Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty have caught rivals napping: Uday Pawar
Mumbai, August 8, 2023
Former national doubles champion and coach and mentor of Chirag Shetty, Uday Pawar feels that the Satwiksairaj Rankireddy/Chirag Shetty pair has surprised one and all.
``Overall I would say that the progress made by Chirag and Satwik has caught everybody napping. They are not far away from becoming the World No.1 pair. I wish and pray for their good health because the Asian Games, World Championship and the Olympics are all going be played in the next 12 months,’’ says Pawar in conversation around Chirag and Satwik evolving into a world-class pair and also about P.V. Sindhu, H. S. Pronnoy and Lakshya Sen.
Q. The countdown to the Asian Games has started. The badminton fans are looking forward to positive results from India's top-notch doubles combinations in Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy. Your observations?
A. The last three months have been fantastic for Chirag and Satwik. They have been in terrific form. They have beaten all the top combinations. But the Asian Games is probably one of the toughest after the World Championships and Olympics because nine of the top 10 badminton-playing nations are from Asia.
So in that sense, it is hard to predict whether they can continue the winning spree in the Asian Games. However, I think getting used to the conditions, getting settled down and getting a good start in the competition will go a long way in boosting their confidence.
The Asian Games will be in China and the Chinese play much better in home conditions, but the positive thing is that Chirag and Satwik have been very fearless. They have not given importance to their opponent’s ranking, whether they are World Champions, Olympic Champions or the All England Champions. So I hope the same (winning outcomes) continues.
Q. You have coached and mentored Chirag Shetty for many years. And now Chirag and Satwik have become world-class?
A. I have coached Chirag from when he was ten years old. One of the qualities that he has had is that he has always been a fierce competitor on the court. He refuses to accept defeat; he doesn’t believe that anybody can beat him.
In that sense, he is quite fearless. Satwik too has the same qualities. They have not been affected by the success they have achieved, recognition and glamour and the money that comes with it. They are pretty grounded and they are hungry for more success.
This attitude and approach will hold them in good stead and be relaxed. They will probably treat the Asian Games as one more tournament and hope to get a good start. Knowing their cool and calm approach to every tournament, irrespective of the reputation of their opponents, they will do well. I hope they go on to win at least a medal because the world’s top players will be in action in China.
Q.They are ranked No.2 in the World. All this requires hard work, skillset and understanding of themselves and the other top pairs in the World ?.
A. They are ranked No. 2 in the World and would have probably surprised the badminton fraternity and perhaps themselves too as to how quickly they have climbed the rankings. As Chirag’s coach, I would have probably expected a few more years to achieve what they have already done.
So they have continued to surprise everyone with their success rate and I think that both being young and tall and aggressive has played a large part in reaching the current level.
The credit for pairing them goes to the Malaysian coach Tan Kim Her who was coaching the Indian team about seven years ago (2015-2019). He felt that two tall players playing aggressive badminton would be a good combination. So they have gone through a lot because normally tall players are not considered as good at the net, you need to have your eyes at the level of the tape to control the shuttle better, see the opponent’s strokes and read their game.
And so they had to make a lot of adjustments. Both are six-footers, 6.1 ft and 6.2 ft in height and have to bend to get their head closer to the net. When they began to compete, they were aggressive players who flourished in conditions that suited them, they could attack.
But ever since Mathias Boe took over as coach a year and a half back, they have improved in defense. That’s one of the reasons they have met with success in different conditions. They are young and will continue to improve. I believe that they will not only be able to become the No.1 ranked pair, but they will also be able to be in the top four in the next four to five years. To play at that level requires a lot of commitment and focus and both have it.
Chirag and Satwik also had to change their style of serving a few years back as both are tall players and the new service rule ( All players to serve below the prescribed height limit of 3 ft 9 inches or so). Luckily, Mathias Boe who is also tall, helped them overcome this difficulty by making them bend their legs while serving, which also helped them to move quicker after serving.
