It can be concluded from the results of the just-concluded Fuzhou China Open World Tour Super 750 badminton championships that the exciting Indian men’s doubles combination of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty is inching ever closer to the top-five level, if not the topmost rung, of the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings.
Thinking in terms of Satwik and Chirag being World no 1 may well sound unrealistic – even jingoistic – in view of the fact that the two were only ranked ninth in the world on the strength of the 59,000 points they had in their kitty from participation in 14 tournaments before hitting the courts in Fuzhou, whereas the China Open winners, Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo of Indonesia, were perched atop the tree with a humongous 106, 603 points from 18 competitions this year.
But – and here’s the clincher – with the 9,350 points that the Indians gained from their runners-up position in the tournament, they will have touched 68,350, a figure that would help them leapfrog the seventh-ranked Danes, Kim Astrup-Anders Skaarup Rasmussen (currently on 61,119 points), and the eighth-ranked Chinese, Han Cheng Kai-Zhou Hao Dong (60,187), into seventh place.
The Indians would still remain behind the sixth-placed Japanese twosome of Hiroyuki Endo-Yuta Watanabe (72,763 points), but Rankireddy and Shetty have beaten the Japanese pair twice this year (including a 21-18, 21-23, 21-11 triumph at the quarter-final stage of the China Open), after losing to them in their initial two clashes, to net a 2-2 career head-to-head record.
From amongst those above them in the rankings, the Indians have beaten the fifth-ranked Indonesian duo of Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto in the course of their Thailand Open title victory; and boast two recent victories over the No 3 ranked pairing of Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen of China, who had bagged the world title in 2018. They have also tamed the reigning world champions and World no 2, Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan, at the French Open in October this year.
That leaves only two pairs among the top half-dozen, over whom the Indians remain winless. It is a fact that they have not been able to figure out the game of Japan’s fourth-ranked Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda in five career meetings, but came desperately close to toppling the Japanese at the Korea Open in September this year, losing by a wafer-thin 19-21, 21-18, 18-21 margin.
At Fuzhou, Rankireddy and Shetty went down to the world’s top doubles twosome of Gideon and Sukamuljo at the semi-final stage by a 16-21, 20-22 margin, to record their eighth consecutive loss against the Indonesians, without a consolation win. The Indians were actually leading 18-16 in the second game, but could not counter the exquisite finishing skills and steely temperament of their redoubtable rivals, who snatched six of the final eight points.
An in-depth analysis of the eight meetings between the two pairs in the course of the past 30 months since their first encounter in the Sudirman Cup in May 2017 shows that the Indians have managed to win just a solitary game against the crack Indonesian combination.
That happened during the team event of the August 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, when Rankireddy and Shetty gave the world’s top-ranked team a major fright in front of the latter’s adoring home crowds before capitulating by a 21-19, 19-21, 21-16 scoreline. The Indians would not have been flattered if they had won that duel, which had been the fourth in their head-to-head series, as they came within a mere two points of bringing home the bacon in their hotly contested bout.
Thereafter, the Indonesians have always taken the Indians seriously enough to preclude the chances of their being accused of complacency, and have held nothing back when the two sides have clashed. When they bumped into one another again in front of the Jakarta crowds, at the Indonesia Open in July this year, the World no 1 duo administered a sound 21-15, 21-14 whipping that left the Indians licking their wounds.
It must be noted that this particular meeting took place barely a month before the 2019 World Championships, from which the Indian pair had to withdraw due to a shoulder injury to Rankireddy. Amazingly, the Indians played in the Thailand Open Super 500 championships in the first week of August, a fortnight before the Basel World Championships; and pocketed the title, lowering the colours of the then reigning world champions, Li and Liu of China, by a 21-19, 18-21, 21-18 verdict.
The Chinese duo, which has since dropped to No 3 in the world, was once again tamed by the Indians at the semi-final stage of the just-concluded Fuzhou China Open, and were well beaten despite receiving full-throated support from the packed crowds at the Haixia Olympic Sports Centre. The scoreline this time was 21-19, 21-15; and provided conclusive evidence of the extent of the Indians’ improvement since their earlier meeting in the Thailand Open final.
But to return to the analysis of the matches played between Gideon-Sukamuljo and Rankireddy-Shetty, the latter have been inching closer and closer to the crack Indonesian duo, known affectionately in their country as the ‘Minions’ (in comparison with ‘Daddies’ Ahsan and Setiawan), and who are already being rated as one of the top pairs of our generation.
Three games during the eight encounters have stretched over the extra points, and all three have been won by the Indonesians – the first game at 27-25 in the 2017 Japan Open, the second game at 26-24 in the 2018 French Open, and the second game at 22-20 in the 2019 China Open semi-final last Saturday. It is hardly a coincidence that the Indonesians have been strong-minded and skilful enough to win all the ‘tie-breakers’.
Age-wise and experience-wise, the Indonesians are in their prime, with Fernaldi being 28 and the mercurial Sukamuljo 23 years old. Shetty, on the other hand, is 22, while his hulking partner is a mere 19 years of age. It is worth recounting that, when Sukamuljo played briefly for his country in 2018 with multiple-time world champion Mohammad Ahsan, they were pipped by the Indians at 18-21, 21-18, 24-22 at the Badminton Asia Championships.
Many students of the game are of the firm opinion that, if the Indians keep improving in the manner they have been in recent tournaments, it will not be long before the only two pairs that have proved to be stumbling-blocks for them thus far – Gideon-Sukamuljo and Kamura-Sonoda – will be vanquished. If that happens by the time the 2020 Olympics come round, it could well be a golden bonus!
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Updated Date: Nov 11, 2019 19:01:20 IST