“My relatives also ask me ‘arey you don’t play singles kya’ (don’t you play singles)?,” says India’s doubles badminton player Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, when asked about the reasons for the popularity of singles contingent in the country. Satwik and his doubles partner Chirag had a breakout year in 2019, when they went on to become the first Indian pair to win Thailand Open. In the same year, the duo won a silver at French Open, and then followed it up with another semifinal finish at China Open.
The duo reached their career best World ranking of 7 at the end of the year, and are seen as heavy medal prospects for India in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. But despite the rise, Satwik recognises that singles contingent enjoys more popularity among Indian fans and addressed that it is a hard challenge to put doubles on the map.
“As of now, we cannot increase the popularity of doubles. My friends keep asking me when will I start playing singles. My relatives ask ‘why don’t you switch to singles, you’ll be very good, you have such a good smash yaar’. My relatives keep telling me India only knows about singles player, but you don’t play singles,” he said.
He further said that the money associated with singles keeps everyone mindset focused on it. “I feel like everyone’s mindset is singles because it is an individual game, and you don’t need to depend on a partner. It also draws more money,” he said.
The shuttler went on to add that he takes it as a responsibility on himself to qualify for the Olympics and win a medal.
“When we won Thailand Open, a lot of people started realising that India has a good doubles contingent as well. Winning an Olympic medal is not a pressure for me, but I take it as a responsibility so that I can take the Indian doubles on the top. I want to be the first person to win a doubles medal from India,” the 19-year-old said.
Satwik further talked about how the pair needs to work hard on their consistency to ensure Olympic qualification. “We realised we our in good form but we still lack consistency we need. Sometimes we win against big players, then lose to smaller players, so we need to work on that,” he said.
“We have not yet qualified for Olympics. Our rank could still go down and up. If we are in the top eight, then we get seedings at Olympics. So we are thinking about it and we know we need to work hard,” he added.
Fitness will be key in an Olympic year, and Satwik knows he needs to avoid any injuries going forward, and has to keep himself in the best of shape. “Fitness is a key in badminton. We are working hard to avoid any injuries. We are not doing any high intensity training as of now, but taking intense care on avoiding injuries.”
‘Playing against foreign players advantage in PBL’
Satwik has been named as the captain of Chennai Superstarz in the upcoming season of Premier Badminton League, and he believes the tournament is a great platform to learn from some of the best foreign players in the world. “For us, it is really important to play against foreign players… it gives me a feeling of a real game. In tournaments, we have real pressure on us. But here, we can enjoy playing with them, so we can learn so many things,” he said.
“We can learn how to prepare from the match, how to control the situation. How those players handle the pressure… so overall, I expect it to be a good experience,” the shuttler adds.
Meanwhile, Satwik’s doubles partner Chirag has been named as the captain of Pune 7 Aces. On prospects of playing against him, Satwik laughs and says: “Playing against Chirag will be tough. He has been my partner for so long. He is a competitive player. As a player, we have to give our 100 per cent. Me and Sumeeth (Reddy) will give our best when we face his side.”