Satwik-Chirag add another feather in cap with French Open badminton title

Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty played a flat, fast-paced scorcher to win the French Open Super 750 beating Lu Ching Yao/Yang Po Han of Chinese Taipei, their biggest Tour title yet. A year that started with a fighting India Open win for a Super 500 title saw the duo win at their favourite venue where they have a bunch of quarters, semis and a maiden final in 2019.

This was only the second instance in a Super Series of all 8 quarterfinalists coming from different countries – and not one from Denmark – pointing to how competitive the men’s doubles category has become.

The Indians took a 5-0 lead to start the match, and were in aggressive mode – smashing generously against Lu/Yang, ranked 18 in the world. Short, snappy, smoldering rallies gave them a 8-2 lead with Chirag particularly blistering from the forecourt.

Playing more of a cross-attack from either flank against the left-right Taiwanese combine, Satwik was gunning for the angles and placement, while Chirag preferred to pull no punches attacking from the back – but always crossing in an X-attack.

They would cross even against what was coming back straight, torquing their torsos, managing angles that neutralised the left-right combine.

This was the third left-right combination they were up against, after the Popov brothers and the top ranked Hoki-Kobayashi, but the Indians had their plans set. The serve variations were limited on the day though they would sneak in a tumble serve in the opener.

The easier passage of play in the opening game suggested that the Taipese had been wildly nervous, error-prone, and rather clueless about how to stem the Indian attacks. Paralysed in their movement, and constantly under the assault of smashes, they seemed to bottle up their own game, conceding the opener.

The second game got more exciting as the Taiwanese, after trailing 5-11, jogged up to 15-all on the back of a speed spurt. The Indians seemed to have taken the foot off the pedal a tad, and that was enough for their opponents to sense an opening and go blitzing in.

The French Open title caps a brilliant 2022 for the Indian doubles pair, easily India’s most consistent. (Credit: BAI)

Nervy times

Coach Mathias Boe, who had run out of scoldings since the Indians had been playing well, would get to the edge of his seat. He had legitimate reasons to worry, as the Taipese had switched gears and Yang especially was hassling and harrying Satwik-Chirag, crowding them with their returns and nervousness leading to sweaty palms.

There have been instances in the past replete with the Indians botching these kinds of leads, and a thought might have crossed their minds of another meltdown. But this is a different Indian pairing from the one that lost in 2019. Bolstered, fortified by playing many pressure games and finals, they were not about to let go of yet another big one. Their temperament carries a gleam of steel now.

A tentative serve at 18-19 from Satwik had a scrambled desperate second- and third-shot parry. They would survive gamely, and a Satwik smash would give them match point to relieve the pressure. Lu/Yang, playing their first final at this level, had piled on the pressure in the second. But Chirag would hold his nerve to fight off finishing body-shakes and send back a neat angled return from the front court to scythe one across the Taiwanese throats. It was a smart angled return, with the cross again working wonders.

This caps a brilliant 2022 for the Indian doubles pair, easily India’s most consistent. They have achieved bigger glory at the Thomas Cup and Commonwealth Games as part of contingents and teams. But the French Open tour title, their first Super 750, was crucial for the World No. 8 coming as it did at the venue of the Paris Olympics with Plumy the mascot expected to welcome them back at the Games two years later.

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