French Open champions Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty had an auspicious start to their season, knocking out Choi Sol Gyu and Kim Won Ho in the first round of the 2023 Malaysia Open.

Story: Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live in Kuala Lumpur
Photos: Yves Lacroix and Erika Sawauchi for Badmintonphoto (live)

It was a fast and furious match and a close one until the bottom half of the second game.  The Koreans spent much of it on the defensive, crouched low and trying desperately to keep the shuttle even lower.

However, their best efforts were to no avail and they repeatedly had to lift, much to the delight of their smash-happy opponents from India. Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty never once allowed the Koreans to regain the lead after 12-all in the opening game and they saw their way safely into the second round of the Malaysia Open.

Their best individual effort to date has been the French Open Super 750 late last year and that was also the last time they faced, and beat, this Korean pair.

“Obviously we want to go as deep in the tournament as possible,” said Chirag Shetty after their victory, “and we’ve done that previously so I think we have it in us.  All the top players in the world go out there looking for the title so we are also looking for that but we want to take it one match at a time.”

Asked about the highlight of their successful 2022 season, both players were unequivocal: “The Thomas Cup was definitely the highlight of last year,” stated Chirag.  “We’ve always lacked in doubles but lately, I think not just us but also other technical players like Dhruv, Arjun and even Krishna and Vishnu are daily getting better and I think that definitely contributed to the Thomas Cup success.”

The Indians have obviously been learning a lot from coach Mathias Boe, a player who himself enjoyed a lot of success as a player, particularly against Korean opponents, then at the pinnacle of the men’s doubles world.  Satwiksairaj said that it was not just his coach’s experience but theirs as well: “I think that we too really like playing against the Koreans.  They play a lot of defense and we always love to play an attacking game so it’s our strength versus their strength.

“All the Koreans have a more defensive style, even if you see back to Lee Yong Dae, Kim Gi Jung, and Kim Sa Rang, so we are always in a comfortable position because there are a lot of openings.  They don’t trouble us so much at the net like some other pairs.  “For example, with the Malaysian players, they won’t give us the attack so easily so we have to create the attack and then convert but with the Koreans it’s a much more comfortable way to play.”

As for how his game has developed even beyond his traditional strengths, Satwik explained: “Before, I used to play both mixed and doubles and I was completely a backcourt player but when I stopped playing mixed doubles, I have to play all over, it’s not just attack, attack, so I get more time to play at the net.  I’m working on it with my coach and always getting the experience.  He and Carsten Mogensen were also both tall players and he was telling me how Carsten used to play at the net so it’s really beneficial.”

Of course, in their Wednesday matchup, it wasn’t as if Choi and Kim just chose to lift and defend.  Both pairs fought to keep the shuttle low and the rallies were fast and flat, but it was the Indians who prevailed more often than not, and got the most chances to pounce and put it away.

“I think with the Koreans, we prefer to play the flat game,” said Chirag.  “The rallies are quite long, the shuttle doesn’t die down that easily, and we prefer playing that type of a game, rather than keeping it at the net.”

Click here for complete Wednesday results


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