At the post-match interaction with the media, Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy were asked multiple questions about creating Indian badminton history by reaching the men’s doubles semi-finals of the World Championships. In each instance, they insisted they’re not done yet. “We still haven’t finished the tournament yet,” Shetty put it firmly.
The trailblazing duo, who already have multiple ‘firsts’ in their name, added another on Friday as they became the first Indian men’s doubles pair to be assured of a medal at the World Championships by reaching the semis. This is only the second instance that Indian shuttlers will be returning with a doubles medal from the celebrated tournament after Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa, who won a bronze in London 2011.
The achievement was even more memorable given the seventh seeded Indians ousted the defending champions Takuro Hoki and Yugo Kobayashi—who had reached the finals of the previous two World Championships—24-22, 15-21, 21-14 in their own backyard. Only Shetty and Rankireddy’s yells of celebration could be heard at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium the moment Kobayashi’s shot went into the net at the end of the 75-minute marathon match as the crowd sat in disbelief, unable to digest the loss of the home favourites.
“It’s a dream come true for us. We started (the year) with the India Open win, then Thomas Cup and the Commonwealth Games. I am feeling so happy and excited. We want to finish this on a big note, not just the semi-finals, we want to go further. It is definitely a big win for us. They are the current world champions,” said an elated Rankireddy in the mixed zone.
The head-to-head record against the world No 2 pair was level at 1-1 before the match but it had three years since the two pairs faced off. The Japanese are also coached by Malaysia’s Tan Kim Her, who was the one to first pair Rankireddy and Shetty when he was India’s doubles coach.
“We didn’t play them in a long time. I badly wanted to play against them. We always ended up facing the top seeds Kevin (Sukamuljo) and (Marcus) Gideon (in previous tournaments). When I saw we’re playing them I was excited as I just wanted to know how they’re playing. I wanted to compete and see our level against the world champions. So, we’re really happy the way we played. We also took revenge on our former coach Tan Kim Her (laughs).”
The Indian world No 7 combine made a brilliant start with Shetty making some remarkable saves at the net to take a 12-5 lead. But the defending champions, backed by a partisan crowd, used all their experience to close the gap at 14-all following which it remained extremely tight till the end. Despite leading 19-17, Shetty and Rankireddy gave away three loose points to hand a game point to the Japanese pair. The Indian pair saved two game points before converting their second to take the lead in the match after some impossible retrieves from Shetty and Rankireddy which saw them win some brilliant points in an edge-of-the-seat finish.
“We got a lead and then they got the rhythm back after which there was only a point gap. It was tense but I saw Chirag was very calm. I was telling him to shout but he was always under control. He clinched the last two points in the first game. Then I knew no matter what we are winning this match. I sensed it that we’ve (the match) under control so no need to panic. Chirag controlled everything,” said Rankireddy.
The second game was tight at the start with the pairs trading lead every two points but the Japanese started opening up the gap in the second half. From 16-15 the second seeds won the next five points to push the match into the decider. “In the second game we are on the good side (of the drift) but were a bit complacent. We thought we can lift if it is low (but it didn’t work),” said Shetty.
With all to play for in the decider the Indians upped the ante to lead from the start. Some rockets from the racquet of Rankireddy destroyed multiple shuttles, earning them crucial points which opened up an 11-5 lead at the interval. Under pressure now, both from the crowd and themselves, the Japanese started giving away points, making basic errors. “It was a nice atmosphere hearing all the fans cheer but it also gave us pressure. We became nervous and that caused us to slow down. We could not perform as expected. Our opponents were too fast and we could not catch up,” said Kobayashi.
The reigning Commonwealth Games champions needed just two match points before their celebrations began with Rankireddy jumping on Shetty’s back. “We controlled the shuttle a lot better (in third game) than we did in the second. Our start (in the third game) was quite proactive, taking the shuttle as high as possible and keeping it down (when necessary) instead of getting into those drive situations with them,” said Shetty.
On Saturday, the pioneering Indian pair will face Malaysian sixth seeds and Tokyo Olympics bronze medallists Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik. Rankireddy and Shetty have never beaten them in five previous meetings, most recently losing in the mixed team final at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. “We don’t want to think about tomorrow’s match. We just want to go there and enjoy the pressure situations. It is going to be a revenge match,” concluded Rankireddy.
Disappointment for Prannoy
After showing much promise throughout the week, HS Prannoy’s dream of medalling at the World Championships came to a crashing end when he lost the men’s singles quarter-final 21-19, 6-21, 18-21 in an hour and four minutes to China’s Zhao Jun Peng.
Earlier in the day, MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila, who on Thursday had become the first Indian men’s doubles pair to reach the quarter-finals of the prestigious event, lost 8-21, 14-21 in 29 minutes to Indonesian third seeds Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan.