INTERVIEW: Chirag Shetty, Mathias Boe on Indian Badminton’s Doubles Revolution

For long doubles events and doubles players were the bridesmaids and never the bride. The events and the doubles specialists were relegated to the sidelines. They won some crucial matches for India but were not appreciated by the badminton association of India (BAI). So while Prakash Padukone and Syed Modi were felicitated all over, the same respect was not given to the likes of Leroy D’sa or Uday Pawar, outstanding doubles specialists in their own rights.

But all this has changed in the last few years with the emergence of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankareddy. This dynamic duo has accounted for almost all top pairs in the world and had reached a high world rank of 7. This year, especially, the duo has won two of the three majors, the Thomas cup gold and the CWG Gold in men’s doubles.

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And coach Mathias Boe has done a great job with the pair without any doubt. The Olympic silver medalist from Denmark was an ace player of his time. A total professional, Boe has succeeded in changing the face of Indian badminton as far as doubles are concerned. In this comprehensive interview, Chirag talks about the impact Boe has made in doubles. And Boe about the talent in India and how the world is looking at our doubles.

When Shetty was asked about what had been the impact of Mathias Boe on the Indian doubles scene generally and on Saisatwik Rankareddy and himself, he mentioned the tactical prowess of the Dane was a factor that made him stand out.

“Well, training under Boe has been really beneficial not just for us but the entire doubles camp. He trains us hard and the training is very tactical. Everyone can play badminton, everyone can smash or drop but when and where to smash is the key. His tactical inputs at crucial stages are really helpful. That is one big change he has brought to our game.”

Boe has been doing a fantastic job with the Indian lads as the boys seem very happy to be working with him. And the 42-year-old feels that the game comes naturally to Indians.

“For sure I see a lot of talent in India. It [talent] has to be there, what with 1.3 billion people. The game comes easy to the Indians. It is not like basketball or volleyball where extra height is required,” the coach elaborated.

“The Indians are very quick and athletic. And now with so many academies and courts coming up, there is great badminton potential. India is just rising. What we see today is just the tip of the iceberg. More and more players will come up to take place of the talent.”

“I see a great future here,” said Boe.

Shetty and Satwiksairaj have had a fantastic last couple of months. The pair has won the Thomas cup gold, the CWG gold and two of the three majors. And ahead of the upcoming world championships, the 25-year-old from Mumbai feels that his partner and himself can’t be taken lightly henceforth.

“We really wanted to do well at the Thomas cup and the CWG and we did achieve our goal. Coming to the world championships, we have trained hard and we are confident of putting up a good show.”

“One thing is for sure, No one can take us lightly now. To win the title would be fantastic. We will take one match at a time and want to go deep into the tournament,” Shetty asserted.

Boe finds the assertive game style of the pair much to his liking as he praises this quality of the duo that appeals to him the most.

“Obviously, their strength is their aggressive game. Chirag is really fast on the net while Satwiksairaj is one the hardest smashers in the world today. If they get the first lift then they are really difficult to control.”

Though the Danish shuttler still feels there are a couple of aspects that the pair can work on to push their game to the limits.

“Yes, there is always something to work on. The complete badminton player is yet to be born,” he laughs.

“It will never be. So in practice, we try and raise the bar every time. We are never satisfied with winning titles also. There is always something that we have to go back to the drawing board to iron out.”

“So, we rough it out daily and play different drills. I can’t tell you that. That is our secret. And we are hungry for success and I make sure we remain hungry, that is my duty,” Boe explained.

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Back in the day, the doubles players never got the recognition that they deserved and always found themselves on the sidelines of the celebration, while the singles players were paraded around jubilantly.

But, Shetty says that the contemporary scenario is unlike that of times past.

“Well, today the story is very different. You have the BAI, the SAI (Sports Authority of India), the TOPS scheme, my employer – the IOC, and sports foundations like Gosports that support us.”

“So it is a collective effort. And people today perceive that doubles also is a good career option as well. Further, doubles also is a medal sport in Olympics just like singles. And with good performances doubles players are coming into the limelight.”

“So as I said before it is a collective effort of many agencies. A lot of new blood is coming in as doubles specialists. So yes it is a really exciting time for doubles in India.”

Shetty and his doubles partner Satwiksaiaj are known for their agility and speed on the court. And the Mumbai-based player feels that it is something that comes organically to the duo but also emphasises that they work on improving their assets through focused and dedicated training drills.

“Yes, it comes naturally to us. We are both tall and lanky with good reach. The trainers that we work with – I work with Ganesh and Satwik works with someone else – and we make sure there is a lot of agility work in our daily training along with strength training. All this comes naturally to us and we enjoy it.”

Boe spoke about the future of the Indian doubles contingent and how the pairing of Shetty and Rankireddy has set the standards for the youngsters to emulate.

“Well, it is up to the new players to learn how Satwik and Chirag reached where they have reached. They should emulate them. Kapila and Arjun are coming up really fast.”

“Satwik and Chirag have led the way and now you don’t have to watch only the Indonesians or Danes on TV. You have your own colleagues to compete with.”

“The young talent should have the right attitude and should have the hunger to succeed as Satwik and Chirag have. No reason why we cannot have strong bench strength and why new players cannot aspire to be better than Satwik and Chirag,” the Dane concluded.

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