Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty have etched their names in the history of Indian sport by performing a feat that would have been considered a miracle just a decade ago — the young badminton stars shocked top-class opponents in two matches in a row to win the men’s doubles title at the Thailand Open, an elite tournament featuring the world’s top players. Rankireddy and Shetty defeated former world champions Ko Sung Hyun and Shin Baek Cheol of South Korea 22-20 22-24 21-9 in the semifinals on Saturday. The next day, they faced a more formidable challenge — China’s Li Jun Hui and Liu Yu Chen, the current world champions. It was, again, a tough fight, with the Indian pair winning 21-19 18-21 21-18.
As the scores indicate, the contest was extremely close in the two matches, and it boiled down to a couple of points in the final games. It could have gone either way — in the past, it has often gone the way of the opponents of Rankireddy-Shetty. But the Indian duo was fearless, and it went India’s way. There are two big factors behind this: One, the young Indian doubles players have better skills than ever before; two, they don’t fear the top pairs, as players from an earlier generation did. It was obvious in the final as the Indians didn’t wilt under pressure in the final game. Rankireddy, tall and strapping, is known for his powerful smashes from the back; in the final, he was deployed close to the net as he had a sore shoulder. This made the Chinese wary, for Rankireddy’s smashes are famous; but he played a subtle game to outwit Li and Liu.
The best part about Sunday’s win is that it fuels hope — for Rankireddy is only 18 and Shetty 22. They topped a world-class field, which shows the two are ready to contest for medals at badminton’s top events, such as the World Championships, All England and, indeed, the Olympic Games, less than a year away.