'They want us to win in every match, like in cricket.'
'It's so tough to play every tournament and win.'
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty bagged the biggest title of their career on Sunday, October 30, 2022, winning the French Open Super 750 badminton crown with a straight-games decimation of Chinese Taipei's Lu Ching Yao and Yang Po Han in the men's doubles final in Paris.
"The singles players used to enjoy all the limelight, but I think times are changing now." Chirag and Satwiksairaj tell Prithviraj Hegde and Rajul Hegde in the concluding part of an exclusive interview.
How much has Pullela Gopichand's contribution been to Indian badminton?
Chirag: Overall Gopi sir's involvement and the amount of work he has done for Indian badminton is really tremendous especially with the singles players like Saina Nehwal, P V Sindhu and K Srikanth.
A lot of credit goes to him because of the performances we have seen in the last 10 years, I would say.
Whether it's the Olympic medals won by Sindhu, and Saina a lot of credit goes to him.
You guys live and train in Hyderabad now. What is a typical day like for you guys?
Chirag: Usually, the days starts at 7am for us.
We have our breakfast and stuff and be on the court at 8.15.
We warm up and stretch for 35-45 minutes and then we are on court at 9 am.
Then we have two hours of strenuous practice.
Then we go for lunch and sleep a bit before the evening sessions starts.
Then we train or play for 1.5 to 2 hours in the evening, after which we wind down.
Mondays and Thursdays, we play on court sessions in the evening whereas on Tuesdays and Fridays, we usually have gym sessions in the evening. Roughly we practice for 10 sessions a week.
What about your diet?
Chirag: Diet is more or less the same, well-regulated. When we are in Hyderabad. We get curated meals from outside.
Here we keep the diet very simple and have proper quantities. But when we travel abroad it becomes a bit more difficult, we usually try to eat healthy and on time.
So, are your cuisines compatible now? I believe Satwik liked Andhra food like biryani and Chirag preferred more international cuisines.
Satwik: We are used to it now. He knows what I like and I know what he likes so we compromise at one meal (laughs). Either he comes with me or I go with him.
What you guys have achieved is so far ahead of any other Indian doubles pair. Why do you think that is? Is there not enough focus on doubles in India?
Chirag: Well, a few years back we (doubles players) used to get a step motherly treatment, I would say.
The singles players used to enjoy all the limelight, but I think times are changing now.
More and more double players are also coming up.
It may not be as good as the singles players right now but times are definitely changing.
With specialist doubles coaches like Mathias coming and Tan and Flandy before, we are slowly seeing a change.
For the very first time, we had two pairs playing the quarter finals in the Badminton World Championship. We used to see only that in women's and men's singles before.
With pairs like Arjun-Dhruv and Krishna-Vishnu, have been playing really well.
That's one of the reasons why we were able to win the Thomas Cup. Because to win a team event you need a strong overall team and not one singles and one doubles pair.
So, a lot of the success in the Thomas Cup is because of the doubles players as well.
As doubles champions, do you get recognition and adulation when you are here as well as travelling for tournaments?
Satwik: Yes, people recognise us a lot more compared to before, but compared to singles, it's always less. There is no comparison between singles and doubles.
Nobody from India has played doubles at this level before so they expect a lot from us now.
There is lot of pressure on us as well, wherever we go they want us to win and they think it's so easy.
They want us to win in every match, like in cricket. They don't understand the sequence, it's so tough to play every tournament and win.
In singles there are lot of players, so one person can win today and another person can win tomorrow, but in doubles we have lesser pairs at the top level. But in doubles we are getting there.
There was no clear road-map for Indian doubles teams before, but there was always a path created for singles because Prakash sir and Gopi sir played and won before. Then Saina Didi and Sindhu Didi, so it was easy for them to pick up on that road.
Doubles there was nothing, like how much we should play, how to be professional. But now we getting there because of all the coaches.
Now many juniors are coming up. Arjun-Dhruv played really well in the last league. They won the international challenge.
It's good to see the doubles scenario changing. So now it has got lot of recognition after the Thomas Cup win.
When we went to Malaysia after the Thomas Cup, people were like, 'Hi Ranki, hi Chirag,' and they want selfies with us all the time.
Chirag: Similarly, to what Satwik said. I still feel that the recognition we have as compared to the singles players is lesser in India.
But when we go to Malaysia and Indonesia and other badminton-crazy nations, the adulation we get there is at a different level.
Everybody recognises us and it's difficult to roam around whereas in India we can still do whatever we want to, because only few fans would recognise us.
It's still in the early stages I would say and there is a long way to go.
How does it feel when the prime minister invites you to a reception and individually greets you after you win laurels for the country?
Satwik: It gives us a boost; we feel proud because we have already met him four times.
Whenever we meet, the way he speaks motivates us.
Chirag: The way he has been promoting the sports in general and meeting and interacting with us personally after coming back from big events like the Olympics and Commonwealth Games is great.
Now he knows us by name and whenever we meet him, he motivates us.
I have not seen a prime minister encouraging sportspersons as much as he does. And it's a huge boost for Indian sports in general.
So, what next for Chirag and Satwik? Or Sat-Chi as you're called on social media? Do you guys like that moniker?
Chirag: These days they have come up with Sat-Chi, it's sort of good I would say.
We have been given multiple names, but this one has stuck.
Is the future of Indian badminton bright? Lots of young players coming through the ranks?
Chirag: Yes, I can definitely say that for doubles.
With Mathias coming in, we see a lot of young doubles players coming in.
In the years to come, there will be plenty of them playing at the highest level.
Especially this year has been phenomenal not just for us, but for Indian badminton as a whole.
Every other tournament, somebody is winning the title or reaching the finals.
Any crazy fans?
Chirag: This time we were playing in Bali, and it was a closed door tournament because of the pandemic. Indonesians fans are really crazy and they used to send us gifts every day. Multiple people used to send gifts...
Satwik: And love letters to Chirag, not me (laughs).
What role has your families played in the development of you guys as top-level badminton players?
Chirag: For both of us, Satwik and I, the support from our families have been tremendous.
We had to move out of our houses and train far away from our families.
Initially, it was quite difficult but the support from our parents, for me, especially my dad (Mumbai hotelier/businessman Chandrashekar Shetty) has been tremendous and it has really been the driving factor, I would say towards the successes I have had so far.
Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com