Satwik, Chirag win like champions: Looks incredible, feels inevitable

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The dance scene of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty after a big win is a thing known till now because of how often they get these wins. Cherag’s t-shirt comes off and then Cherag walks away, straight into Satvik’s arms. Sometimes, after a particularly tough match, there is a loud roar in relief to let out the emotions pent up on the court.

On Saturday, there was a new element – Satvik lying flat on the court, bowing in one Obeisance To his coaches P Gopichand and Mathias Boe, touching their feet.

The new move was befitting of their new landmark – India’s first ever badminton gold medal at the Asian Games. This medal fulfills a long-held dream of Indian badminton, something that even the indomitable Syed Modi, Prakash Padukone, Gopichand, PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal could not achieve.

Satwik and Chirag have gone where no Indian has gone before – and they got there with the ease of champions.

That they would one day stand on a stage with a large gold medal around their neck was expected, almost inevitable.

In the last 14 months they have scripted enough historic firsts for Indian badminton to go into the Asian Games as favourites.

But there’s a difference between being loved and living up to that tag, especially in such an emphatic manner. In their five matches in the doubles event in Hangzhou, they dropped just one game – in the second round. They dominated their nemesis pair, Malaysia’s Aaron Chia and Soh Uh Ik, in the semi-finals and staged a series of mini-comebacks against an inspired Choi Somgyul and Kun Wonho in the final.

They make winning gold look easy – though winning badminton gold at the Asian Games is something else. Not when the continent dominates the game. Not when they are being held in China, the longtime badminton powerhouse.

The reigning Olympic champion and last year’s world champions, both won bronze medals, on the men’s doubles badminton podium in Hangzhou. There were no Indonesian or Chinese pairs, another rarity.

The pair of world No. 1 and 2 lost early and the highest standing players in the semi-finals were Indians, who would soon become world no. Definitely another first for Indian badminton.

An expected, extraordinary gold

Why was their victory expected? Mainly because together they had two of the sport’s strongest strengths – fearlessness and form guide. In 2023, despite two brief injury layoffs, they have already won five titles – Swiss Open Super 300, Badminton Asia Championship, Indonesia Open Super 1000, Korea Open Super 500 and now the Asian Games.

In fact, their final record since the start of 2022 is remarkable: 7/7, with a title at every stage of the BWF Tour and gold medals at other major competitions.

They may have had two rough losses just before the Asiad – one match short of a medal at worlds and a first-round exit at the China Open Super 1000 – but they have been the most consistent pair in the changing men’s doubles landscape. And when it comes to the finals, little can stop them.

The biggest stage is their stage to shine. They fear no one, believe themselves to be the best and have learned through experience how to recover and win.

They had an 8-0 record against them until a few months ago, overcoming a pair as they did here in the semifinals. At the start of this season, beating Soh and Chia was a career goal; Now they’ve done it for two of their biggest titles.

Or like in the final, where they had a 2-0 record against a young duo that put them on the backfoot early. They trailed 4-8 and then 15-18 against a duo that was sending returns at a rocket pace and defending like a wall.

Satvik and Chirag had to shake off their early jitters, clean up the errors and get the job done. They did just that, winning six straight points to practically steal the first game. Winning when you are not the best pair on the court is also a skill. Once they got the first one in the bag, it was all about speed and attacking the opposition’s weak links, which they did with ease.

They can regroup mid-game and get the job done as quietly as they’ve been doing for months now.

They have found themselves in this situation many times before – the first India Open final, the pressure of playing at home, the first CWG final, dealing with the crowd cheering against them, the first Super 1000 final, not hitting a pair of them before.

And they win every time.

inevitable

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