At the Thailand Open in August last year, Satwik and Chirag became the first doubles team from India to win a Super 500 tournament. To declare that it was no fluke, they went on to enter the final of the French Open Super 750 two months later.
The result was a men’s doubles world ranking of No. 7; and though they have slipped to No. 10 now, a steady run in the tournaments preceding the Tokyo 2020 this year will be enough to stay in the top 16 for a direct Olympic qualification.
But they aren’t ready to settle only for that and want to break back into the top eight to boost their Olympic medal hopes with a favourable draw at the Games.
The duo was playing the Premier Badminton League (PBL) at the start of this month, when Timesofindia.com caught up with them for an interview during the Hyderabad leg of the tournament. But for a change, they were on opposite sides of the court — Satwik for Chennai Superstarz and Chirag for Pune 7 Aces.
Satwik was nursing a sprained right ankle at that time, but he sat down with his mate for this chat. He later pulled out of the ongoing Asia Team Championships due to his injury.
Satwiksairaj and Chirag pose with the 2019 Thailand Open trophy. (Getty Images)
What is it like playing with different partners and not next to each other?
Satwik: I feel game-wise it’s good. It helps us a lot, like Chirag is with Hendra (Setiawan) and I’m sharing a room with Sumeeth Reddy. I’m learning how to prepare before matches, and we can learn so many things from other players as well.
Chirag: I’m partnering Hendra (Setiawan) in this tournament (PBL). He comes with a lot of experience. He’s been on the circuit for almost 15 years now, having won all the (major) medals that are there, like the World Championships, All England Open, Olympics. There’s a lot to learn from him, and I think I’m pretty blessed to be in the same team as him.
You had a path-breaking 2019. Tell us how things came together so nicely for you two to let you create history?
Satwik: After Flandy (Limpele) came (as India’s doubles coach), he brought some changes in our game. We are consistent at that level (of our game). We are in the quarters, semis and finals. We are really fit for tournaments, and the training suits us really well.
What are your thoughts on your two coaches so far, Tan earlier and Flandy now?
Chirag: During the time when Tan was our coach, we were rookies, very young. From nowhere, he took us to world No. 16. When he left, I think we were already a good pair but we needed some polishing. That was the thing which Flandy brought in. From No. 16, we jumped to No. 7. The polishing needed for that was done by Flandy. Overall if you see, both contributed to our game. Tan improved our on-court game more and Flandy introduced us to a whole new set of ideas, which really helped us improve our fitness. In turn, it enabled us to last until the business end of the tournaments, like the Thailand Open (winners) and the French Open (runners-up). I don’t think we were tired (during those tournaments). So both of them have had their share of importance in our careers.
Satwik: When Tan was there, individually I learned so many things. He made us a pair at that time, and we were into the top 16. After Flandy joined, we became better mentally. He says that while practising also, you should be mentally very strong, you have to practice 100 per cent as well. So every day is like a tournament for us in practice also. There is no rest for us. In tournaments, from Tuesday to Sunday we have matches through to the final. So that is helping us a lot.
How are you preparing yourself for your very likely Olympic debut?
Satwik: I think there is a lot of pressure on us. After we won the Thailand Open, everyone is expecting us to win a medal at the Olympics. We also want to win a medal, and we want to prepare well. We have time for that but first we want to qualify. We want to be in the top eight and maybe get a good draw. It depends on luck as well. If you’re playing against top players, it may be 50:50. We haven’t until now beaten the world No. 1 (Marcus Gideon and Kevin Sukamuljo of Indonesia), maybe it will be difficult for us if we face them in the earlier rounds. But I think we are very prepared for that. Our dream is to play in the Olympics and the target is to win a medal. We will work harder for that.
Chirag: Definitely Olympics is the main goal but, as Satwik said, you have to be in the top eight to have a better draw. At the Olympics, it’s not just good performance but you need a lot of luck too, because you might end up playing a top team in the first half. You don’t want that. There are a lot of expectations after the Thailand Open and French Open, but if we keep our heads calm and focus on the target, then definitely we can win an Olympic medal.