Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty fell just short of their second straight medal, going down to home favourites Kim Astrup and Anders Skaarup Rasmussen 18-21, 19-21 in the quarterfinals of the 2023 BWF World Championships in Copenhagen on Friday.
The Indians, seeded second and one of the gold favourites in men's doubles, couldn't keep up with fast and furious play of the Danish 11th seeds, backed by a loud home crowd. Despite the straight games, the narrow margins of both game show how close Satwik and Chirag were to turning it around, but inopportune unforced errors proved to be their undoing.
The Danes - who like the Indians have a recent World Championship bronze - came into the match with better 5-2 head-to-head record, but they hadn't played each other since the end of 2021.
Astrup and Rasmussen started the match with a quick 5-1 lead as the Indians looked to be nervy with their usual weapons of attack giving up errors. The 11th seeds built up a 10-5 lead with one more wayward shots and then headed into the mid-game interval with a handy 5-point advantage.
Astrup particularly was in fine form at the front court, while Chirag, who usually is the front-court player for the Indian pair, had an off day. The Danes rushed the Indians in the rallies, kept points short and induced errors.
Satwik and Chirag recovered their rhythm in the later stages of the first game and started finding their shots but a service fault from Satwik gave the Danes four game points. They saved two with attacking returns but third was converted with a well-placed winner after wrong-footing Chirag in a full tilt dive.
The second game was similarly high in intensity and pace, with Astrup and Rasmussen building a 5-2 lead before the second seeds caught up for 5-4. There was an excellent exchange at 6-4 - a breath-taking, contortion of a rally ended with Satwik not being able to make the return in time.
The Danes' swift play close to the net kept getting them points though and soon they made it 10-5 by forcing two straight long shots - the second one controversial as it looked like the shuttle had nicked Astrup before landing out.
With Chirag's touch at the net missing, Sawtik - the calm one of the two as he often says - was trying to control play, and was terrific in a 32-shot rally - the longest of the match so far. But it was the 11th seeds once again with the (11-7) advantage at the break, with a smash targeted at Chirag.
Their coach Mathias Bow kept saying to be ready for one more shot to counter the relentless returns from the other end. The Indians mounted a mini recovery once again and reduced the lead to 14-13 before drawing level at 15-15.
At the crucial point in the match, where it became a matter of confidence, the Indians aggression was back and they looked close to forcing a decider. There were a couple of nervy errors from both ends but Astrup, the player of the match, kept at it. Soon, a wide shot brought up two match points. The first was saved by a Satwik smash but the Danes converted the second and at once the arena broke out into celebration.
Two years after their first Worlds medal, Astrup and Rasmussen had confirmed another, this time at home. For Satwik and Chirag, the wait for another medal goes on but given their terrific season and how close they are to the world No 1 ranking, there is much to look forward to.