IMAGE: Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, right, and Chirag Shetty in action against Malaysia’s Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik during the men’s doubles semi-finals of the BWF World Championships, at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium in Tokyo, on Saturday. Photograph: Toru Hanai/Getty Images
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty capped off a memorable campaign at the World Badminton Championships, signing-off with a historic bronze medal in the men’s doubles competition after going down narrowly to Malaysia’s Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik in the semi-finals, in Tokyo, on Saturday.
The world No. 7 Indian pair, which won the Commonwealth Games men’s doubles gold medal earlier this month, flattered to deceive, squandering an opening game advantage and losing 22-20, 18-21, 16-21 to the Tokyo Olympics bronze medallists in 77 minutes, bringing an end to the Indian challenge at the prestigious tournament.
It was the sixth successive defeat against the world No. 6 pair. Satwik and Chirag lost to the same combination in the CWG mixed team final too.
Despite the defeat, it was a creditable show by Satwik-Chirag, who emerged as the first Indian pair to win a men’s doubles medal at badminton’s showpiece.
It also ensured that India continued to return with a medal from the World Championships since 2011, the year the country won its first doubles medal as the women’s pair of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa clinched a bronze.
In Saturday’s semi-final, Chirag looked a bit off-colour with his serve and defence, while Satwik tried his best to make up for it but the Malaysians proved a tad faster and subtle in their stroke-play as the match went down to the wire.
Coming into the match with a 0-5 head-to-head record, the Indians showed alertness and did not allow their opponents to dominate. They used the smashes judiciously and quickly moved to a 11-5 lead at the interval.
Leading 11-7, Satwik showed great defence in a fast-paced rally, which ended with the Malaysian hitting long.
The Malaysians fought back after the break, narrowed the gap to 11-12, as the Indians missed the mark a few times, and soon drew level at 16 when Soh unleashed a powerful smash. They then forged ahead 18-17. However, Satwik-Chirag regained the lead at 19-18 when Aaron sent one to net and then Chirag pounced on an opportunity.
Another attacking rally put India a point away but Chirag faltered with a net shot and the score was level 20-20. Chirag earned another game point and this time Aaron missed the line to hand the opening game to the Indians.
After the change of sides, Aaron-Soh emerged the better players as Chirag looked a little subdued. The Indians still managed to keep breathing down their opponents’ neck before an error from Chirag gave the Malaysians a slender one-point lead at the break.
Playing below the tape level, Chirag found the net twice, while another shot went long as the Malaysians established a decisive 16-11 lead. A solid service return from Soh gave them three game points.
They squandered one but with Chirag losing his racquet string, Satwik couldn’t negotiate the Malaysian attack and the scores were level 1-1.
The decider was a tight affair as Satwik-Chirag tried to attack Soh but with Chirag going wide the Malaysian led 5-3 at one stage.
A push and block strategy from Satwik saw India lead 6-5 as Chirag was all charged up.
However, the Malaysians eked out a 10-8 lead before taking a one-point cushion in the final mid-game interval.
Aaron and Soh dominated the fast-paced rallies after the break to lead 13-11 but Satwik unleashed his trademark booming smash to keep it close.
Chirag produced a backhand whip near the net to make it 13-14 before misjudgement from Soh at the baseline saw the Indians keep the equation to 15-16.
However, the Malaysians soon pulled away and once Chirag put another one into the net, Aaron-Soh had four match-points.
The contest was over when Satwik returned a serve into the net.
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