Satwik-Chirag pair: The new Paes-Bhupathi of Indian sport?

Doubles specialists Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty extended their splendid run by winning the Korea Open badminton title, their fourth title of the year

Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty with their coach Gopichand after winning the Korea Open title in Yeosu on Sunday, July 23.
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty with their coach Gopichand after winning the Korea Open title in Yeosu on Sunday, July 23.

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The last time a men’s doubles pair in Indian sport had created such a stir was that of Leander Paes-Mahesh Bhupathi in tennis more than two decades back. There is, however, a new Indian Express in the making on the badminton courts, that of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, who will be the new world No.2 after their triumph in the Korea Open in Yeosu on Sunday, July 23.

This was the fourth title for the pair this year (they have won in the all the four finals they played), following it up after their first Super-1000 triumph at the Indonesian Open in June.

Earlier in March, ‘Sat-Chi,’ as the combination is known in the circuit is known as, grabbed the Swiss Open Super-300 event in March and the Asian Championship gold — a first by any Indian pair in April.

If the last decade and more has seen a revolution in the sport in India, a lot of the credit has to be attributed to the two divas — Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu alongwith  Kidambi Srikkanth and the emergence of Lakshya Sen.

The absence of a powerful men’s doubles pair had often hurt their campaigns in team events till the Sat-Chi combination, another of Dronacharya Pulella Gopiachand’s success stories, made the difference in India lifting the Thomas Cup last year — the definitive men’s world title — and played their part in the Commonwealth Games gold. 

A bit of statistics here will sum up the kind of irresistible form that the two had been in recent months — it was their third straight win against the world No.1 pair from Indonesia whom they beat on Sunday — Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto.

Speaking to Revsportz, an upbeat Gopichand said: ‘’These two can dominate world badminton in a way few can or have. They have a complete game and it’s an absolute pleasure to see them play and dominate. In most pairs, there is one player who is a good attacker but here, both of them are.

 ‘’When smashes are coming at you at the speed of 500 kmph, there is no one who can feel comfortable. Their serves and return of serves have improved a few notches in the last couple of months and opponents aren’t able to fugure them out or deal with them,’’ said the former All England champion, who had been travelling with them on the circuit as their regular coach Mathias Boe has taken a break.       

The chemistry between the oddball pair on the court, Chirag (26) and Satwiksairaj (23), despite the two coming from different backgrounds and had initially faced a language barrier has been weaving a magic spell on their opponents.

The past two seasons, especially, has seen them enjoy a crowd favourite status to whichever part of the world they played in, as their Gangnam style celebrations in Korea on Sunday has already gone viral.

A Mumbai boy, Chirag is more urban in his upbringing and is often referred to as ‘Mini Google’ by his partner for his penchant for surfing the news. Satwik, who hails from Andhra, was initially the reticent type and still would not miss out on his cheat meal — the famous Andhra biryani — once a week as permitted by coach Boe.

There is, however, no time for the duo to wind down as they are scheduled to fly to Japan on Monday, July 24, itself as Japan Open is their next stop.

It’s been a busy year frm them and soon after the Tour events, they are looking ahead at the World Championship and the Asian Games in the coming months. The next Olympics in Paris is barely a year away, where India’s realistic hopes for a badminton medal rest a lot on their shoulders.

The duo, however, is looking to take one step at a time. ‘’Winning a medal at the Olympics is the ultimate goal, but we want to set short term targets. The Olympics are next year and before that, we have big events this year, like the World Championship and the Asian Games. So I think these are the immediate targets. Besides, we want to first secure our spot in the Olympic qualification race, and then think about the Olympics,’’ Chirag said recently.

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