Updated: July 25, 2021 8:27:01 am
It was a typically entertaining outing for India’s doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty. The World No 10 Indians were clubbed in Group of Death in their Games debut, which had World No 1s, No 3s and a pair of British upstarts. In what was a sensational third deciding set, the Indians switched triple gears against Taiwanese Yang Lee and Chee-lin Wang to win 21-16, 16-21, 27-25 at the Musashino Forest Plaza.
The Indians were snapping at Lee-Wang’s heels right from the start, and ambushed the World No 3 combine in the opener. It wasn’t a pouring of power in the first set, more of strategic placements, a change of pace here, some harrying of Wang there, that helped them pocket the first set advantage 21-16. The Taiwanese would get a grip on things with a 7-point flurry in the second, but not quite shake off the tremors and doubts created by the early onslaught.
The Indian pairing has come into the Olympics, not on the back of stunning title victories, but enough experience of getting their hands muddy for a toss-about at different courts dotting the world. The Taipese were the form pairing.
Satwik and Chirag held their ground and went for the winners with loud war cries of ‘Maaar’, to keep the tempo up. Lee-Wang would shore up their defense and guard their reputation parrying the early silent strangle. Margins were narrow – both trading errors and service dips. However the Indians picked up their game in the last set, serving well, returning much better. Most importantly they wouldn’t let the Taiwanese get away too far ahead, although matters reached 15-17 and threatened to slip away in the decider.
It was one of the most breathtaking rallies from trailing by a clutch of points, as Satwik amped the pressure, and Chirag started going for broke. It was only a slight tweak in intent to attack, but it saw the Indians mark out the forecourt and short, snappy smashes as their territory.
“Yeah, it was a good start,” said coach Mathias Boe, on what was a debut for both him as coach and his charges. “We knew the mid and front court would be very important to win, whoever got the attack won most of the points. In the end we managed to keep calm, kept our tactics and that gave us the win,” he said.
While the Danish coach brings a very cerebral and tactical approach to the board, he knows when to turn the levers on, and rev up the aggression. From 15-17, the Indians would attack not mindlessly, but in very rationed menace against Lee-Wang who were pinned on the backfoot.
Still it would take 6 match points to drive the knife deep, as against one that the opponents who looked headed to finish up, enjoyed. Indians wouldn’t let them finish. “We don’t think about ranking, we focus on our own game plan,” Boe would say. The Danish coach had a few nervous moments though, at his first Olympics as a non-player. “It was stressful but not as stressful as being on court,” he joked. His wards had him covered, chewing on the nerves and spitting out fear, while piling pressure right back on the rattled opponents.
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