As Chris Langridge’s lift sailed over Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and eventually the back line to go long, Chirag Shetty flung his racket to the ground and let out a huge roar. He got a telling off from the umpire for the stunt but he couldn’t care less.
For the world No 25 duo from India, beating a pair ranked just two spots above them in the first round of a tournament may not seem such a big coup on paper, but their 21-19, 12-21, 21-19 victory at the world championships on Tuesday in Nanjing was huge for the two youngsters.
The 21-year-old Shetty’s celebration was the release of pent-up frustration over the last three-and-a-half months, ever since the Indians lost to Langridge and Marcus Ellis in straight games in the final of the Commonwealth Games.
In that match in April, Shetty and Satwik had been completely outplayed by their English opponents, who kept the shuttle low and engaged the Indians in short, sharp rallies. As a result, there were very few opportunities for the 17-year-old Satwik to unleash his booming jump smash.
The duo did not play again for more than two months, with Satwik taking time off to clear his high school examinations, along with having to deal with a family bereavement. Their next tournament after the Gold Coast Games was the Malaysia Open at the end of June, where they lost in the first round to world No 7 pair Takuto Inoue and Yuki Kaneko in straight games.
The following week, they lost in straight games in the first round of the Indonesia Open to world No 13s Hiroyuki Endo and Yuta Watanabe. A week later, at the Thailand Open, they suffered another straight-game defeat to a pair ranked 20 spots below them, again in the first round. At the Singapore Open the following week, they managed to reach the second round before losing to another pair ranked in the forties.
“We needed this win a lot,” said Shetty, talking about his celebration after Tuesday’s victory. “After the CWG we had a two-month gap and then went through a downfall of sorts. We could not practice properly and there was no tournament exposure, and then we were playing first rounds against good opponents. That affected our preparations for this tournament, so getting a win against the ones we lost to in the CWG final was a big thing for us.”
After their break, Shetty and Rankireddy had also started working on their defence, which isn’t as strong as their attack. They experimented with defensive play during the Southeast Asian circuit but it did not bear the required results. In fact, it turned out to be rather counter-productive.
“As we started focussing on our defence, we realised we were forgetting our natural attacking game,” said Shetty. “So, in this tournament we went back to our usual game and tried to attack as much as possible.”
Controlling the net
This was very evident in Tuesday’s match, as Shetty, who generally leaves much of the attacking to his partner, seemed more aggressive than his usual self at the net. The Indian pair went for lifts only occasionally and tried to keep the shuttle as low as possible.
At Gold Coast, Langridge and Ellis were very quick at the net, but in Nanjing they were served a dose of their own medicine. India’s chief doubles coach Tan Kim Her was heard telling Shetty and Rankireddy to “control the net” and create openings, and that’s exactly what they did.
“Once we got them under pressure the points came a bit easier,” said Shetty. “In CWG, we could not convert the defence to attack. This time we were very quick at the net and taking as many risks as possible.”
It was a morale-boosting win but Shetty and Rankireddy will know that this was just the first hurdle in Nanjing. In round two, they are up against world No 8 Kim Astrup and Anders Skaarup Rasmussen, who have a superb defence and had beaten the Indians in their last meeting at the 2017 India Open. It would be interesting to see Shetty’s reaction if they manage to beat the Danes on Wednesday.
The men’s doubles combination were not the only ones who turned up the aggression. Earlier in the day, Satwik and his senior mixed doubles partner Ashwini Ponnappa fought back from a game down to beat the 15th seeds from Germany, Mark Lamsfuss and Isabel Herttrich 10-21, 21-17, 21-18.
Asked how they turned things around, Ponnappa told reporters, “We got a little more aggressive and were a little more steadier towards the end. We got a lot more pushes in, as opposed to trying to play close to the net. The girl was pretty good at the net so it was important for us to try and get the shuttle past her.”
Ashwini later also combined with N Sikki Reddy to beat Kai Hsin Chiang and Shih Han Hing from Chinese Taipei 19-21, 21-10, 21-17 to cap off a great day for India’s main doubles hopes in Nanjing.