A historic Commonwealth Games doubles gold and a rare Badminton World Championships bronze later, India’s top men’s doubles duo of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty seem to have ticked off a lot this year – but Coach Mathias Boe, like the duo themselves, cannot help but bite their thumbs a little.
While the Commonwealth Games gold in the men’s doubles was a dream run for the World No. 7 pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, the missed chance of not being able to better the medal colour from bronze after being fully equipped and well-deserving of it at the World Championships thereafter in Tokyo will haunt a little.
“At the CWG, the English pair (Ben Lane and Sean Vendy) did the dirty work for us by taking out the Malaysians – Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik, against whom we have been losing the last couple of times and it happened at the World Championships semi-finals too,” India’s doubles coach Mathias Boe, tells The Bridge, from Tokyo.
“We are happy that we could win a medal, that was always on the list but argh, can’t say that we are 100% happy with the bronze,” Boe, a former Olympic silver medallist for Denmark, rues.
“I feel, Satwik/Chirag were the best pair at the tournament. They were anyway coming into the World Championships on the high of winning gold at the Commonwealth Games – we knew we had a solid chance this time,” Mathias Boe reflects, his mind travelling to the heart-breaking sixth-straight loss the Indian pair suffered against eventual World Champions from Malaysia – Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik.
“I hate losing and I hate losing on behalf of my players as well! What is sad is that we knew we could have played better and taken some of the opportunities against the Malaysians.”
“The idea that we had such a good chance perhaps also played on Satwik/Chirag’s mind.”
“The Malaysians were nervous after we won the first game but from the second, the momentum suddenly changed too and we started making little errors. But we can’t deny we had a very good chance this time,” Boe reasserts, proud of Satwik/Chirag for their consistent display this year.
Onto titles and crowns next for Satwik/Chirag
Although much like the Minions – Kevin Sukamuljo and Marcus Gideon, against whom Satwik/Chirag are yet to win, the Malaysian pair of Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik may be enjoying a similar streak of never losing to the Indians but this streak might as well be dated, feels Boe.
“I don’t consider the Minions as a threat anymore, they are not the strongest currently. The Malaysians are good and the matches have always been close but until we get that first win over them and know that we can do it, it will inspire us to do better,” Boe says.
“I was very happy with how Satwik/Chirag played against the Japanese World No. 2 and 2021 World Champion duo of Yugo Kobayashi and Takuro Hoki in the quarters,” Boe mentions. “We matched very well against them and it was a rather easy one and gave us a good experience,” he says.
But the future ahead excites Boe more than anything, who is already looking ahead.
“We have a couple of things to work on but soon, I believe, Satwik/Chirag will be winning titles and not just medals,” Boe, a touch of realistic optimism in his voice, conveys.
And given the streak Satwik/Chirag are currently on, there is no reason to not have faith in Boe’s conviction as the ammunition required to dominate the doubles are all present with Satwik/Chirag – all it needs to do is keep firing at the right moment.
The arrival of MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila
Other than Satwik/Chirag shining, the duo who stood out and emerged from the shadows of the former pair is MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila as their World Championships outing was nothing short of a dream.
“Arjun and Dhruv were the underdogs in all the matches they played. They won three back-to-back high-level matches and it is the best I have seen them play, during my stint here,” Boe mentions, all praises for the India No. 2 pair who jumped nine places in the BWF rankings post their quarterfinal dash to enter the Top 30 at World No. 26.
The highlight match for Dhruv and Arjun though had to be the one against the Danes – the World No. 8 duo of Kim Astrup and Anders Rasmussen, which they won bravely, 17-21, 16-21.
“I love beating my countrymen, winning against them hit a very sweet spot,” Boe, says with a chuckle about his former teammates.
“We (Kim and Anders) spoke after the match, but it’s okay. We are used to it. They knew with me as their coach I will be telling Dhruv/Arjun all their weak spots, haha,” Boe relays.
“But it was also their first match and they didn’t play well – they were shaky and rusty and getting used to conditions so we were able to play strategically very well and could outmanoeuvre them,” Boe analysed.
“But the run at the World Championships should hopefully motivate Dhruv and Arjun further and they will listen to what I have to say more,” Boe says, with another smile, quietly proud of the progress the India No. 2 pair has shown and held their own against tricky pairs Thailand, Singapore and Denmark, as well.
Overcoming the nerves – Gayatri/Treesa’s next challenge
For the bronze medal winners from the CWG in women’s doubles, Gayatri Gopichand and Treesa Jolly, the same horror in the form of the Malaysian duo of Thinaah Muralitharan and Pearly Tan awaited. In 2022, they met four times and lost all 4 times to the World No. 11 pair from Malaysia who are much better at this stage.
“The only sad part about Gayatri and Treesa’s outing is that we couldn’t show them how good we actually are,” Boe mentions.
“But it was their first World Championships and with me and Arun Vishnu as coaches, they were also probably more nervous as they didn’t want to let us down,” Boe conveys.
“They made a lot of unforced errors even at the CWG against this duo, in matches that could have gone our way…”
“But it was a good learning curve for them all the same. Hopefully, this will make them work harder and get ready to challenge the stronger pairs soon,” Boe says with steady optimism.
With September now being a quiet month after a hectic period of tournaments, players and coaches alike are more thankful for the Asian Games getting postponed to 2023 now, more than ever.
But a period of quiet would also mean using the time to reflect on the months gone by and the tournaments played and buckle up for the season ahead, rectifying areas and buckling up and if we are to trust the Mathias Boe intuition and ride this wave, better days for Indian doubles are coming, sooner than we know it.