The Malaysians shot straight arrows and gave Indians Satwiksairaj Rankireddy – Chirag Shetty, no angles to work with.
While Shetty’s nervousness and Satwik’s disoriented defense might seem the most obvious maladies daunting the Indians on the face of it, it is the high quality of tactical play by Malaysian world champions, Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik, that pinned the Indians 21-16, 21-19 in the Denmark Open quarters. If coach Mathias Boe’s mid-match shredding was to go by, Shetty got pinned literally, dodging and winceing every time the shuttle went to him.
His service then imploded, as high serve errors were called. The chair umpire – who was uniformly exacting on all four players – ended up triggering a cascade of errors from the tall, fidgeting, self-conscious Shetty, compounding matters for the Indians. But the real high press was coming from across the net, where Soh seemed to have had enough of the second fiddle and was amping up the in-shot speed within a rally. At 4-4 in the second, which produced the longest one of 30 shots, Soh was unstoppable having a go at the Indians with a reaction speed of microseconds.
The next shuttle came back before the backswing of the previous stroke was complete, such was the flurry. Ultimately, good old speed of Malaysian doubles combined with their pinpoint tactics pummeled the Indians into submission, even if their elevated attack got a few back in. The first set was scratchy with short, staccato rallies punctuated by service errors.
Imagine a sentence not reaching a fullstop with commas randomly thrown in every two words. Shetty’s incoherence stemmed from not getting a good run of winning points – the Malaysians having chiselled their tactics finer than the World Championships.
So while the Indians trailed 5-6 and 10-12 – not unassailable leads – Soh was piling on the pressure with his quick parries and body attacks – rather birds aimed at the face, akin to a dartboard, to get that awkward racquet face. The fast shuttle made defense difficult, and the Indians were late onto lifting it to break the rhythm and then blocking it thereafter.
The first set was a goner in a blink. Flat, fast pushes besieged the Indians who just couldn’t get going and seemed immobilized at the 13th point as the lead raced away to 20-14 and they eventually went down 21-16. Boe would point out that they weren’t moving well enough, nor going for the shuttle proactively. And while his words jolted Shetty awake, it then became a case of trying too hard, and then the service collapsing into errors. On Thursday, a Chinese doubles shuttler got into a rare argument with the chair on service errors, but Denmark has been unforgiving this week in policing the height of the bird’s take off.
It didn’t help Shetty’s confidence one bit. Meanwhile, the Malaysians were bursting with variations when rotating, and Chia was his usual bustling, hassling self, with Soh wanting to match or better him.
The second set got marginally better for the Indians who stayed in the hunt till 11-9. Yet, they were still a little rattled by the early set deficit, and rocking back when defending – the bird-like kryptonite on Superman’s off day. Then the Malaysians hit the gear stick again taking 9 of next 11 points, going past the Indians at 13. Shetty did well to come back from 15-18 down to save a bunch of match points. But the result looked inevitable, as the monkey on the back burgeoned to 7-0 against the Malaysians.
International doubles pit different styles against each other, and the classical Indonesian and Malaysian speedy blitz on a fast shuttle court is something the Indians who like to work angles and placements, don’t quite like. It explains why pairings like Minions and now Chia-Soh will continue troubling the Indians. Yet, the big medals will always have these roadblocks, and the Indians will need to figure ways around the world champions and their high-quality shot-making at a frenzied speed.
Boe kept drilling in the importance of moving quicker and taking control of the pace of the rally, even risking lifts to break the flat, parallel pummelling. But it’s difficult to execute when Chia and Soh offer no breathing space. At best, Shetty could learn to shrug off the service faults once they are called, and not let those mess with his composure in the next rally. But the Malaysian onslaught makes it daunting.
The rankings are World No 8 and No 6, but there’s a definite gap in abilities between the two teams. Shetty might seem the quaking boot on the floor even, his faltering nerves magnified under the pump. But there’s no denying that Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik play the sort of tactical game that can shake the ground under their opponent’s feet.