Indian badminton in 2023 was so much about joy in men’s doubles.
Such was the impact of their rise that they hit the core of popular culture by making it to the famed cover of Forbes magazine and were feted with the Athlete of the Year crown by the GoSports Foundation. They made it possible despite the limited broadcasting of badminton in India.
At a time, when India’s reign over women’s singles, the most celebrated category in the country, is far and few between, the men’s doubles duo of Satwik and Chirag pulled off a coup in major events that they played this year.
The pair, who are on a mission to set up the milestone of many firsts for India, clinched the country’s first-ever gold medal in badminton at the Asian Games, beating pairings, known to have springy jumps and bewildering strokes.
At the Asian Games, Satwik and Chirag smacked away every opponent who came in their way with their mightiest jump smashes and sturdy defence. Finally, they thwarted a manful challenge from Choi Solgyu and Kim Wonho of South Korea.
For years, the pairings from the Far East had been considered nearly invincible, and Indian shuttlers perished because they lacked stamina, strategy, and a nippy game.
But overcoming the old odds, Satwik and Chirag cemented their domination. They carved out a legacy by becoming the first Indian pair to win a Super 1000 title at the Indonesia Open, the most prestigious one on the World Tour. There, they beat their arch-nemesis Aaron Chia and Soh Wooiyik after eight straight losses in the final against the Malaysians.
They were on top of their game against China’s current world no. 1 Liang Wei Keng and Wang Chang in the team event final of the Games even as India settled for a silver medal, while also getting better of Soh-Chia again in the men’s doubles quarterfinal, countering a faster game with a well-equipped strategy.
On the back of their remarkable performances, Satwik and Chirag attained the historic world no.1 ranking where they stayed for a good three weeks. Currently ranked second in the world Satwik-Chirag, who also won the Korea Open and Swiss Open World Tour titles, has now come out as a beacon of hope and inspiration for upcoming Indian doubles players.
Before Satwik-Chirag’s arrival, India’s achievements in doubles were scant and the discipline itself was living under the shadow of the achievements of singles players.
As time has changed, things in Indian badminton have changed upside down. While Indian players’ struggle in singles events is a well-documented fact now, except for HS Prannoy’s late surge in a career that saw him winning a historic Asian Games and World Championships bronze at the age of 31, the real heroes and flag bearers for Indian badminton are Satwik and Chirag.
In singles, India, as the year drew to a close, had to witness the lowest of the low when Lakshya Sen, the winner of the Canada Open Super 500 title, had to suffer its worst hammering at the hand of his sparring partner of Bengaluru academy Bharat Raghav in the quarterfinals at the 85th Senior National Championships in Guwahati.
As a pair, Satwik and Chirag are known to be masters of attacks. But, in 2023, they also mastered their art of defence. Their ability to manipulate the pace of the game against speedy demons of Korean, Chinese, Indonesian, and Malaysian players paid dividends. It was most apparent, first at the Asian Championships and then at the Asian Games, when they overwhelmed the pairings with the fastest game with their growing set of skills.
Inspiring the upcoming pairings
Their Asian Games annexation came after their conquest at the Badminton Asia Championships in April when they became the first Indian duo ever to clinch the continental title in Dubai. It inspired a whole new batch of players to go for the kill in doubles, a discipline where the game is brisk, shuttle whirls unexpectedly, and knees, requiring frequent twisting, take a toll, and strokes evolve in every serve to baffle the opponent.
Satwik-Chirag, who had to miss the World Tour Finals despite putting up historic performances throughout the year, will now train their eyes on the most coveted prize of the sporting world, the Olympic gold, in Pairs, when the fresh season begins with the Malaysia Open Super 1000 in January 2024.
Doubles have been India’s forte this year.
At the end of the year, Olympian Ashwini Ponnappa and her young partner Tanisha Crasto’s runner-up finish at the Syed Modi India International, a Super 300 World Tour event, and then their title-winning show the following week at the Guwahati Masters demonstrated the rise of doubles in Indian badminton scene.
Their recent surge in form has brought them astonishingly close to a place in the Paris Olympics along with India’s favoured women’s doubles combo to Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand.
In mixed doubles, the young pair of Dhruv Kapila and Tanisha are weaving a fresh hope. India, for years, did not have a solid mixed doubles pair since the days of Jwala Gutta and Valiyaveetil Diju.
The newly crowned national champions, Dhruv and Tanisha, who also won the Odisha Masters Super 100 mixed doubles title, have emerged as a new ray of hope in the discipline.
As we are set for a vigorous new year, Indian doubles pairings will be willing to ride on the momentum gained in 2023 and will look to carry that to the vital next year, where every World Tour event will be fiercely competed as important points are at stake in the run-up to the Paris Olympics qualifications.