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‘Mathias Boe was crying when we beat Britain but failed to qualify’


It was a heartbreak. Satwiksairaj Rankireddy (20) and Chirag Shetty (24) had just beaten Great Britain’s Ben Lane and Sean Vendy in their last group match to finish with two wins in three games. But there was little to celebrate for the young Indian men’s doubles pair as the disappointment of missing out on quarterfinals hung heavy on their side of the court. As things stood, three teams — India, Chinese Taipei and Indonesia — won two matches each at the end of the stage but the Taipei (5-3) and Indonesian (5-2) team had better win-loss ratio than India (4-3) and they made it to the quarterfinals from Group ‘A’. Despite the group-stage exit, Satwik and Chirag gave a good account of themselves and left Tokyo having beaten third-seed Taipei team of Lee Yang and Wang Chi-Lin. The duo spoke to ET Sport about their Olympic campaign, learnings and more. Excerpts:

How would you sum up your campaign in Tokyo?

Chirag: It’s kind of a mixed feeling. The moment we came out of the court it was like we won the match, but we still weren’t going through to the quarterfinals. Before coming to the Olympics, we wanted to win these two matches that we won, and we thought it would be enough to enter the quarterfinals. But unfortunately, three teams won two matches each. So it’s kind of a mixed feeling, but I’m really happy with the way we played. Unfortunate that we couldn’t go till the very end of the tournament.

Satwik: Yea. It was very disappointing. Like before entering the final, we knew that we were not going to the quarters. While warming up we saw them (Indonesian pair) losing to the Chinese Taipei. We said, ‘OK, this will be our last Olympic match this year’. So, we thought we should finish it off in style, with a win. Disappointed but happy with the way we played. Personally I feel like it was our best performance against Chinese Taipei.

At the time of draw, when you found out that you have world No. 1 and world No. 3 in your group, some even called it ‘group of death’, did you expect to be in such a close contest at the end of it?

Satwik: I had thought draw would be favorable to us, but it wasn’t. But good thing was we played three good matches in a top event, so that’s a good point for us. In the run-up to the Olympics, we didn’t play any good matches in a long time, like playing with top players. So it was a good experience for us. I thought even if we don’t win, at least we will get to play three good matches against really good players. It won’t be easy, so you have to fight 100%, you have to give 100% in every match. So, I was happy.

Chirag: Yes, I knew for a fact that it would be a close contest. Mathias Boe (2012 Olympics silver medallist and their coach) had told us that even if we lose the first match (vs Taipei), there’s a chance to win the other ones, and you won’t be out. So, it was always going to be tough. I knew for a fact that it will go down to the wire, but I didn’t know three of us will be having the same number of points.

How helpful was the presence of Mathias Boe for you two?

Satwik: Chirag had worked with Mathias because he was there in the PBL. When Mathias came in (as doubles coach), I saw his planning for the schedule and all. It changed everything. We have become more professional. From practice schedule to training, everything has changed since he came. Earlier, we used to practice at least three hours in the morning and two-and-a-half hours in the evening. Now, we do smaller session but high intensity. It has made a big difference in our game. He treats us like his brothers. It’s been great having him with us.

Chirag: He’s been a tremendous help. In January, I think, I had sent this proposal to TOPS (Target Olympic Podium Scheme) through BAI (Badminton Association of India). It hardly took 15-20 days for it to get approved and by February Mathias was working with us. We didn’t have a coach before that, so it was really important for us to have one before the Olympics and we couldn’t have asked for something better. It was the single most important thing that we wanted before going into Olympic training. He has been exceptionally helpful, and he really wanted us to win a medal. Unfortunately, we could not, but he’s been phenomenal with us.

What did he say when you won the last match but couldn’t qualify?

Satwik: He couldn’t say anything. He was in tears actually. He was profusely crying. He got very emotional. Personally, I was happy that we won our last match, but they (Chirag and Mathias) were sad. And after seeing him (Boe), I also started crying. He didn’t say anything, it was not in our hands. He wanted us to win a medal.

What role did the association, BAI, play in your growth as players?

Satwik: For us, BAI is our backbone. Whatever we want, they are always there for us. Even when I was down with Covid, secretary sir called me personally and asked, ‘beta, kaisa hai? He was taking personal interest in the care I was getting. We are told to call immediately if we have any problems. ‘Kisi ko bolo nahi, direct call karo.’ We have a WhatsApp group. If you share your problems or requirements there, they will be resolved in 1-2 days. If there is no BAI, there will be no badminton players from India, I feel.

Chirag: As I already said, the one single thing that was important for us was Mathias Boe. So that was commendable (of BAI). I think it was right after Thailand Open, we had a talk with secretary sir (Ajay Singhania) and he asked us what we really wanted, and I said, ‘sir, we need a coach badly at this point. And if we want to go for a shot at the medal, we need someone to guide us at the Olympics.’ And like I said, 15 days or 20 days maximum, we had Mathias in Hyderabad.

How was the experience of staying in the Olympics village?

Satwik: So many good things, like sharing the village with lots of top players, like seeing Novak Djokovic on the second day itself, we saw so many good players. There are many inspirations for us. Even in the Indian team, you are talking to all the top players as well. Their experiences are really useful for us. I was talking with Sharath Kamal, this was his fourth Olympics, and he shared so many of his experiences with us. We have many good friends in the Indian team, in other sports, so it’s been a really good experience talking to them, having dinner together, so it’s really nice to mingle with other players.

Chirag: It was a great experience being in the same village with all the top athletes in the world. Training with them in the gym… you know that you’re training with the fittest, smartest and strongest athletes, so that feeling I think cannot be matched.

Who all did you take selfie with?

Satwik: We took a photo with Djokovic. Then I took a photo with one volleyball guy. I used to watch volleyball a lot. I forgot his name, but he’s my favourite. He’s from Iran. I took a photo with Sania Mirza. I met her for the first time and then I took a photo with Sharath Kamal
bhaiya. Yeah, so many good things, so many great experiences.

Chirag: It was a great experience being in the same village with all the top athletes in the world. Training with them in the gym… you know that you’re training with the fittest, smartest and strongest athletes, so that feeling I think cannot be matched. Also clicking pictures with Novak Djokovic and I’m a big FC Barcelona fan, so last night when I went for a walk, I bumped into Pedri. For a very long time, I have not gone to ask people for pictures but I couldn’t think of any better place than the Olympic village to start that again. It was a really good experience for me.

Did you put those pictures on social media?

Satwik: I didn’t.

Chirag: I sent it to my dad and he then sent it to a few people. Before I could post it, it had gone viral.

Out of 10, how much would you give to each other for the performance in the Olympics?

Satwik: To chirag. I will give 20 out of 10 (laughs).

Chirag: The same, but as a pair, I would give 9. There’s always room for improvement even if we win an Olympic gold (laughs).

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