Before the Gangnam dance came the fight.
The score read 13-19 in the first game. Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty had been getting -- and there's no polite way to put this -- schooled by Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Ardianto in the final of the Korea Open Super 500. The world no. 1 team had taken just six minutes to race into a 11-6 lead against the world no. 3 team at the break of that first game, and they were showing no signs of relenting. Even after they conceded a few errors, their lead had only grown; and they'd been going all-out looking for game point. A down-the-line smash here, a crosscourt rip there, a drop mixed in... and yet the shuttle kept coming back. At 13-19, it would have made logical sense to conserve a bit of energy for the next game(s) and simply let this one go -- except no one told Sat-Chi that. Return after return after frustrating return finally saw Ardianto jump smash one into the net. 14-19. The Indians would soon go on to lose the game 17-21, but it didn't matter. The Indonesians had been served notice: This was going to be no schooling.
That was soon proved as they went on to completely dominate the next two games.
In some ways this is the biggest change that has come for Sat-Chi over the past year or two, this unwillingness to crumble, even when pushed to the brink. It's what's elevated them from being good players capable of an upset or two to world-class ones who deliver time and again. They may have an inexplicable service error (or two, in the case of this match) in them, but they've cut down drastically on the nerves and the unforced errors.
In this fourth final of the year for them, they weren't willing to just buckle over. Without their regular coach Mathias Boe by their side, they leaned on their old master, P Gopichand during the breaks but most of all they simply seemed to feed off each other. 'You wanna lose this?' 'Nah, man. Let's go get them.'
Satwik-Chirag continue their supreme 2023 �� pic.twitter.com/l1B7nRWNf8
- ESPN India (@ESPNIndia) July 23, 2023
And so, they went after them. That first game had been the first Satwik-Chirag had lost all tournament and soon that form started showing itself again.
The second game started like how so many of these close matches start, with a rat-a-tat exchange of leads courtesy service errors, wide returns and good ol' down the middle smashing. 1-1 became 4-4 became 6-4 became 6-6 but then something clicked into gear for the Indians. After winning back the lead at 7-6, Satwik manouvered both Alfian and Ardianto around the backcourt before pulverizing one of his world-record-holding smashes into an area that neither occupied to make it 8-6. It was puppeteering of the kind the world no. 1 pair haven't gone through for quite a while, and even though the lead remained close at the break (11-8), and Alfian closed it down by a point more right after, the Indians never lost control.
- BAI Media (@BAI_Media) July 23, 2023
Satwik alternated between his heralded power game and delicate wristwork -- a fabulously disguised drop to make it 13-9 the highlight of the latter -- while Chirag simply kept the aggression levels (and the reflex levels at the net) at a standard too high for the Indonesians to match. That was particularly emphasised when Chirag chose to force-shut-down a rally by simply smacking smash after smash into the bodies of Alfian-Ardianto before jumping across the face of the net and smashing one crosscourt into emptiness, to make it 16-11. It was another Chirag smash that closed the game out at 21-13 as the Indian pair discouraged their Indonesian opponents from making any sort of momentum-building, confidence-boosting comeback as they had in the first game.
The third game was close till about 2-1. Or maybe 3-2 when Ardianto won back serve with a smash of such power it punctured through Satwik-Chirag like the hyphen in their nickname. There were glimpses of what make Alfian and Ardianto so good throughout this third game -- Alfian's aggression and dexterity at the net, a drop he pulled out that was so outrageous even their opponents just watched it go open mouthed as it somehow went crosscourt right at the foot of the net. Ardianto's power game, multiple smashes piercing the Indian defence, cross-court, down-the-line, splitting them -- but that's all Sat-Chi allowed. Glimpses.
3-2 soon became 9-5, and although the Indonesians closed it to 11-8 at the break, and then 13-11 right after, they never got closer. As Satwik and Chirag continued to repel everything thrown at them, Alfian and Ardianto's desperation grew and the game (and the match) ended in a flood of errors, especially from Alfian; who conceded match-point for 20-13 with a smash into the net and conceded the match with a service straight into the net.
Across the match that lasted 62 minutes (19 minutes for the first game, 22 for the second and 21 for the third), Alfian-Ardianto had only truly dominated the first six. Even in the game they won, the last few minutes had been all Satwik-Chirag.
The match ended 17-21, 21-13, 21-14. Fourth final, fourth title. This one sealed with a comeback win (just like they had in the Badminton Asia Championships) to make it two comeback three-game wins, two straightforward two-game wins.
As they broke into the Gangnam dance and immediately raised the volume of an already loud Jinnam Stadium, in Yeosu, they were just proving a point... easy wins, tough wins, come-from behind wins. It doesn't matter, this new-age, Indian-badminton-flag-bearing version of Sat-Chi are going to do what it takes to take home the W.