, we missed out just by a few years on great initiatives like Khelo India. Now an aspiring high schooler has an award of 5 lakhs if he or she prove to be meritorious and in our case, we had to spend so much money just to be able to take part,’ said Chirag.
‘In India, earlier you only got support once you broke into the top 50 at least. But just to do that we have to play at least 10 to 15 tournaments a year. So that would be around 5 to 6 lakhs a year that we were spending from our own pockets. Thankfully, now there is the Go Sports Foundation who makes things so much simpler,’ he continued.
Speaking of the sudden popularity of the sport, both Satwik and Chirag concurred that it, in the end, it is all about performance.’
‘Last few years, badminton in India has grown so much because they shuttlers have maintained a basic standard. The Singles players have done so well internationally, it is bound to inspire youngsters.”
“Glam factors in the PBL and the likes elevates this popularity but it is definitely because of the success that the shuttlers have had that has caused this increase in popularity.’
It is immensely heartwarming to see two youngsters, who are looking to make their big break at the Commonwealth in a few days’ time, speaking with so much admiration and support for their counterparts in singles, giving to them their due respect.
We hope that in three weeks’ time, Satwik and Chirag come home to the same level of respect that they have for others.