The Indian men's doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty have rekindled medal hopes in doubles for a nation that has traditionally been considered weak in that discipline. With their stunning chemistry and consistent results in the biggest tournaments, Rankireddy and Shetty have firmly established themselves as a top pair in the world.
Currently perched at No. 10 in the world rankings, the young duo have already conquered the Thailand Open in a historic first for Indian badminton. With a prestigious silver medal from the 2018 Commonwealth Games in their kitty, Rankireddy and Shetty will be gunning to take their form to the Tokyo Olympics and create history at the Games.
As they embark on their medal-winning quest, here's an analysis of their chances in group stages.
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy & Chirag Shetty placed in tough Group A
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty have been placed in a tough Group A headed by top seeds and World No. 1 pair of Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo of Indonesia. The other teams in this group are World No. 3 Chinese Taipei combine of Lee Yang and Wang Chi-Lin, and the 18th ranked English pair of Ben Lane and Sean Vendy.
Every pair in the group plays each other once with the top two finishers qualifying for the quarterfinals.
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty start their maiden Olympic campaign on July 24 with a clash against the Taipei pair of Yang and Chi-Lin. Their next group assignment will be on July 26 against the top seeds Gideon and Sukamuljo with their final match scheduled for July 27 against Lane and Vendy.
With so many top pairs packed in Group A, it will require a herculean effort from the Indian duo to find themselves advancing to the knockouts. But can they? Let's find out:
Rankireddy/Shetty vs Yang/Chi-Lin (Head-to-head: 0-0)
Rankireddy and Shetty have never faced the Taipei pair of Yang and Chi-Lin. The unfamiliarity factor is what makes the Taipei combine an even more dangerous team to face.
Yang and Chi-Lin made a brilliant start to the year in Thailand. They swept all three tournaments that were played in January - Yonex Thailand Open, Toyota Thailand Open and BWF World Tour Finals 2020.
However, they haven't played since then. It remains to be seen if the long gap affects their performances.
In any case, Satwik and Chirag will be the underdogs in this match. With the Taipei duo being first up for the Indians, the latter cannot afford to make a mistake if they want to make it to the knockouts.
Rankireddy/Shetty vs Gideon/Sukamuljo (Head-to-head: Gideon/Sukamuljo lead 8-0)
This has so far been a lopsided rivalry. Only once out of their eight meetings did the Indians manage to take a game off the irrepressible Indonesian pair. That said, Indian badminton fans will be heartened by the fact that even when Rankireddy and Shetty have gone down to the Indonesians, they have done so after having run them close.
The two teams haven't crossed swords since the semifinals of the 2019 Fuzhou China Open, where the Indians had chances in their 16-21, 20-22 loss. If Rankireddy and Shetty can keep their aggressive play intact and can pounce on their chances, they can present themselves with an opportunity to topple the planet's best men's doubles pair.
Gideon and Sukamuljo, however, haven't had much competitive play this year. They played only one match at the All England Open before the entire Indonesian contingent was withdrawn due to a COVID case on their flight to the UK.
In contrast, the Indians made the semifinals in two of the four events they played in 2021. Only time will tell if that makes a difference.
Rankireddy/Shetty vs Lane/Vendy (Head-to-head: Lane/Vendy lead 1-0)
Former European Junior Championships silver medalists Ben Lane and Sean Vendy are the lowest ranked pair in this group at 18th. That doesn't make them any less competent though since they had a good run of form at the start of the year.
The Englishmen won the Orleans Masters and made the semifinals of the BWF World Tour Finals 2020 and the quarterfinals of the European Championships.
They also have a win over Rankireddy and Shetty although it came a couple of years ago. The Indians will be hoping to have learned from their mistakes and will aim to turn the tables this time around.