India’s badminton contingent has shrunk from 7 in Rio 2016 to 4 at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. At the same time, the duo of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty has the potential to go where no Indian doubles team has gone before.
Satwik-Chirag will be India’s best badminton medal hopes after PV Sindhu. But does the pair even have a realistic chance? We try to find out.
The Indians, ranked 10th in the world at present, will be the youngest MD pairing at the Tokyo Games. Satwik, not yet 21, will be the youngest MD competitor.
The rise of the duo over the past 3 years has been meteoric by Indian MD standards. They started by winning a number of International Series titles in 2016-17, but their promise was first highlighted at the Syed Modi Tournament in January 2017 when they took the highly decorated Danish duo of Boe-Mogensen to 3 games. They then reached the quarters of the Korea and French Opens in 2017 but really attained mainstream recognition when they won a historic silver and team gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
They won their first Super 100 tournament, the Hyderabad Open in 2018. Other highlights of that year included reaching the semis of the French Open Super 750, quarters of the China Open and Indonesia Masters, finals of Syed Modi 2018, and a heartbreaking 3 game loss to Boe-Mogensen at the All England R16.
In 2019 at the Thailand Open, they became the first Indian MD team to win a BWF Super 500 tournament. They also reached the finals of the French Open in 2019, and have had solid if not spectacular performances in the 2021 season.
Who are the biggest contenders for Tokyo 2020?
When the discussion comes to the biggest gold medal contenders in Men’s Doubles, it would be difficult to look beyond the Indonesian teams of high-flying Marcus Gideon/Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo popularly known as the ‘Minions‘ and the experienced Mohammad Ahsan/Hendra Setiawan a.k.a the ‘Daddies‘.
Also in the mix are the Japanese duo of Endo/Watanbe who would be looking to create history at their home Olympics, the 2018 World Champions Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen of China, and the other strong Japanese pairing of Kamura/Sonoda. Lee Yang/Wang Chi-lin of Taipei are the dark horses.
All of these teams have won medals at the World Championships and/or the Asian Games. Meanwhile, Europe’s hopes will be pinned on Astrup/Rassmusen of Denmark. As can be seen, the Indians will have a huge mountain to climb to get a medal. Their rivals mentioned here have more experience and pedigree.
Can the Indians pull off the improbable?
The short answer is no. Formidable competition aside, the present state of Indian badminton hardly inspires any confidence. A number of systemic problems were highlighted last year, with no real improvements possible during a pandemic. The waning influence of Pulella Gopichand was discussed just last month. For their Tokyo preparations, Satwik-Chirag have moved on from PGBA to the Gachibowli Stadium.
Added to this was the departure of their long-time coach Flandy Limpele last year. The two now train under former-opponent Mathias Boe.
There is no doubt that the team of Satwik-Chirag is highly talented and have the potential to become the best in the world. But their peak will likely not be in Tokyo. A historic quarter-final place looks to be the most realistic scenario for them and anything more will be miraculous. Still, strange things have happened in the sport before.
Satwik-Chirag’s career trajectory so far is similar to the Saina Nehwal of Beijing 2008. If they have a creditable performance in Tokyo and receive the full backing of the federation and coaches thereafter, there is no saying what they can achieve in the future.
For now, though, it’s best if fans have reasonable expectations.