Unpredictability separates the best from the rest: Chirag Shetty

Kevin Sukamuljo and Marcus Gideon have faced Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy nine times so far, and have remained undefeated.

While becoming the world number one is a big challenge in any sport, staying at the top is an even bigger task.

It gets trickier in a sport like badminton where the higher-ranked shuttlers face each other in the knockouts frequently with one knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the other fully well.

However, for India’s top-ranked doubles player Chirag Shetty, what separates the best from the rest is a simple yet significant element - unpredictability.

And the Indian world no.10 men’s doubles star attributes this trait to the Indonesian world no. 1 men’s doubles pair of Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon.

The Indian men’s doubles duo of Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy have played their Indonesian counterpart nine times so far, and haven’t been able to triumph even once.

Naming them as “the toughest opponent” that he and partner Satwiksairaj Rankireddy have ever faced, Chirag Shetty pointed out their ability to think outside the box that makes them special.

“With Kevin and Marcus, it is Kevin who really affects us the most. He is very creative,” Chirag Shetty told the Olympic Channel.

“He doesn’t let us attack at all because he is extremely quick at the net and you never know what he will play next. That’s the major differentiator in a match.

“He always brings something new to the table when they are down or level. He brings something out of the box and wins it,” the 22-year-old explained.

Inching ahead

However, Chirag Shetty believes that he and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy are getting there.

The doubles players were only teenagers when they were first paired in 2016 and the Mumbai shuttler believes that they now have the experience to face the Indonesian pair.

One way of achieving it has been Shetty-Rankieddy’s improved result against Japan’s higher-ranked pair of Hiroyuki Endo and Yuta Watanabe.

“Endo and Watanabe have beaten the Indonesian pair five times last year and we have beaten Endo-Watanabe twice back-to-back in the 2019 French Open and China Open.

“So, I would say we are assessing what we are doing right and getting closer to the cause,” he reasoned.

Apart from the Indonesian pair, Japan’s Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda is another pair who has remained unbeaten against the Indian duo.

But, Chirag Shetty believes that they have cracked the code and it is just a matter of time.

“We have never beaten Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda, but we have come extremely close to achieving it and we believe we can do that,” said Chirag Shetty.

“All the five times we have played the Japanese, the matches have either gone into three games or the two games have been extremely close,” he added.

The tall and short of it

When Malaysian doubles coach Tan Kim Her had proposed the idea of pairing Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy in 2016, not many were on the same page.

Both the players were fine athletes with their height and strength standing as an advantage. Their tendency to finish off rallies also made them very similar kinds of players.

Though the pairing led Chirag Shetty to change his playing style from being a finisher to a playmaker, four years and numerous matches later, the Indian duo now packs speed, strength, and vision – a combination that has stood up to the old badminton powerhouses.

Last year, the Indian duo beat the world no. 5 Japanese pair of Hiroyuki Endo and Yuta Watanabe on both occasions that they met. They also got the better of the Chinese World no. 3 pair of Li Jun Hui and Liu Yu Chen twice in three encounters.

“We feel really good playing against taller guys like China’s Li Jun Hui and Liu Yu Chen (6’5” and 6’4” respectively) or even Japan’s Endo and Yuta Watanabe,” pointed out Chirag Shetty, who along with his partner stand a touch over six feet.

“They [Endo and Watanabe, 5’6” and 5’4”] love to defend a lot. They keep lifting the shuttle and wait for us to attack, which we want our opponents to do.

“The Chinese [Hui and Chen] like to attack like us, but I feel we are a bit faster than them,” he added.

After B Sumeeth Reddy and Manu Attri became the first Indian men's doubles pair to qualify for the Games at the 2016 Olympics, Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy look like the firepower Indian doubles badminton needs in the coming years.

Sitting ninth on the men’s doubles Olympic qualification table, the duo also remains India’s best hope in the doubles category to qualify at the Tokyo Olympics.

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