Boe providing the diamond edge to Satwik-Chirag
The Dane has imparted some vital lessons to the doubles duo and it is showing in their results
It was during the summer of 2020 when offices, schools and colleges were shut during the first wave of Covid-19 that Chirag Shetty started training with Mathias Boe at the Goregaon Sports Club in Mumbai. After getting a first-hand taste of what the former world No 1 could bring to the table, the Indian doubles exponent mooted the idea of bringing the Danish badminton great on board.
After deliberations with the Sports Authority of India (SAI), Badminton Association of India (BAI) and chief coach Pullela Gopichand, Boe was hired in March 2021 to help India’s doubles pairs qualify for the Olympics. Though Shetty and his partner Satwiksairaj Rankireddy did not win a medal at Tokyo, the impact was clear – they were the only combination to beat eventual Olympic champions Lee Yang and Wang Chi-lin of Chinese Taipei.
Boe left after the Olympics and so did the consistency of Rankireddy and Shetty. They would beat top pairs and reach quarters and semis but barring their success at the 2022 India Open here, they were not being able to reach finals and win tournaments.
On Shetty’s insistence, the authorities decided to re-hire Boe in April 2022 and the results improved almost immediately. It was primarily due to Rankireddy and Shetty that India were able to achieve the historic feat of winning the Thomas Cup a month later. The world No 6 duo continued rolling their list of ‘firsts’ by becoming the first Indian men’s doubles pair to win the Commonwealth Games gold and then a bronze at the World Championships. A couple of months later they won their maiden Super 750 tournament at the French Open in Paris.
This year too has been fruitful, starting with the Swiss Open triumph in Basel in March. And on Sunday, Shetty and Rankireddy became the first Indian pair to be crowned Asian champions in Dubai which was also only the second gold India had won at the tournament, 58 years after Dinesh Khanna won the men’s singles gold.
The one person who looked more delighted than the duo themselves was Boe, sitting courtside with a black-and-red notebook. When his wards won, the Dane broke into a fist-pumping dance before hugging his wards.
“Boe was a top player who understands what it takes to win at that level. Mathias has been with them for some time now and is really helping them. Though Malaysian coach Tan Kim Her found this combination, the two were used to Boe because they had played with them in the Premier Badminton League (PBL),” said former chief coach and current selector U Vimal Kumar.
While Rankireddy played against Boe in the PBL, Shetty played with the former world No 1 in 2019 and under him in 2020. The camaraderie between Shetty and Boe prompted a request to bring in the former All England champion.
“I have a really good rapport with him. I was a junior the first time I met him when he’d come to Mumbai and we’d have a few practice sessions. Thereon, whenever he used to be in Mumbai we used to practice together. Back then he was the world No 1 and practicing with him was a big thing for me. Whenever I used to practice with him and leave for tournaments I ended up playing really well,” Shetty had said in a previous interview.
The respect the Indian combine has for Boe in addition to their bonding has really helped them click. The language barrier is also not a problem with Boe which has been the case with other Korean, Indonesian or Malaysian coaches who have come into the Indian scene over the past years.
“They have become more mature and importantly found consistency, especially since their victory at the Thomas Cup which was the turning point.," said Vimal, who is the head coach of the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy in Bengaluru. "There they faced and beat various combinations. Such things factor in when you think about how consistent they have become. Earlier they were beating good combinations occasionally but not regularly.”
Like an elder brother off the court, Boe is strict once they enter the stadium and training under him is a gruelling affair. He makes Shetty and Rankireddy put in five hours of training daily — three in the morning and two in the evening.
“Getting to work with him is a huge psychological boost. The quality that you get from him on-court, the stroke practice; it’s totally different because you’re playing against a world-class player. Suddenly the on-court quality increases dramatically,” said Rankireddy.
“There’s a lot more thought behind the strokes and shot selection. He tells us what to do when things are not working with service, catching (up) or pressing (shuttle) downwards. He’s always teaching us new things, telling us how to play smart, how some shots can be done better. The intensity is always very high.”
One of the best readers of the game during his playing days which resulted in an Olympic silver, two World Championship medals and a Thomas Cup victory, Boe was known for breaking the rhythm of his opponents by constantly changing the timing of his shots.
“I want to share my experience with Satwik and Chirag, who maybe have the best attack in the world when they are in their favourite position with Chirag at the net and Satwik at the back. Some of the things I have been best at — tactical aspect, reading and understanding the game, tactics against opponents,” said Boe during ‘A Year On Tour With Vittinghus’ podcast with compatriot Hans-Kristian Vittinghus.
Still early days but if Rankireddy and Shetty can maintain their consistent run, they will undoubtedly be India’s best bet at the 2024 Paris Olympics. That is the big picture, one that Boe will hope the Indian duo can see and appreciate.