Because it is Indonesians, it’s important to know that badminton’s most passionate fans tend to slap nicknames onto their shuttlers they love, with not a shred of meanness in their intent. Their most exciting men’s doubles combine of Gideon-Sukamuljo, a hugely adored pairing, is happily called Minions, for their bumble bee like work-rate.
So, the waves of concern for “Daddies” emanating from the south east islands for Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan should be seen not as an ageist snide, but a typically Indonesian affable habit of keeping their labels short, simple and matter of fact, non judgemental. Ahsan is 32, Setiawan is 35; they are reigning World and All England champions.
Crucially for India’s best pairing of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, the ‘Daddies’ still iffy from niggles sustained at the China Open last month, are just a touch slow. It mattered mightily when the Indian World No.11s revved up the pace to stun the Indonesian greats 21-18, 18-21, 21-13 at the Super 750 French Open.
The legends and India’s sparking youngsters would meet in the hotel lobby later, where Ahsan would tell the boy with the smash of a beast, “hey very big smash! I couldn’t play it!”
Satwik remembers learning to smash like them while coming up, and was punch pleased, saying “Today I even talked with them! But they are always friendly.”
He was eager to tell Ahsan how the competitors had turned to fanboys at All England when after Setiawan got injured, Ahsan steered the pair to a win singularly. But “big smash” left him without speech.
It was more than Satwik’s big boomer though. Indians had all the plans to drill in deep. But first up, Indians had their familiar starting troubles.
Chirag was twice faulted for his serve though the Indians led 14-11. “Then we gave away 5 quick points in silly mistakes, – serving, receiving,” he said of the short snappy rallies where Indonesians bunched up points and went into the lead. So far, so normal.
With Satwik-Chirag, the comebacks are always the most entertaining part of their wins. It started with them taking a short regrouping mental break and levelling at 17-all. Calmer now, free of panic, Chirag served well now to get 4 straight points and close out at 21-18.
It was becoming evident that the Indians needed to keep the shuttle low, and eschew the flat exchanges. Indians would start slow in the second, stare at a 10-4 lead and jog upto 9-11.
The Indonesians were giving it their all in their rally and reached 20-16 before closing out at 21-18. Even Stevens.
It’s here that India’s new foreign coach, Flandy Limpele, the Indonesian brought in his insiders’ knowledge of the Daddies.
“He told us to play as quick as possible at the net. They were not the fastest movers by then,” Chirag says, but the old foxes still had their muscle memory reflexes.
The idea was to not allow them any traction in the air. “Coach kept saying, don’t let them catch shuttle higher,” Chirag says. The Indonesians are masters at creating openings and prefer flat back ‘n’ forths, so the Indians starved them off the height.
Both Chirag and Satwik would rush to the net and catch the shuttle fast, and keep the shuttle as if at the end of their yo yo strings. Adopting a stance of high racquets, they would create a wall not allowing the Indonesians to bisect them forcing lifts for 5 quick points in the decider after the break.
The Daddies fumbled with service errors even as Satwik’s smashes killed with more venom and Chirag’s taps hammered the final nails.
“This’ll probably be amongst our Top 3 wins. We went into the match as underdogs, not too tensed,” Chirag would say.
After their Thailand Open win few months back, the duo had missed the World championships due to injury and found tough resistance from the Japanese at Korean Open despite running them close.
At Denmark last week, Satwik had been felled by a viral.
“It was very tough, the first two days at Paris. I was out of stamina. But then my sleep, food improved and I was feeling better today,” he said. “Today when we switched gears in the third playing very fast, I knew my game was on track,” he added.
The Indonesians usually target opponents body and catch them on the second shuttle. But conditions in France — slower shuttles, no drift, helped.
“Our defense is not the greatest, but in these conditions, we feel more confident of defending,” Chirag said. Paris can be called the Indians’ favourite venue. They even sent Indonesians into a tizzy on twitter when they packed Daddies off home.
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