‘Nobody expected anything from doubles 2 years back…’: Satwik and Chirag talk about Olympics dream at HTLS 2023
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty vow to win a historic Olympics medal in badminton doubles.
India's top badminton men's doubles players, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty are relieved that there is a sense of expectation whenever they step foot on the court. The weight of expectations, to them, is nothing but an added motivation. It not only egg them to do better but also tells them that badminton doubles is growing in India, a country traditionally known for its singles shuttlers. While speaking at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit (HTLS 2023), Chirag and Rankireddy said they would manage the pressure of the Paris Olympics similarly.
"Expectations have always been there. We need to look at it positively. A couple of years back nobody expected anything from doubles. So now it's a very positive thing for us that people expect us to win. We want to give our best shot and come back with a medal (at the Paris Olympics)," Chirag told Kunal Pradhan, Managing Editor, Hindustan Times, at the HTLS 2023 on Saturday.
Satwik said nothing much will change as far as their preparation for the Olympics is concerned. "We have a magician behind us, Gopi sir (Pulela Gopichand). He and the other coaches know what to do. They plan our practice schedules. They tell us not to take pressure. Our main opponents are our bodies. We have a tendency to get injuries at the wrong time. We need to stay fit. That's the biggest thing before the Paris Olympics," he said.
India have returned with a medal in the last three editions of the Olympics. But they were all in women's singles - Saina Nehwal won India's maiden Olynmpis medal with a bronze at the London Games in 2012 then PV Sindhu got silver medals in the Rio Games in 2016 and also in the Tokyo Games in 2020. With Saina done and Sindhu way past her best, the chances of a medal in women's singles are less.
India do have the likes of HR Prannoy, Kidambi Srikanth and Lakshya Sen in the men's singles but the best bet for a podium finish at the Paris Games next year is Chirag and Satwik in the men's doubles. From not having much hope of winning the doubles matches in team events to be one of the top medal contenders in the men's doubles, there has been a sea change in the landscape in Indian badminton and Satwik and Chirag have been the flagbearers of this.
"We've always been a country with a lot of singles players - Prakash sir, Gopi sir, Saina, Sindhu, Prannoy, Srikanth, Lakshay there have been so many good players. But we haven't had that many people picking up doubles and been. Jwala (Gutta) and Ashwini (Ponappa) were good," said.
"I always heard India doesn't have doubles players. India used to lose during team events because we didn't have strong doubles players. That's what my motto was. I wanted to change that," said Satwik.
Chirag and Satwik have had an unbelievable run this year. They started by winning the Swiss Open in Basel in March – their first title since clinching the French Open in October 2022. They continued their momentum next month when they became the first Indians in 58 years to win the Badminton Asia Championships. Dinesh Khanna was the first Indian to win the continental tournament way back in 1965 before Rankireddy and Shetty claimed the prestigious trophy in Dubai.
After a quiet May, the reigning Commonwealth Games champions were back winning in June when they clinched the Indonesia Open crown to stake claim to another first. Rankireddy and Shetty had become the first Indians to win a Super 1000 tournament – the most elite competition on the BWF World Tour – to also become the first Indians to win at all levels of the World Tour.