‘Chirag’ is lamp in several Indian languages, and derivatively, signifies fire. ‘Satwik’ stands for qualities such as calmness, purity and equanimity.
And so, with Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy ascending to the top of the BWF World Rankings in men’s doubles – the first Indian pair to occupy that position – it is remarkable that they should fulfil the latent possibilities in their names, individually and as a pair. ‘Fiery Calm’ could well describe their style, or perhaps it would be truer to say that like other accomplished men’s doubles pairs, they have the ability now to play at a fiery intensity while at the same time maintaining the icy nerves required in high pressure.
While they have always been a combative pair, a switch flicked on at the Singapore Open, where they lost in the first round, just after a second round exit in Thailand. The Indians had had a successful early season, winning the Swiss Open and the Badminton Asia Championships, but they were to admit later that their losses in Suzhou, Thailand and Singapore would cause a deep self-questioning.
“We didn’t play well at the Sudirman Cup, the Thailand Open and the Singapore Open,” Shetty would say in Indonesia. “That was the lowest low we could’ve gone. Both of us were quite depressed with the way we played. We spoke to each other and we knew we had to go higher.”
Rankireddy was honest enough to admit that he’d needed to put in more work, and not expect Shetty to cover up for him.
“For the first time we had an open talk with our coach, about what we should change, about game plan, what worked in Dubai, what didn’t work in Dubai. I watched my videos. I was hiding, I was not taking my shuttles, I was waiting for Chirag to take all the shuttles. I’d serve and wait for Chirag to cover for me. I watched how I used to play. I took a step to make it more balanced.”
Boe told them, in Rankireddy’s words, “to have hunger. Just show like you’re top players, then opponents will automatically fall apart.”
Their fire rekindled, Indonesia was a different story altogether. They went into the final having lost all eight of their previous matches to Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik. This time they blazed through in straight games.
A month later, in Korea, it was another title triumph.
There was, perhaps, a slight blip in their fortunes at the Japan Open and the World Championships, both lost in tight contests. But then, the pattern from Indonesia repeated – when the results dipped, they dialled up the intensity. The result was an unprecedented Asian Games gold for India in badminton. And, as bonus, a No.1 ranking – also unprecedented in Indian doubles.
“We weren’t playing to best of our abilities,” Shetty said after the gold was won. “We’d lost in the quarters of the World Championships and the first round of the China Open. When we went back home, we trained even on Sundays. There was just one goal in our mind, that we had to push ourselves as hard as possible during training. It’s because of the hard work put in by both of us and our team and coaches that we managed to create history for India.”