PUNE: India’s top men’s doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty made history by stunning reigning world champions Li Jun Hui and Liu Yu Chen 21-19, 18-21, 21-18 to claim their biggest career title at the Thailand Open in Bangkok.
Their win was even more significant for this was not only their first triumph at Super 500 level and above but this was also the most prestigious doubles title for India since the inception of the ranking system.
This title will also propel the current World No. 16 into the top 10 for the first time, making them the first-ever Indian men’s doubles pair to enter the elite bracket.
Satwik showed brilliant anticipation and it was his extraordinary placements from the front court that stood out in the thrilling final that lasted 1 hour 2 minutes.
With Chirag controlling the backcourt, the duo combined to take the match away from the third seeds and World No. 2 pair who had beaten the Indians at the Australian Open this year.
It was a smart strategy by coach Dwi Kristiawan to keep the 18-year-old stationed at the frontcourt that was essentially more out of necessity since Satwik had been experiencing slight shoulder pain.
Playing back-to-back marathon matches for three days in a row affected him but physio Johnson Solomon and recovery specialist Srinivas G worked hard on him to make sure it didn’t curb his natural play. The duo just played lights out since they had nothing to lose.
“I have some shoulder issues so we had decided that I would play more from the front and Chirag from the back. I was focussing more on the service and the net,” explained Rankireddy.
The young Indian pair started attacking from the word go with the same confidence and conviction they showed throughout the week during their wins over the World No. 7 Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto, World No. 19 Ko Sung Hyun and Shin Baek Cheol, and World No. 27 Choi Solgyu and Seo Seung Jae.
Satwik’s ability to read his opponents’ serves correctly helped his returns and very soon the Indians opened up a 10-6 lead. With the Chinese speeding up the game after the mid-game interval, the tide turned their way for a brief period before Satwik’s superb flick serve fetched them a game point which they converted.
The Indians continued to dictate the play and cruised to an 11-9 advantage in the first half of the second game. Some fantastic defence from the Malaysia Open champions to wrest back control did not deter the Indians and soon the two pairs were locked at 18-18.
The intelligent rotation of the shuttle to find out the open court combined with Satwik’s powerful smashes flummoxed the world’s second-best pair whose every comeback was thwarted by the ever-alert Indians. Even when Li and Liu tried to prolong the rallies in an attempt to tire out the Indians, Rankireddy and Shetty were up to the task and never relinquished their advantage, converting on their first match point to get the monumental victory.