Updated: January 30, 2021 2:19:17 pm
For taking the next step forward in Indian badminton’s doubles journey, the national association has roped in 2012 London Olympics silver medallist Mathias Boe as coach. The Dane, known for his tactical acumen, is expected to build upon the strides taken by Ashwini Ponnappa, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty on the international circuit, helping add nous to their games.
While the Tokyo Olympics and Huelva World Championships later in the year are immediate targets for India’s doubles pairings, Boe will go beyond mere shaping of stroke-play and skills honed by successive Indonesians, and plunge into court-craft to counter the top pairings of the world.
While discussions were on for a few weeks, Boe will also be expected to shepherd the next line of young doubles shuttlers to ensure there’s more than just two pairings on the top circuit. Propping up women’s doubles and ensuring Ashwini can achieve her stated goal of playing right into the Paris Games will also be high among his responsibilities.
A lot on the plate
Speaking to The Indian Express in November 2019 right before the pandemic, Boe had touched upon the contours of his doubles philosophy, after having extended sessions with Shetty in Mumbai. Taking off from the Premier Badminton League where they played on the same team, the 40-year-old has struck a good working relationship with one half of India’s Olympics-bound top pairing, and will need to plug the gaps in their personal games – Chirag’s defence, Satwik’s workload management and Ashwini’s occasional errors at crucial junctures. Grooming MR Arjun-Dhruv Kapila, the promising junior pair, will be the future challenge.
Speaking back in 2019, Boe had explained what he brings to the table: “Malaysia and Indonesia have extremely good technique. They can do strokes from court which they make look really simple, but it’s extremely hard. Danes, European players are generally tactically better. Korea – normally physically stronger, they can run further, smash harder.”
KEVIN-MARCUS HIGH WALL
Boe will be expected to hit the ground running, and help Satwik-Chirag start reversing a 0-8 head-to-head against the Indonesian top pair, the busybee “Minions” – Kevin Sukamuljo Sanjay and Marcus Gideon. Stressing that Indians play a similar game to the World No 1s, Boe had said Kevin’s otherworldly skills at the net and their pedigree make it a tough challenge.
“When you are up against Kevin, it’s relatively easy to look quite stupid on court because he can just do some things that you don’t expect him to do and that you can’t really practise daily. So you are not used to the sort of pressure he is putting on you,” Boe explained.
“The times I’ve beaten Kevin and Marcus is to have a more defensive style against them, make them work, make them a little tired and see if you can push forward a little and control the serve and receiving game and then eventually kill it. But is not easy task. It sounds a lot easier than it actually is,” he had said.
While Satwik has tended to step forward and has developed a neat net game, Boe commenting on their early avatar had said that a Plan B was still necessary. “When their Plan A is running and Chirag can intercept at the net, and Satwik can kill from back, they are really strong. When they can play their 100 per cent, they can challenge anybody. But also, when their Play A is not running, their Plan B is something they still need to pick up a little bit and be more consistent when they can’t play their 100 per cent. That is what makes the difference in top pairings,” he had said right after their fruitful European swing that season.
THE BIG DECISION
One of the most crucial calls that Boe will need to facilitate is deciding whether Satwik ought to focus on men’s doubles or straddle the mixed event as well. While as a fellow player in 2019, Boe was of the opinion that Satwik should focus on one event. Ashwini-Satwik’s results in Thailand have been very promising, and jettisoning mixed for Olympics (they are far off in qualification) is a tougher dilemma.
Speaking then, Boe had said, “That’s up to Satwik himself and the coaches of India. My opinion is you shouldn’t play two disciplines. To be the best in men’s doubles, or in mixed, you need to fully focus on that… One thing is that daily you only practise the things you need in your discipline. And the other thing is you come out and have two matches to play. It’s too much, it’s too easy to pick up injuries.”
However, Boe would understand that at 20, Satwik is equipped to playing both events. “It’s pretty natural for young players. When I was Satwik’s age, I also played two events. Then I skipped it after few years because I could also benefit from mixed doubles. I think I was ranked as high as No. 4 in the world in mixed. So, it’s definitely something that can help you. But you need to focus on one event, and when you feel the time is right, you take a call,” he had said.
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