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We are in the best mental frame, says Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty

2022 was their year. With two Super Series titles, Thomas Cup win and the gold at the Commonwealth Games, the Indian men’s doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty rarely put a foot wrong last year. In a conversation with ET, the duo opened up about their plans and the goal of becoming the world’s No. 1 doubles team. Excerpts:

You had a fantastic year. What is working for you as a pair and how can you get even better from here?
Chirag: For the longest time, doubles was ignored in Indian badminton. It was all about singles. Hardly any real attention was given to doubles. Unlike in some other sports, doubles in badminton is as important and as competitive as singles, and we in India have taken a long time to realise this. In fact, this is where Gopichand sir made the maximum difference. He was able to convince the country about the importance of doubles, get focus back on it and now we have all the facilities needed to further improve our game. Mathias Boe, our specialised doubles coach and one who has been with us all through, has made a serious difference. We worked with him throughout the last year and it had a great impact on our game. Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics (2021), we were just able to play two tournaments with him on our side and it was just three weeks that we had trained with him. But thereafter we had him with us all of 2021 and the results showed in 2022.

The journey of SAT-CHI, however, isn’t complete. You have not yet beaten the Minions (Indonesian pair of Kevin Sukamuljo and Marcus Gideon) in 11 attempts and have a 0-7 record against the Malaysian pair of Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik. Do you think about it?
Satwik: Yes, we are aware that we haven’t won against these two pairs and we certainly speak about them. What we can say is it’s a matter of time before we do that. It’s not something that really bothers us. Nor is there a kind of mental block. We know we have the game to beat them and sooner than later we will. In fact, in 2023 one of the things is to tick those boxes and put the issue to rest once and for all.

Do you plan things together in your private lives as well?
Chirag: What works for us is we are very different people and yet very similar. We travel and stay together and yet our habits and likes and dislikes are profoundly different. While I am outgoing, Satwik, his Paris dance notwithstanding, is an introvert. While Satwik prefers Indian food, I love Japanese and other global cuisines. We either go to a food court where all options are available or one of us eats first while the other offers company and then go to a place where the other gets his preferred food. Most importantly, we are there for each other on bad days. If you are playing doubles, the first thing is you can’t blame your partner for an off day. You win together and you lose together. You need to take it on the chin and move on. Things won’t go well for you every day and you need to understand that as sportspeople.

So Satwik, with the Asian Games and several other important events lined up for this year, how are you and Chirag looking forward to it?

Satwik: As long as we are able to maintain fitness and stay focused, we are ready for any event. In Tokyo, we came close by beating the famed Chinese Taipei pair in the very first match of the competition and it was sheer bad luck that we had to bow out having won the same number of matches as the two other teams in the group. In fact, the Taipei pair went on to win gold, proof of how close the competition was. We know we are ready. We are in the best mental frame. We want to be the world No. 1 team and win a medal in Paris for India and we won’t stop till we achieve these dreams.Little did we know that you (Satwik) dance that well. Your dance after the French Open win went viral!
(Laughs) It started with the Premier Badminton League (PBL). At the end of one of the matches, the organisers played a very catchy tune and I couldn’t control myself and started dancing spontaneously. At the end of the match, I got many messages saying “tumne match achha nahi khela par dance achha kiya”. (You did not play a good match but you danced really well.) From that day, I wanted to play well and dance well on the same day. During the Thomas Cup, they played drums and while Chirag was celebrating our win, I broke into a dance. And again at the French Open I broke into a dance at the end of our semi-final win. In fact, I had practiced the step for the final but used it in the semi-finals thinking that when I dance we win, like in the Thomas Cup. And at the end of the final, I couldn’t control my joy and just let my instincts and emotions take over!

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