Sports

Chirag-Satwik On The Olympics, Their Zesty Combo And Biryani

In conversation with the exuberant duo of Indian badminton

Chirag, left, and Satwik celebrate with their medals and trophies in Jakarta.
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A couple of decades after Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi thrilled Indian sports fans with their energy and feats in tennis doubles, a similar duo are doing the same in badminton. They are Chirag Shetty, 26, and Satwiksairaj Reddy, almost-23.

Recently, Sat-Chi, as they are known by some, won the Indonesia Open, their first BWF Super 1000 category event. Their past glories include gold at the 2022 Commonwealth Games and the 2022 Thomas Cup.

Sat calls Chi ‘Mini Google’ because he is updated on various matters. Chi calls Sat a “fun-loving guy”. The world No. 3 pair, coached by former Danish pro Mathias Boe, spoke to Outlook from Hyderabad on their pairing and their goals.

CHIRAG SHETTY

Why does Satwik call you ‘Mini Google?

I think what he really means is that I like to read a lot. Not books, but current affairs, what's going on around the world.

What similar term would you have for Satwik?

I can't really describe him in similar terms. I think he's a fun loving guy and it's joy to be around him.

You're older by three years. In one’s 20s, three years can be a big age difference. How do you still manage to be friends?

I’m from Mumbai and he is from Andhra. So initially, it was quite tough simply because of the language barrier. Our upbringing was very different. But we started knowing each other a lot better after a while. We became the best of friends. And I think that is one of the reasons why we started playing well as well.

You’ve won some major titles, the Indonesia Open being the latest. How are you feeling in the lead-up to the Olympics?

Winning a medal at the Olympics is the ultimate goal, but we want to set short term targets. The Olympics are next year, and before that we have big events this year, like the World Championship and the Asian Games. So I think these are the immediate targets. Besides, we want to first secure our spot in the Olympic qualification race, and then think about the Olympics.

What are the one or two things that Mathias Boe taught you that have made a big difference?

On court, it's to regroup and refocus. Many times, we give away points at one go without realising what mistakes we're making. He's (Mathias) taught us to slow down the pace of the game a bit when we’re losing focus and points. Instead of giving ten points in two, three minutes, it's better to give away ten points in ten minutes. That way the opponents have to work longer for their points, and there’s a higher possibility of things turning our way. Off court, it’s to pace ourselves and take breaks when necessary.

Is your headband a habit or superstition? Is it always orange?

No, the colour keeps changing. It depends on the t-shirt I'm wearing.

I started wearing a headband right after the lockdown, as my hair had grown long. Now I can't see myself playing without a headband even if my hair is short. It’s become a part of me.

SATWIKSAIRAJ RANKIREDDY

In your early days, how different were you and Chirag in your personalities?

I mostly spoke Telugu, while he did not know the language. Coming from Mumbai, he was exposed to different things, and liked to go out, while I liked only my kind of food and was happier staying in the room and watching a Telugu film on Youtube. And yet we sensed we were similar in some ways.

If he is Mini Google, what website or platform do you spend the most time on?

I watch YouTube mostly. I play games, PUBG or something.

You’ve won gold medals at the Commonwealth Games, at Thomas Cup, and now at the Indonesia Open. How do you feel about the Olympics coming up next year?

At the last Olympics, we had nothing to lose. Now, people have expectations of us. So it won’t be easy. But we don't want to think so far ahead of the Olympics and get anxious. We just want to go there and enjoy and see what happens.

What are the one or two things that Mathias has taught you that have made a difference to your game?

I would say only one thing. Professionalism.

That means no biryani?

Biryani is always there. Without biryani, I can’t exist.

Do you still have it regularly?

I have it once a week.

And Matthias is okay with that?

I never had a conversation with him about it. But it's my stress relief.

We saw a picture of yours at the Tokyo Olympics with Novak Djokovic. Is he someone you look up to?

I admire Roger Federer.

He’s retired now and overtaken by Djokovic on many counts.

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Still, he is a legend. I don't compare him with anyone. Federer and MS Dhoni, they are different. They are calm in crucial situations. Even I play like that. On court, when it's getting tense, I try to relax and calm down. Chirag is quite the opposite. He's like Rafael Nadal, always pumped up

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