To contest in two categories in the sport of badminton is not easy. It’s amazing how the 20-year-old Satwiksairaj Rankireddy does it. The Amalapuram born shuttler is currently one of the best doubles players in India, at a such a young age. Last week he has played some of the best badminton of his life so far. Satwik made it to the semifinals of the Toyota Thailand Open in both the categories. He almost made it to the finals in mixed doubles, but the first seed prevailed over him.
Profile and Ranking
He plays in the men’s doubles and mixed doubles category in the BWF tournaments. He is ranked number 10 in the world with 23-year-old Chirag Shetty in the men’s doubles category. With his mixed doubles partner, Ashwini Ponnappa who is 11 years senior to him, he is ranked number 36 in the world.
Satwik Joined the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy in 2014 and decided to become a doubles specialist. Malaysian Coach Tan Kim Her floated the idea of pairing Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty. Both were tall, lanky, powerful, and finishers. The Mumbaikar Chirag and Satwik from Amalapuram in Andhra Pradesh were different in nature too. Since both players had a similar style, not many were convinced that they’d make a good pair. It definitely took a lot of work from both of them to make this a successful pairing.
Also, Rankireddy is one of the hardest hitters in the world. His smashes can cross 400kmph.
Past performances of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy
In the past, they have a had dream run in the second half of 2019, just before the pandemic shook the world. They finished runner-up in the French Open Super 750 in 2019. They went onto defeat world number 6 pair Hiroyuki Endo and Yuta Watanabe of Japan in the semi-final. They created history by becoming the first Indian men’s doubles pair to reach a World Tour 750 final. On their way to the finals, they stunned three-time world champions Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan of Indonesia in the quarterfinals. In the finals, they lost to the number one pair of Marcus Fernaldi and Kevin Sukamuljo.
The pair won the Commonwealth silver, in 2019 after going down to Rio Olympics bronze medalist English pair of Marcus Ellis and Chris Langridge 13-21, 16-21.
The best moment of 2019 for the men’s doubles duo was winning the Thailand Open Super 500 in 2019. The unseeded Indian duo was up against the third-seeded Chinese pair. In a battle that lasted an hour and two minutes, the young lads prevailed over the Chinese, 21-19, 18-21, 21-18. This was their first Super 500 title.
The journey to the top 10, however, was not very easy. Earlier in 2019, doubles specialist Tan Kim Her of Malaysia resigned 18 months before his tenure ended. And then Flandy Limpele also left. But they went on practising. On 29 August 2020, he received the prestigious Arjuna Award. He was also infected with COVID19 around the same time but was largely asymptomatic and recovered.
Terrific performances at Thailand
In the men’s doubles category, he and Chirag made it upto the round 2 in the Yonex Thailand Open where they went down to the second seeds, the legendary Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan of Indonesia. In the first round of mixed doubles, along with Ashwini, he upset the sixth seeds Gloria and Hafiz Faizal in a three-set game. However, they crashed out in the second round against Chang Tak Ching and Ng Wing Yung of Hong Kong.
The following week was magnificent. In the first round of men’s doubles, Rankireddy and Shetty beat compatriots Manu Attri and Summeth Reddy. They beat the seventh seed from Korea to get into the quarterfinal. In the last 8, they beat Ong Yew Sin and Teo Ee Yi of Malaysia and stormed into the Semi-final. There they went down fighting to Aaron Chia And Soh Wooi Yik of Malaysia. They exploited the weak areas of the pair very well to take the game in their favour. At the back of the Malaysian pair was the former coach of the Indias, Flandy Limpele. The Indonesian had coached the Indians till his exit last year and helped guide them to their first few upset wins in the European circuit.
“We knew Satwik is a good attacking player. So we tried to manage the first three shots and not lift too much.“We were clearer than before. We knew what we had to do and what we didn’t,” Aaron said after the match.
With Ashwini Ponnappa, Satwik beat Amalie Magelund and Niclas Nohr of Denmark in the first round. They then went on to beat the Denmark Open 2020 winners Mark Lamsfuss and Isabel Herttrich in three thrilling games. In the quarterfinal, they upset the fifth seeds, Rio Olympic silver medalists Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying 18-21,24-22, 22-20. They faltered in the second half of the third game against the first seeds Dechapol and Sapsiree of Thailand in the semifinal, losing 22-20, 18-21, 21-12.
This might go down as one of India’s best performances in the mixed doubles category. It was the first-ever semi-final of a Super 1000 event for an Indian mixed doubles duo!
Interestingly this fantastic mixed doubles performance has come at a time when reportedly, there have been discussions about whether he should just concentrate on men’s doubles alone.
One could argue that they performed well because China and Japan who have a stronghold in doubles did not participate in The Asian leg. While it’s true that there are good doubles pairs from those countries, The Indian duos nevertheless have played some top-class badminton. The world ranking of number Ten which is amongst players from all countries, speaks volumes. Also, their momentum has been up since the second half of 2019 with a title to their name, beating even Chinese and Japanese on their way! The future is bright for Satwik to make it big in men’s doubles and mixed doubles. He stands a very good chance at Tokyo 2021 qualifications. Should they get adequate coaching and other support, the sky is the limit. They have been very promising and shown tremendous improvements and proved their worth. The young boy, however, is just 20, and has a long, long way to go!