Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty on Sunday created history by becoming the first Indian pair to win a BWF Super 500 badminton tournament, stunning reigning world champions Li Jun Hui and Liu Yu Chen in the final of Thailand Open in Bangkok.
India's top men's doubles duo of Rankireddy and Shetty posted a hard-fought 21-19, 18-21, 21-18 win to claim its biggest career title after battling for an hour and two minutes against the third seeded Chinese combo. This was not only their first triumph at Super 500 level and above but also the most prestigious doubles title for India since the inception of the ranking system. This achievement will also propel the current World No. 16 Indian combination into the top 10 for the first time, making it the first-ever Indian men's doubles duo to enter the elite bracket.
This was the first final of the 2019 season for the unseeded Indian pair, doubles silver medallist at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. During the thrilling summit clash against the World No. 2 Chinese team, Rankireddy displayed brilliant anticipation and extraordinary placements from the front court, while Shetty controlled the backcourt effortlessly. Li and Liu had earlier this year beaten the Indians at Australian Open. "When we played them at the Australian Open, we lost to them very closely. We understood they were under pressure today but we had none since we were very excited to play our first final," said Rankireddy.
"I have some shoulder issues so we had decided that I would play more from the front and Chirag from the back. I was focussing more on the service and the net," he added. Rankireddy and Shetty started attacking from the word go and after breaking away from a tied 3-3, they moved ahead to open up a 10-6 lead, but their Chinese opponents kept breathing down their necks and made it 14-14. It was a closely-fought affair after that and the Indian pair could take a slight edge only at 20-18.
Although Li and Liu narrowed the gap further down to 19-20, the Indians managed to win the crucial point to wrap up the first game. In the second game, the Rankireddy and Shetty managed to take an upper hand at the beginning as they moved up to a 6-2 lead, but the Chinese soon bridged the gap to 5-6 before catching up with them at 11-11. After the interval, Li and Liu surged ahead to 13-11, but the Indians lifted their game and drew parity at 13 apiece. The Indians then overtook their opponents to make it 16-14 and then climbed to 18-16 before the Chinese pair won five consecutive points to take it to the decider.
Rankireddy and Shetty were slow off the blocks in the third game but managed to make it 6-6. From thereon, the Indians never looked back and kept their composure to maintain the edge till the end. Even though the Chinese pair fought back and at one stage reduced the gap to 18-19, the Indians looked in no mood to climb down and went on to pocket two consecutive points to seal the match in their favour.
Rankireddy said, "Well, we kept our calm all throughout the tournament. Even when we were down 1-4 in the third game, we didn't lose hope. We just were steady and did not rush things to give them a bigger lead. "We just stuck to our plan of keeping the shuttle low and not hurrying through the points. I think that really worked and that helped us get the lead at 8-6." Intelligent rotation of the shuttle combined with Rankireddy's powerful smashes flummoxed the world's second-best pair whose every comeback was thwarted by the ever-alert Indians.
Even when Li and Liu tried to prolong the rallies in an attempt to tire out the Indians, Rankireddy and Shetty were up to the task and never relinquished their advantage, converting on their first match point to get the monumental victory. "It's the biggest title we have won so far in our career. Right now I am out of words after playing in a final and beating the current world champions. I am extremely happy," said Shetty after the win.