All set to take on the world's best, meet the teenage duo of Satwik Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty
Contesting what was their first-ever Super Series main draw match, 19-year-old Chirag Shetty and 17-year-old Satwiksairaj Rankireddy were up against the World No. 9 pairing of Kim Astrup and Anders Rasmussen at the recently-concluded Yonex Sunrise India Open in Delhi.
Fresh from winning the Vietnam Open in the last week of March, the Indian duo looked to make the most of their home advantage and upset their Danish rivals.
The opener started off tightly as Astrup and Rasmussen took an early 7-3 lead but saw it reduced to 8-7 by the teenage pairing. The Danes then upped the ante, winning nine of the next 11 points to take a 17-9 lead and eventually closed out the first game at 21-14. Tan Kim Her, the coach for India’s doubles teams, was seen talking rather animatedly to Shetty and Rankireddy as they changed sides, egging them on to fight back.
It seemed to work in the second game as from 3-3, it was the Indian side that went into the breather up at 6-11. They managed to maintain the lead till 10-13 but the Danish pair fought back to equalise at 13-13, after which the next six points were split equally, keeping the score all square at 16-16.
After that, it was one-way traffic as the experienced duo of Astrup and Rasmussen closed out the game at 21-17, picking up six out of the next seven points to move into the next round.
Shetty and Rankireddy spoke exclusively to Sportskeeda after the match, sharing their thoughts on the encounter. “We had nothing to lose in this match and we were going for our shots,” said Shetty. “We should have won the second game, I feel. We were dominating till 15-15 and could have a had a real shot at them in the third game. All in all, it was a good learning experience,” he added.
Early days and not the best of starts
Both shuttlers have been on the circuit for some time and have been playing together as a team for almost a year now. Shetty, who is from Mumbai, started playing badminton at a local club at the age of seven, after which he joined an academy under coach Manish Hadkar. He won multiple medals at the nationals in various age categories and by 2013, was the number one U-17 doubles player in India.
Rankireddy hails from a town named Amalapuram in the East Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh and picked up the sport from his father, who was a state-level player and his elder brother.
He joined the famed Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad three years ago and at the age of 14, he decided to specialize as a doubles player. “Everyone likes singles and wants to play singles. I thought India needs doubles players, so I decided to go for doubles,” he said.
Both of them had been playing with different partners and it was Tan who decided to pair them together last year. "Tan asked all the best junior players in India to come to Hyderabad, where he paired the both of us,” explained Shetty. “Initially, we were a little hesitant since our previous partnerships were going on well. In the first three tournaments we played together, we were knocked out in the first round.”
Racking up the trophies
The turning point came at the Mauritius International in June last year, where they won their first tournament together, defeating Dhruv Kapila and Saurabh Sharma in the final 21-12 21-16. “It was a small tournament in Mauritius and the opposition wasn’t that good, but the win gave us a great boost in confidence. After that, we won quite a few tournaments," said Shetty.
Victories at the India International Series, the India International Challenge and the Bangladesh International Challenge in 2016 saw them rise up the rankings considerably.
They racked up another title last month at the Vietnam International Challenge in Hanoi, defeating the Thai pairing of Trawut Potien and Nanthakarn Yordphaisong in the final, coming back from a game down to win 17-21 21-9 21-15.
Their win in the semi-final was even more memorable as it came against the Indonesian team of Hendra Aprida Gunawan, a former top 5 player and Markis Kido, who won gold in the men’s doubles at the 2008 Olympic Games and the 2010 Asian Games.
Shetty and Rankireddy have also featured in two Grand Prix Gold tournaments in 2017, where they bowed out in the first rounds, but not before giving their opponents a run for their money.
At the Malaysia Masters in January, they lost to the experienced pairing of Chee Tean Tan and Wei Gieen Tan in an absorbing 58-minute encounter that saw them win the first game but eventually lose 21-11 15-21 24-26.
At the Syed Modi International a week later, they were up against the Danish duo of Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen, who were ranked number three in the world at the time. Again, they picked up the opening game 24-22, but were outmuscled in the next two, both of which ended 14-21.
“We didn’t expect to win the first game against them or play three games. Looking back at the match, they were much more experienced than us and that’s how they won,” said the 19-year-old Shetty.
Aiming for the top
When asked to assess their own style, the Mumbaikar stated that he plays more at the net while Rankireddy likes to play from the back of the court with his unique crouching stance that enables him to play with more control.
The 17-year-old is already touted as one of the hardest smashers of the shuttle on the circuit, an assessment Shetty wholeheartedly agreed with and which drew a sheepish grin from Rankireddy, who added, “It’s the only shot I have! And Chirag’s smash is also very hard.”
The pair felt that when it comes to skill, they are almost at par with the top players in the world. “Our game is at the highest level and we are not too far from the world’s best,” said Shetty. “We need to work on small details such as service receiving and improve our thinking on court, which will only come with more experience. It’s the little things that make all the difference and hopefully, we will progress as we play more and more tournaments together.”
They were ranked as low as 421 in the world in April 2016. Fast forward to a year, they are ranked 51st and are all set to break into the top 50 very soon. Shetty outlined their targets for the year, saying, “By the end of 2017, we want to enter the 30-40 bracket in the world rankings. This way, we will be able to play more Grand Prix Gold tournaments and enter the qualifiers of the top ones as well.”
In an interview back in 2013, a 15-year-old Chirag Shetty had said that he saw himself playing in the finals of the 2020 Olympics and that he hoped to win the gold medal. The pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and him have a combined age of just 36 and a long, long road ahead of them.
If they can continue with the same zeal and levels of commitment, the future seems quite bright for the duo. Who knows, the dream of an Olympic medal may very much become a reality in the years to come!