They were denied at World Championships, and at Singapore and Malaysia this year. Low points they dealt with by returning to the board. But Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty bounced back every single time from disappointment in 2023. And on Saturday in Hangzhou, they won a historic Asian Games gold.
No Indian shuttler had ever won the Asian Games gold medal before this.
Satwik-Chirag beat pedigreed Koreans Choi Sol Gyu and Kim Won Ho 21-18, 21-16, blazing with their attacking play and holding their nerve when trailing to give India its finest shuttle moment at the Asiad.
The sound of the Chinese national anthem had firmed up Satwik-Chirag’s resolve to go one step better than the team event where they finished with silver. Just as the bounce-back had happened at Commonwealth Games after losing to Malaysia, they did so again at Asian Games. They would get the job done against Koreans backing their steep attack, burying the shuttle into the court floor evading the defense of Choi and Kim.
Kim tried his darndest at the net, and with his roving winners, but the Indian attack was far too hot for Koreans to handle in the end of both the games. They even trailed 10-13 and 15-18 in the opener. But Satwik-Chirag have perfected the art of finishing, of lording over the clutch moments.
Satwik-Chirag had the tour’s toughest medal in Indonesia Open, where they overturned a 0-8 scoreline against nemesis AaronChia-Soh Wooi Yik. They had won the Asian Championships title, but the Asiad gold was the one India needed in 2023. PV Sindhu had lost the 2018 final in one sided fashion, delaying that particular success. Satwik-Chirag actually lost to another Korean pair in the team event to start Asian Games slow. But they picked up the pieces, threw all disappointments into the furnace of high-level competition and came out shining in the final.
The Koreans had watched Satwik-Chirag play domineering badminton when they won the Korea Open finals two months back. But the Indians struck at their heart with this gold in a deeply coveted Asiad final.
Satwik, 23 from Amalapuram and Chirag, 26 began jamming together in 2016, around Sindhu’s silver medal. They have many firsts for India since then, their tall attacking play a serious challenge for opponents. But it was the gold that India craved.
The shirt came off, the coaches Mathias Boe and Pullela Gopichand hugged it out. And then the players dissolved into coach’s embraces. Then they danced – Indian sport’s greatest sight.
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