For much of the decade starting 2000, the badminton courts across the world were dominated by one Indonesian named Taufik Hidayat.
Achieving the world No. 1 ranking at just 19, Hidayat led Indonesia to two Thomas Cup titles and won the Asian Games singles gold in 2002 before going on to win the Olympic gold at Athens 2004.
Hidayat extended his purple patch with a maiden, and only, world championship crown in 2005, beating the then fast-rising prodigy Lin Dan and repeated the feat a year later to defend his Asian Games title.
For any young badminton fan growing up in the 2000s, Taufik Hidayat was a symbol of excellence. For Indian badminton player Chirag Shetty, Hidayat was a role model.
“I think when I started playing, I wanted to become someone like Taufik Hidayat. I had some posters of the top singles and doubles players back then and he was one of them,” Chirag Shetty told the Olympic Channel.
“He was someone I really looked up to growing up.”
Seeing him in the flesh
While many young players do not often get an opportunity to see their sporting heroes in live-action growing up, Mumbai lad Chirag Shetty was fortunate enough to not just see Hidayat in action but also play alongside him.
“I remember when I was 10 years old or something, Taufik Hidayat had come down to Mumbai for a function. I was playing for the school and state then and a few of us got the chance to play with him,” Shetty said.
“I was so mesmerised just with the way he stood. I think he was the reigning Olympic and world champion then and it was surreal to spar with him.”
In 2004, Hidayat bagged a gold medal at the Athens Games and in 2005, when Chirag was a month away from his eighth birthday, became world champion at Anaheim in California.
Hidayat was known for his nimble court coverage and understanding of the space he had on the court, qualities which would prove useful to Chirag Shetty later in his career as he became a doubles specialist.
“I loved that iconic backhand of his as well. During my junior days, I used to practice my backhand a lot and try to execute that shot the way he did,” added Chirag.
Learning to be calm
Chirag Shetty may have been too young to take any notes or observe how Hidayat played back then but in the years since, the young Indian shuttler has learnt a very important lesson from the Indonesian legend.
“I think the most striking thing about Hidayat was his calmness on the court,” Shetty felt.
“He played in Indonesia where people went crazy for him and yet he was the calmest person in the arena. It is one of the things I definitely learnt from him and try to implement myself.”
One thing that stands out about Chirag Shetty is his reserved persona, be it on or off the court. He is not someone who is expressive about winning or losing points and maintains a cool demeanour. That trait incidentally also comes from Taufik Hidayat.
“Even when I had met him as a kid, Hidayat did not have that celebrity aura or arrogance. He was the same calm person on and off the court yet had that champion quality about him,” observed Shetty.
The learnings from a modern-day legend will no doubt be crucial to Chirag Shetty as he embarks on his maiden Olympic journey next year.
Chirag Shetty and his doubles partner Satwiksairaj Rankireddy are currently tenth in the ‘Race to Tokyo’ rankings, enough for automatic qualification for the Olympics in Tokyo.
The duo will be eyeing a good finish and hoping to add an Olympic medal to their list of accolades.