Star doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty on Sunday broke a 58-year-old drought, becoming the first Indians after Dinesh Khanna to be crowned champions at the Asia Badminton Championships in Dubai.
The 2022 World Championship’s bronze medallists scripted a sensational comeback after an opening game reversal to edge past the Malaysian combination of Ong Yew Sin and Teo Ee Yi 21-16, 17-21, 19-21 in a nail-biting final to accomplish a magnificent victory in the continental championship.
Khanna is the only Indian to claim the gold medal, having achieved the feat when he beat Thailand’s Sangob Rattanusorn in the men’s singles final at Lucknow in 1965. India’s previous best performance in men’s doubles at the Asia Championships was a bronze-medal finish by Dipu Ghosh and Raman Ghosh in 1971.
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Satwik and Chirag, who claimed the Swiss Open Super 300 title in Basel, showed tremendous grit as they never gave up after losing the first game and being 7-13 and 11-15 in the second and third game to secure the first gold for India in doubles. It was the second title of the season for Satwik and Chirag, who continued to remain the best shuttlers for the country on display this season.
Besides the Asia Championships title, Satwik and Chirag also won the 2022 Commonwealth Games and five career titles on the BWF World Tour. The two pairs came into the summit clash after sharing the honours in six meetings, with Satwik and Chirag coming up trumps in the semi-final of the Swiss Open in March this year.
Relentless in attack
Satwik, 22, from Amalapuram and Mumbai-born Chirag, 25, were relentless in their attack, sending down the shuttle at stiff angles and at a good speed, while Ong and Teo were rock solid in their defence. There was little to separate the two pairs as the opening game started on an even note. From 1-1 to 10-10, the two moved neck and neck before a hurried shot at the net by Chirag gave the Malaysians a one-point lead at the break.
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The Malaysian duo ran up a series of points to quickly eke out a commanding five-point lead at 18-13. Chirag broke the run but Ong and Teo grabbed six game points when Satwik went long. The Indians saved two before the Malaysians won an exciting rally with Teo diving twice to keep the shuttle in play to earn the bragging rights. After the change of ends, Ong and Teo continued their impressive run, moving to 6-2 early on before zooming to 10-4.
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The Malaysians were relentless in their approach as Satwik and Chirag failed to match up to their rivals, allowing the Malaysians to enter the mid-game break with a 11-6 lead. Ong and Tea maintained a five-point lead at 13-8 before the Indian pair scripted a recovery. Satwik produced a backhand kill followed by a net error from Teo, who also sent the shuttler out, as soon the tables turned.
The Indians were 18-15 up as errors crept into the Malaysians game. Satwik and Chirag earned three game points and converted it on the first chance with Teo committing an error at the net. The decider started with the two pairs trading blows. Ong and Teo showed great technical acumen as they slowly eked out a three-point lead at 8-5.
With Chirag spraying his smash into the net and following it up with another, the Malaysians grabbed an 11-8 lead at the break. The opponents injected power and produced a few body shots to open up a 14-10 lead. The Indians narrowed it down to 14-15 with Chirag dominating a fast exchange before drawing level. Following a net error from Ong, Satwik and Chirag went 17-16 up. Ong then sent one wide as the Indians moved to 18-16.
A great interception from the Malaysians was followed by a precise return from Chirag as it was 19-17 in India’s favour. A booming smash from the back from Chirag took India to three championship points. They squandered two before Satwik unleashed a body smash at Teo as Chirag lay flat on the court and Satwik broke into a celebratory dance. Before this final, India had won one gold and 17 bronze medals in different categories at the continental Championships since 1962.
(With Agency inputs)