Updated: January 23, 2021 9:54:29 am
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy is thrilled to be on the badminton court with his strategy: attack, attack. He doesn’t actually go ballistic, trying to mangle every shuttle that floats in his orbit. He can sting even standing, like someone catching a butterfly. But the burly enforcer knows the thunderous trick that bulges up his sleeve – his ability to kill a rally with one swing of the axe, the moment he pleases.
On Saturday, along with his partners Ashwini Ponappa and Chirag Shetty, Satwik provided Indian badminton the solid rocket booster separation – for the first time two doubles pairings will be in semifinals of a Super 1000.
Singles players PV Sindhu and Sameer Verma exited before the business end kicked in, losing their quarters.
It’s taken a while, but Indian doubles pairings have finally taken centrestage. Satwik-Ashwini beat their quarterfinal opponents World No.7 Malaysian opponents Peng Soon Chan–Liu Ying Goh 18-21, 24-22, 22-20 shirking off a couple of match points.
This is the CWG champion mixed doubles pairing’s first Super 1000 semifinal, India’s best result on the circuit in XD in a dozen years. Jwala Gutta – V Diju had made the Super Series finals in 2009.
More expectedly, Satwik combined with Chirag Shetty to beat back Malaysian Ong Yew Sin – Teo Ee Yi 21-18, 24-22 in 37 minutes, where they looked scratchy, but did what all top international pairs do – win on a bad day.
All talk of Satwik needing to focus on one event looking ahead at the Olympics, might run into a massive wall: Satwik’s choice.
“We didn’t see our opponents. Doesn’t matter if we lose or win,” he would say after knocking off the Malaysians who held their three match-points, like match sticks flaming too close to the finger: with great trepidation.
The reason was Satwik standing right there at the net – with a racquet for a ringmaster’s whip.
“On court we just want to play 100 percent. If we lose also, it doesn’t matter. One year we are resting. So we want to play more matches, more tournaments. That’s my strategy,” he would say.
Ashwini had worked up nervous energy that wrecked her composure. But she brings the most precious commodity to this partnership – her honesty. So, she let Satwik take over.
“Satwik held his nerves. Mine were all over the place. He took charge. He dealt with situations much better. I was a little too excited, a little too eager, so ended up making a few easy mistakes. When needed, he was calm,” she told BWF.
Satwik’s attack is the sort that can make match-points seem inflammable because opponents realise he will roar and rev up his attack from half a metre away. Satwik used the bulky smash to put them under pressure in the second, and the confidence carried him through to the end.
Liu Ying Goh is formidable but recuperating from back pain. She would parry attacks from Satwik and was engaged in some top notch repartee shots with Ashwini, but the Indians managed to unsettle their focus.
Satwik was only warming up for the men’s doubles pairing of Malaysians. The Indians would trail a tad with their attack losing its sting at halfway stages of both sets, as the Malaysians defended well.
Shetty would help hold on steering the game towards variation smashes, cutting on the pace and drops. But Satwik would soon fetch up right next to him on the forecourt and push them back to finish in straight sets.
“First time I’m playing both men’s doubles and mixed doubles semis. Very excited. It’ll be really challenging. I ll be ready. We have to keep calm,” he would say.
The man is 20, fit and raring to slay two events. It’ll be pointless to wrap the Hulk in cotton wool and ask him to ration his rage for just one event.
SINDHU READY FOR World Tour Finals
PV Sindhu made plenty of unforced errors losing 21-13, 21-9, to Intanon Ratchanok, with her lifts going all over the place to exit Thailand Super 1000 on Friday. But the weekend’s best used to prepare for the big one next week — World Tour Finals. “Didn’t play 100 pc. Made a lot of unforced errors. It was 13-14 at one point but I continuously gave her points. There were rallies, but those lifts were going out. I was playing comfortably earlier but they kept going out. I was nervous and made simple errors.”
Anders Antonsen whose focus was in and out throughout his match with Sameer Verma, had a tough time quelling the opponent and his slingy defense. “Sameer is a warrior. Tough match,” he would say, as the Indian wrung out Antonsen’s depleting reserves and pushed him to the very end in the most exciting match of the day. Defending every shot and transitioning many retrieves into winners, Sameer would leave Antonsen gasping.
At one point the World No.4 Dane would tell his coach quite astounded that Sameer was picking the tough shots, but was a tad vulnerable when going for the easy kills. The Indian’s precision wasn’t the best. But he dissected every Antonsen attack for 80 odd minutes before going down 13-21, 21-19, 20-22.