Malaysia Open: Leading 10-3 in decider, Satwik-Chirag lose to China’s World No 1 pair in final
Liang Weikeng and Wang Chang comeback after first set loss to take revenge of Asian Games loss to Indians
It is believed in some quarters that the Chinese badminton decision-makers, a few years back, set about finding men’s doubles talent that could be moulded along the lines and game style of Indonesia’s legendary pair – ‘The Minions’.
It was the hustlers with wicked serving skills, speed and shot variations who masterfully altered every moment and mood each second of rallies and aced unbalanced reflex returns, that the Chinese coaches went sniffing after. In Liang Weikeng and Wang Chang, they found their skill-wielders to play the busy game. Not quite replicas, but in their evolution, Liang-Wang were on the path to the Gideon-Sukamuljo model.
The matchup with these Chinese is growing into one right headache for Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, though the score is just 2-4 unlike the 0-11 against the Minions. Unfortunately, it’s cost the Indians two finals and progress at an All England last few years.
On their first finals Sunday of 2024 at Malaysian Open, the Indian World No 2 were beaten 9-21, 21-18, 21-17 by the Chinese World No 1s. Satwik-Chirag led 10-3 in the decider. There’s two things you can trust the Indian aces with – they start a rally to win in the first 1-2-3 shots. And they finish a match with the modern-day cliche, a monster mentality. Carving their comeback from 9-3 down in the decider, the Chinese though, showed up the Indians at both the start of each rally and at the finish of the match. Nervousness gnawed at the Indians and finally gobbled them.
The match started with a 21-9 blitz by the Indians from the helpful side of the court with Satwik leading with a 466 kph monster smash at 4-0. Wang looked dazed as he overshot his straight returns with fast pushes that went long. The Indians picked quick points, not allowing the Chinese serve to settle. So completely disoriented was Wang, who marshals their net, that the Indians were stubbing rallies swiftly pocketing the opener in 13 minutes.
It didn’t make the Indians complacent, as they had played similar matches at Malaysia and All England earlier. And knew the countering was underway as they trailed 8-11 in the second. Wang had been erring into the net, and Satwik had been going after him, but surely the Chinese would jolt awake.
The second set was from the unhelpful side, but it was Wang’s recovery from his funk that truly turned the tables. He had been tentative right upto 15-12, but at that juncture, he swivelled a fantastic body defense parry and won a couple of fast exchanges, and his confidence and equilibrium were restored.
Still, the Indians and Chirag especially looked in the mood to wrap this up soon like in the semi-final. These Chinese don’t flake away like a croissant or like the Koreans or Malaysians though. Behind their easy smiles is steel and a bit of spite when they play the Indians who defeated them at the Asian Games in front of their home crowd. Satwik who had been doing the bashing without quite being 100 percent in it, had gathered a few service and return errors by now. At 18-19 he served into the net. The Chinese didn’t need asking twice. The Indians were dragged into the decider.