The Satwik-Chirag interview: 'The big events are the ones people remember'

By, New Delhi
May 04, 2023 10:19 PM IST

The World No. 5 doubles pair talk about their form, the impact of Danish doubles coach Mathias Boe and their future plans.

Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy have been breaking new ground regularly in the last one-and-a-half years, going where no Indian has before them, winning medals and tournaments where no Indian has gone before.

Dubai: Badminton players Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy player during their men's doubles final match against Malaysia's Ong Yew Sin and Teo Ee Yi, at Badminton Asia Championships 2023, in Dubai, Sunday April 30, 2023. (PTI Photo)(PTI04_30_2023_000356A)(PTI) PREMIUM
Dubai: Badminton players Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy player during their men's doubles final match against Malaysia's Ong Yew Sin and Teo Ee Yi, at Badminton Asia Championships 2023, in Dubai, Sunday April 30, 2023. (PTI Photo)(PTI04_30_2023_000356A)(PTI)

But their ambition is sky high. The world No 5 pair, who have broken several Indian records, want to not just be the best in the country but also dominate world badminton.

We caught up with the newly crowned Asian champions over a video call with Shetty in Mumbai and Rankireddy in Hyderabad to discuss the turnaround they are having in their career, the impact of Danish doubles coach Mathias Boe and what their next target is. Excerpts:

You were doing well earlier too, but something changed last year. Six titles and a World Championship bronze since the start of 2022. What was the turning point?

Satwik: Everything changed after the Thomas Cup victory. Our practice has always been 100 percent but it is smart work as well. The focus is always 100 percent. There is no masti (fun) time in practice. On court, we are always learning something new which is helpful. If we have a five-day tournament, we’re utilising most of the time in it. We have changed a lot of things with (coach) Mathias Boe. We are focusing on only limited things. Like in the last 2-3 months, we mostly focussed on defence, service and receiving. We loved that winning feeling at the Thomas Cup. We wanted to go all the way through to the end. We're not taking pressure in matches, just enjoying and giving our 100 percent.

Boe rejoined the Indian setup exactly a year back. How has he changed things? How has training under him been different from previous coaches?

Chirag: It has become a lot more systematic and a lot of structure is in place since we started working with Mathias. Not that it wasn’t there before but even when we approach a match, right before we enter the court, we have a discussion with him regarding our opponents’ game; we sit down together, the three of us, and discuss, see our opponents’ matches, analyse what mistakes they have been doing, what are their strong points and how we need to go about playing. So mainly it's the structure and the way he is very systematic in his approach when it comes to badminton. That has helped us a lot when we approach the court because we know what we need to be looking forward to. It's not like we are getting surprised once we are on court because we somewhat know what kind of game the opponents will be playing. So, all we need to do is execute the plan well in our own court.

With every tournament, you two are breaking new ground, creating new records, stepping into the unknown.

Satwik: I don’t feel it. I take it as a match only, I don’t think about the records. I never did. Before the match (Asia Championships final) I was asking Shetty bhai if anyone has won the tournament before us as I didn’t know about the past. I knew Sindhu didi, (HS) Prannoy and all have won medals but I was asking about gold. I'm not really aware of these things. I just play and stay in the situation, I don’t think much about what will happen if we win or lose. I don’t take it to my head. But also I want to be first in the world and not just India. Yes, we are the first from India but I want to win something like all the top players are doing; be consistent, become world No.1, break some new records in the world.

What about your competition? You’ve beaten almost all top pairs? Time to dominate them?

Chirag: One pair (we want to beat) would obviously be (reigning world champions) Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yi (head-to-head is 0-7) . Another pair on the circuit would be (two-time All England champions) Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon (head-to-head is 0-11). They have not been paying that well recently but you can’t really write them off because they have been on the top for quite some time. These are probably the pairs we would want to beat. Rest we have beaten pretty much everyone on the circuit. If you want to dominate world badminton then you need to be winning tournaments, not just play well consistently. Not that we can win every single tournament but at least 4-5 titles a year. Then you can call yourself dominating world badminton. We have that sort of game in us, we are capable of doing that, we just need to play consistently, and it is quite possible to achieve. Like Satwik said, we don’t want to be satisfied by being the first Indians to win and so on. We want to be the best in the world.

What’s your next target?

Chirag: The first target would be to qualify for the Olympics. Once we are able to do that then winning big tournaments. People congratulate you on your World Tour wins but at the end of the day, the ones who win at the big events are the ones people remember. However, good or bad it may sound but that is how life is. Next week we leave for the Sudirman Cup so that is the next target — a place where we want to win a medal. Then we want to better our medal at the World Championships and then the Asian Games. These three are the big events we want to win medals at this year apart from World Tour wins.

The doubles game lacked the limelight and recognition earlier. Has the situation improved?

Chirag: It has improved to a tremendous extent. It has become a lot better definitely with a lot of sponsorships coming in. Doubles badminton is getting its due recognition. It is definitely on the right path, no doubt about that. But I wouldn’t say it is at par with singles yet. The support from the government and the Badminton Association of India (BAI) has been at par but if I was a singles player with the same performances I probably would have got a little more money than I would make in doubles.

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    From badminton to cricket, Sandip Sikdar writes on many sporting disciplines. He has the experience of working in digital, news agency as well as print organisations. Motorsport remains his first love.

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