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My Greatest Game: When Satwiksairaj and Ashwini Ponappa helped India coast to gold

Facing Olympic silver medallists in the opening tie of the mixed team final at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Satwik and Ashwini Ponnappa gave India a strong foundation.

By Naveen Peter ·

The 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia saw the Indian badminton team win its first-ever mixed team gold with a convincing 3-1 win over Malaysia.

The Indian mixed team for the final comprised Ashwini Ponnappa, Srikanth Kidambi, Chirag Shetty, Saina Nehwal, N Sikki Reddy and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy

India were up against Malaysia, the three-time defending champions. The Malaysian team included badminton legend Lee Chong Wei and Olympic silver medallists Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying, among others. 

India put up a brave show that not only stunned a packed Carrara Sports Arena in Gold Coast but also displayed their prowess beyond the singles.

And thus it’s no surprise that one of India’s NextGen doubles star, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, considers that win against the Malaysians to be his greatest moment yet on a badminton court.

“You know there were many who thought we barely stood a chance because our doubles was nowhere close to what the Malaysians had,” Satwik told Olympic Channel.

“I think the crowd really pushed us through that day. I remember it was a packed arena, a lot of Indian fans and an equal number of Malaysian fans as well. And then there were guys who thought we didn't stand a chance.

“For me, I feed off such negative emotions. I like to prove people wrong. I like taking such things up as a challenge. In the third game, I was in that zone. I just didn't want to lose. I just wanted to prove a point.”

Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Ashwini Ponnappa beat Olympic silver medallist Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying in the opening tie of the final.

Partnering Ashwini Ponnappa for the opening mixed doubles tie against Olympic silver medallists Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying, the Indian duo took the first game 21-14. But the Malaysians bounced back in the second game 21-15 to push the match into a decider. 

With the momentum firmly behind them, Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying started the final game well and raced to a five-point lead at the mid-game interval. 

But Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Ashwini Ponnappa dug deep and produced some top-quality badminton and stunned the Olympic medallist to hand India a 1-0 lead in the five-match tie.

Satwisairaj Rankireddy remembers how the team members fired him and Ponappa. 

“This is one of the reasons why I love playing the team event. You are never alone. I remember speaking with Gopi (Pullela Gopichand) sir and Tan coach (Tan Kim Her) at the mid-game break in the third. I don't think they ever thought that we would lose that match,” Satwik said. 

“Coach Tan was so confident that he even told us that we will get the lead back and win. And then you had the entire team pushing you on. Ours was the first match of the tie, the pressure was not much. We knew Srikanth and Saina could pull us back and then I had the men’s doubles too.”

Srikanth Kidambi beat Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei in straight games.

Later, while Srikanth Kidambi accounted for Lee Chong Wei in his men’s singles tie, Saina Nehwal entertained with some fine badminton to beat Soniia Cheah in a three-game thriller to help India to the top spot on the podium. 

Satwiksairaj Rankireddy believes the win in Gold Coast helped change India’s outlook towards doubles badminton in the country. 

“I remember Saina didi telling me after the win that it happened only because of the doubles team,” he shared.

“Of course, Srikanth bhaiya played really well and then she finished it off, but she knew that it was Ashwini and me who set the momentum. It felt great that someone like her was recognising our effort.

“I think it was after that win that people started recognising doubles badminton in India. After that everyone like, ‘Haan yaar, India ka doubles bhi accha hai. (India’s doubles team is also good). We won this because of the doubles.”