World Championships: Two Indian doubles pairs raise medal hopes

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Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty like keeping the best for the last. They brought up the rear of Indian success at the India Open to start the year. Last month at Commonwealth Games, their last gold helped India nose ahead of New Zealand in medals tally. Working quietly through the week after getting the job done in Birmingham, the duo would love to tie up some unfinished business of Tokyo from a year ago when they play the World Championships quarterfinals at Tokyo Gymnasium.

After two clinical wins, the Indians ranked 7th, run into Japanese second seeds Takuro Hoki and Yugo Kobayashi. It’s 1-1 in history, as the Indians had beaten the Japanese at the 2018 All England and lost in three at Hong Kong in 2019. Both pairings have firmed up and risen from the promising batter, like an orange-almond tea cake in the oven, remaining evenly matched though the home pairing will hold the edge. Only just.

Satwik-Chirag won 2 out of 3 in the Tokyo Olympics group stage including against eventual champions, but went out, pipped by the Minions. Back in the city for the World Championships a year later, they face a sturdy pair, but are armed with bouncebackability that gives them the extra gear in tight situations, while Mathias Boe works out the drawing boards.

Though raising the decibel on their attack might seem the obvious thing to do, Boe will be around to temper aggression and unleash it in micro-doses in tough conditions where smashes get scoffed at and mocked by the sapping, lulling conditions.

What might push Satwik Chirag further – and which is excellent for Indian badminton – is the presence of Dhruv Kapila and MR Arjun as the second Indian pairing in the quarters. One good pairing can be happenstance, two hold the potential of kicking off a revolution as both combines push the limits gunning for India’s first men’s doubles medal.

Dhruv-Arjun are up against the Daddies Hendra Setiawan and Mohammad Ahsan, and coach Gopichand backs both the Indian pairs to push through even if these are 50/50 matches. In a fast court, the Indonesian Daddies can be unstoppable. In slow, drawling conditions, Indians will sense an opening.

“The slow shuttle can open up the game for us a little more and if help move the bigger Daddy (Setiawan) a little more to hit through him,” he reckons. Hendra is 38, and sat out the Thomas Cup key clash, but remains a legend of the sport for his ability to win no matter what. So you underestimate the Daddies at your own peril, and India’s second pair will need to convert half chances and rub their energetic bearing, on Daddies’ faces, while staying vigilant in defense, because Setiawan-Ahsan find the wickedest angles while keeping the calmest wisened visage.

The Indonesian legends have quelled young pairings from all around the world, and the Indians on a high with three excellent wins including against the top Danes, will have a fight on their hands, without knowing when the gears turned.

On Thursday, the Arjun-Dhruv duo did well to quieten Singaporean Terry-Loh, in a come from behind 18-21, 21-15, 21-16 victory. It was a familiar sight with Arjun bobbing around holding his end of the bargain, and Dhruv adding his explosive bursts from the backcourt.

The Singaporeans, surprise prequarterfinalists themselves, plunged into errors after taking the opener, and Indians gladly pounced on the opportunity to sidle in a counter. They led 13-11 in the decider just as the Singaporeans were regrouping, when Dhruv needed a medical timeout and some spray around his hamstring. Loh would proceed to pound him on that right flank promptly, but the Indians showed remarkable sturdiness to beat back the offensive and hold on to their lead, with precise placing of the shuttle.

A straight shooting arrow smash bang in the middle of the court from Dhruv finally gave Indians the happy win, bringing glad tidings from doubles where for the first time two of the eight quarterfinalists will be Indians. A wave effect is expected to be triggered back home where many more pairings train and will look up to the twin Indian combines to bring home the first doubles medal for men from the World’s.

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