Perfect in Paris: Satwik-Chirag make a statement at Olympic venue with BWF French Open win

In the very arena that the Paris Olympics will be held, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty – world No 1 and one of India’s top medal hopes at the Games – reminded everyone of their calibre with a dominant French Open title run.

This was their first BWF title of the year, fittingly at the French Open, beating Chinese Taipei’s Lee Jhe-Huei and Yang Po-Hsuan 21-11, 21-17 in a final that lasted just 36 minutes. It was the shortest final at the Super 750 event, courtesy fast, furious, and focused play from the Indians who did not drop a game throughout the whole week.

Their fourth straight BWF final reiterates their top billing and gives them a needed boost…because it rectifies a worrying trend set by the three straight runner-up finishes that had disturbed their near-perfect finals record (8-0 since the start of 2022). To win a Super 750 so emphatically at what many saw as an Olympics test event, after losing finals in back-to-back weeks in January, is a reminder for both Satwik and Chirag and their opponents on what brings out the best in them. They kept things simple (read: quick attacks), made the most of the faster conditions and most importantly, they learned from their mistakes in the Malaysian Masters and Indian Open finals.

The best example of this was perhaps seen in the semifinal against reigning world champions Seo Seungjae and Kang Minhyuk, who has beaten them in the India Open finals at home. Then, the Koreans defence and tactical awareness had slowed down the Indians’ natural game and put them under pressure. In Paris, they dictated the pace of play and kept the match on their racquet, not letting a slight lapse let momentum slip.

In the final too, Satwik and Chirag drilled in their advantage, constantly attacking in quick bursts of points and not letting the rallies get long enough for their opponents to start directing it. In the fast-paced battle between two pairs who like to hit big and strong, it was the Indians who took charge. The way they pulled ahead from 4-4 to 11-5 at the interval of the first game showed their quick work, both physical and mental. They kept the shuttle flying, forcing errors in the first 4-5 shots of the rally itself and not letting their opponents settle into a rhythm.

The second game was much closer, as Lee and Yang used the faster end of the court to create more chances and place their shots more forcefully. But Sawtik and Chirag played their angles very well, not going for the big smashes but shots that set their opponents up to mishit. They did not let anything get to them, not even when the umpire called fault for a double hit when Chirag fell to the floor at 11-9 in the second. They wanted to argue but let that go, a wise call in the end.

This sort of mental recalibration seemed to be crucial in the win. Both after the Indian Open final loss and after this, the Indian duo have spoken about the emotional aspect of being in these positions – becoming hungrier after the loss, wanting to enjoy and not overthink in the final.

“[After] three final losses back-to-back, in the fourth final we wanted to do well… not to think so much, just go there and have fun and let them earn the points,” Satwik told BWF Media after the win.

“We enjoyed till the semifinal, [and felt] we should enjoy the final too. In the second game when we were down, I was telling him have fun, it’s okay 1-2 points here and then we got the rhythm and the whole momentum changed.”

Enjoying their badminton has always been a key factor in Sawtik and Chirag’s success and with the streak of final losses snapped, the fun factor will be easier to come by now.

That this upturn came in Paris at the French Open will not be lost on anyone, the tournament where they first announced themselves on the BWF Tour as youngsters back in 2019 and the city of the big, quadrennial tournament everyone can’t help but talk about this year.

Chirag is, though, naturally more cautious while talking about it. “Paris has always been special for both of us, and we’ve played good badminton here, been a second home for us. Won’t lie, I’m happy we could win here but the Olympics is still six months away and there are lot of tournaments before [that],” he said.

The first of these, another big one, starts with a gap of just one day as they head for the All England Open. The Super 1000 event, a traditional pillar of badminton prestige, had been one of their goals for 2024. Given how they’ve started the year, it feels like they could tick off one more thing on that list very soon.

But irrespective of the 2024 final streak continuing next week or no, Indian badminton followers can take cheer in the fact that Satwik and Chirag will always have Paris.

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