The Indian men’s doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty has been the talk of the town for a while.
In a season that has seen the singles shuttlers struggle, PV Sindhu’s World Championship-winning run being the only exception, it’s Rankireddy and Shetty who have consistently produced positive results, keeping Indian interest alive deep into competitions.
Their improvement has pushed them higher up the BWF Rankings charts, helping establish themselves as a formidable pair on the circuit. How do the two look at their growth so far? Have they been one of the best pairings this season?
“Well, now I can say yes,” said Shetty, replying to the query in a chat with the Olympic Channel.
“Before, when we used to win certain matches, we used to just fall down on the court and celebrate. It didn’t matter how close the match was; we would blindly celebrate. We never thought about the next round. We were content to play the quarterfinals or semifinals. We never looked at winning titles. But that’s changed now. Now, every time we step on to the court, the target is to win the match. That’s the main change.”
Last month’s 2019 French Open Super 750 was one such event. The Indian pair looked in their element as they beat a host of top-quality pairings, including the reigning World Champions, en route to their runners-up finish in Paris.
Though the loss to the top-ranked pair Marcus Gideon and Kevin Sukamuljo of Indonesia in the final was a hard one to take, Shetty was keen on looking at the positives. “It was really, really good. We got some really good wins, but unfortunately, we lost in the final. But overall, it was a great week,” he said.
“We have worked really hard with our coaches. Earlier, with coach Tan (Kim Tan Her), it was more about the on-court sessions, and with coach Flandy (Flandy Limpele) over the last six months, it’s been more about working on ourselves. We do a lot more running and physical sessions, challenging our bodies physically. Physically, now we are a lot more fitter.”
Paris seems to be a happy place for this pair. It was at the 2018 edition of the French Open that they came to the limelight by reaching the semifinals. And Shetty believes it to be the turning point that has resulted in their upsurge.
“It’s the French Open last year. We started playing well at Paris and followed that up with our performance at the Syed Modi (International). I think the change came about there. But back then, we didn’t have the patience to play the long game. We would play good badminton, but then we couldn’t go the distance. That’s an area that we have worked on,” he admitted.
Change in staff
Though it’s been just six months since Flandy Limpele, a former Olympic bronze medallist, took over as the doubles coach of the Indian team, Shetty stated that the Indonesian’s style of coaching and his emphasis on endurance over skills have boded well for the two.
“Tan’s programme was more about on-court training,” he said. “But for Flandey, it’s more about building your endurance. His training is all about making sure that we can last the distance even if the matches go on and on. That’s really helped us, especially in matches we have played three games, with all the three going the distance.”
With the 2020 Olympics less than a year away, the Indian pair certainly has an eye on making it to Tokyo 2020. But ask Shetty and he would show no hesitation in admitting that they do stand a chance to win a medal at the Games next year. “We have 8-9 months before Tokyo 2020. And I am someone who usually likes to set small targets. Now, the target is to finish the season on a high, and once we are sure of qualifying for the Olympics, the focus will shift to the Games,” he said.
“I think we have a chance (to win a medal at the Olympics). This year, the doubles teams from India have been on par with the singles performances. Yes, (PV) Sindhu won the Worlds, but I feel even we had a chance if we could have competed. Overall, I think if you see the Super Series tournaments, the doubles pairs have done well. Weather be it playing the final or winning the title.”
The pair will next be seen in action at the 2019 China Open Super 750 that gets underway on November 5. And if Shetty is to be believed, the Indian duo will surely be aiming for the title there.