Shetty and Rankireddy: From rivals to India's trailblazers for doubles pairs

Men's doubles pair Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy are forging the way in India having broken into the top ten world rankings.
By Sanjeev Palar

Badminton is a widely popular sports in India, but the limelight has traditionally been shone on singles players.

Men's doubles in particular has not been a popular discipline amongst the nation of over one billion people, but Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy are on a mission to change that perspective, and have the results on court to help them.

The duo who started played together in 2016, have risen up to as high as seventh in the world rankings in 2019. The pair shared exclusively with how they have their sights sets on changing the perception about doubles pairs in their country as they build up to making their Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020 in 2021.

"We don’t have much recognition in India for doubles. We want to achieve [and show] there are Indian doubles players who are doing pretty well." - Satwiksairaj Rankireddy

Crossing over from opposing sides of the net

Rankireddy and Shetty did not start off on he same side of the net. In fact, given the three-year age gap between them, they would often face off against each other on court.

"Actually he was my opponent in juniors so he was like a senior for me," 20-year-old Rankireddy explains, " when I was playing under-17 he used to play under-19 and he used to beat me all the time.

"So he was almost an enemy for me. So I didn't like him that much" - Satwiksairaj Rankireddy on Chirag Shetty

At the suggestion of the coaches, they paired up and since then "it's been a really good journey" as Shetty puts it. "I think we share a really good bond and that really helps us form well" the 23-year-old added.

India's men's doubles pair Chirag Shetty (L) and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy (R)
Picture by 2018 Getty Images

Breaking the language barrier

As a duo, Rankireddy and Shetty, have eight international titles to their name including two world tour titles, which is a testament to the amount of work they have put into this partnership, considering they didn't even speak the same language when they started off.

Rankireddy hails from the eastern coast of south India whereas Shetty is from Mumbai, over a thousand kilometers away, and they both speak completely different languages.

"We had some communication problems initially, on court and off court as well," Rankireddy shares. But with the help of their coaches who moderated over the pair, they slowly stared to talk, share and understand each other better.

Today, it is their understanding of each other on court, that plays into their strength as Shetty explains, "we gel really well on court. Our on-court communication is extremely good." which in turn allows them to play a more attacking game successfully.

"We rely a lot on our attack. I think it's the strongest point that we have." - Chirag Shetty

Making a name as a doubles pair

India's badminton player's have been on the rise. Prakash Padukone became the first Indian to become world number one in the 1980, the same year he won the prestigious All England Open men's singles title.

It would take 25 years before the next Indian to rise to the top of the world rankings, this time it was women's singles player Saina Nehwal, in 2015. Nehwal also had the honour of winning India's first Olympic badminton medal when she clinched bronze at London 2012.

The next edition of the Games saw P.V. Sindhu become a household name when she brought home a silver medal from Rio for her nation.

The fame in badminton in India has surrounded singles players, but Rankireddy and Shetty's success has slowly had an impact in India as Shetty explains, "us performing well and winning the Super Series event definitely gave a huge boost. Not just with the men’s doubles department but also doubles in general in India and people started taking up doubles."

The duo who also clinched a silver medal in men's doubles at the 2018 Commonwealth Games have paved the way for other players in India to see that it is possible to make a career out of playing doubles.

"It definitely has brought a huge change. But I still feel that there's still a long way to go" - Chirag Shetty

Satwiksairaj Rankireddy (L) Chirag Shetty (R) win silver at the 2018 Commonwealth Games
Picture by 2018 Getty Images