(From left) Shuttlers Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty ended 2022 at World No 5, their career best
Image: Shi Tang / Getty Images
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy | 22
Chirag Shetty | 25
In the beginning, they looked like a reluctant match—both had an aggressive game and preferred to play from the back of the court. Which means their skills weren’t exactly complementary. But then India’s doubles coach Tan Kim Her paired up Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty in 2015. The rest, as they say, is history.
In 2022, Rankireddy and Shetty won two world tour titles—the Indian Open and the French Open—a gold at the Commonwealth Games (CWG) and a bronze at the World Championships. Most of these feats are a first by Indian men’s doubles shuttlers. The duo was also part of the historic Thomas Cup team that won India its maiden title and contributed to the victory by winning their match in the final despite being multiple match-points down. They ended the year at World No 5, their career best.
“Winning the Thomas Cup, the CWG and the medal at the World Championships are some of the highlights of not just 2022, but our entire career,” says Shetty, adding that, even in their early days, both he and Rankireddy were keen to play doubles instead of singles, which was more popular with Indian players.
When they began to play together, the duo struggled to build up an understanding on the court. “He’d speak in Hindi, me in Telugu,” laughs Rankireddy. That’s when their coaches advised them to spend time together off the court as well.
“At tournaments, we began to share hotel rooms. We have a shared interest of movies and while he watches Telugu and me Hindi, we are hooked to crime thrillers,” says Shetty. Now they can read each other during the matches. “We have a clear plan, and we know what we are doing,” adds Rankireddy. Also read: Avinash Sable: On the right track
In terms of their game, the pair has sharpened their defence, and Shetty has developed a net game to round off Rankireddy’s back-of-the-court play. “Chirag is quite tall, and the net isn’t a very comfortable space for a player as tall as him. But he’s grown into the role. Satwik is powerful with his smashes from behind,” says Aparna Popat, a nine-time national champion. “They balance themselves out very well.”
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Rankireddy hails from a sporting family in Andhra Pradesh (his father played volleyball, and his brother, state-level badminton) and was mentored in his initial days by Dronacharya coach P Gopichand. Shetty took up the game in the footsteps of his father, who played for recreation. One of his early coaches would often cite instances of badminton legend Prakash Padukone, who won the All-England title in 1980, at a time training and facilities were sparse. Says Shetty, “It’s his attitude that instilled in me in my younger days the zest to compete.”
In March, the duo will have an opportunity to emulate Padukone’s feat at All-England. If they manage to reach the podium, it would be yet another pathbreaking achievement for the shuttlers.
(This story appears in the 10 February, 2023 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)