Q. When did you see the initial spark in them?
A. It was when I saw him first, he entered the court as a warrior. He did not worry about his opponent’s age, height and strength. He was not only fearless but was inclined to compete hard. This attitude and approach continue even today. He believed that he could win against anyone and that’s not changed.
Q. The Shetty- Reddy pair has won four titles this year -- Swiss Open in March, Asian Championship in April, Indonesia Open in June and Korea Open in July. That's winning five matches each in the Swiss Open, Asian, Indonesian and Korean Open. In all, they have won 26 matches this year. And their wins have come against Fajar Alfian and Muhammed Rian Ardianto, Liang We Keng and Wang Chang, Takuro Hoki and Yugo Kobayashi and Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik?
A. It’s true that they have beaten all the top players in the World. Initially, they could not put it across the former World No. 1 Indonesian pair of Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Marcus Gideon. They were the only pair that put Chirag and Satwik on the defence. If they were to clash today, the Indian pair, with improved defence, would have had a better chance of winning.
Q. They may be in the best phase of their career now with all support systems in place?
A. Right now everything seems to have fallen in place for them. Earlier, Chirag was training only in Hyderabad. Staying away from home for a long time was affecting him a bit, but Mathias Boe has realised that they need to train in different conditions.
They approached the BAI, TOPs scheme and the Sports Ministry and they have allowed them to train at the Goregaon Sports Club six times a year, each spanning over 10/14 days. This has made them fresh, physically and mentally. The change in venue for training has worked as a tonic for both of them. Even Satwik looks forward to training in Mumbai which is a good sign. The BAI’s openness has gone a long way in making both comfortable.
Q. How would you distinguish Chirag and Satwik from the rest of the crowd?
A. Both are younger than most others in the circuit. They may be inexperienced on the count of years they have played as compared to many other pairs, but I reiterate that both are fearless and aggressive. I would rate them as the best attacking pair in the world. This is their plus point.
Their opponents have not been able to cope with their fast and attacking style of play. But things will change in the sense that so far they have been the hunters, but once they become World No. 1, they will be the hunted! They will have to bring in fresh tactics and strategies to maintain their top position. The game is moving very fast; there is a new combination emerging every three months.
Q. What's the way forward for Chirag and Satwik? How do they keep themselves fit for the Games in China?
A. Their biggest challenge will be to keep themselves fit. They have played a lot of tournaments. It’s important to take care of your body because to win the title in Hangzhou, one will have to get the better of five world-class pairs. This calendar is going to be tough with the World Championship also scheduled in the third week of August followed by the tough Hong Kong and China Open. This hectic schedule may affect the top players who go on to play leading to the Asian Games. The good thing is that the BAI has physios travelling with them which will help the players avoid injuries and keep them fit and strong.
Q.P. V Sindhu appears to be on the decline. But she is capable of calling the shots in the big ticket events?
A. It’s been downhill for her in the last two/three years. I think the main reason is that after she became the World Champion in 2018, she was not in training for many months. She was busy attending felicitations and other functions. That distraction derailed her a bit. She tried to come back without undergoing a rigorous training programme and as a consequence, she was beset with injuries. Not major, but enough to prevent her from playing at her best.
She has had a few good results, but she is not at a level wherein she can beat young players like South Korea’s An Se Young and China's Chen Yufei. The only way she can get out of the bad patch is staying away from competitions for at least 4/6 weeks, and working hard on the fitness aspect. With Sindhu’s height and aggressive style of play, staying fit is important. Of late she has played a lot of tournaments and made early exits. This can harm her, mentally also. So I would advise her to take a break and come back strong.
Q. What about the men’s singles field? H. S. Prannoy has made great strides. He is in the top ten. The draw could matter most for him at Hangzhou?.
A. India has two players in the men’s who are in good form, Prannoy is playing exceptionally well. He has beaten all the top players in the World, except perhaps Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen. But Viktor will not be in Hangzhou. India can expect a medal from him, hopefully, the gold. Lakshya Sen was not consistent for a brief period, but in recent times (Canada Open, US Open and Japan Open), he has shown that he is in form. Hopefully, Prannoy and Lakshya will have good outings at the Asian Games.