There were no dark shades or a black cape, just an orange band knotted at the back of the head. But Chirag Shetty was fully in Matrix Neo mode on the day. Parked at midcourt – at a microsecond’s notice to pounce at the net – he was converting defense to offense with his quick hands that moved at super speed, and packed off the bird to the other end.
While 85 percent of their winning points in the Indonesia Open final might’ve come through their attack, the 15 per cent defense was not passive retrieving. Maintaining speed and power throughout the 21-17, 21-18 win, the Indians countered when pushed to the midcourt by Aaron Chia and Son Wooi Yik.
Chirag Shetty’s aggressive defense was especially noteworthy in how his torso contorted at exceptional speed and his arm moved like fast tentacles giving the Malaysians no breathing space.
Proud of you boys
— BAI Media (@BAI_Media) June 18, 2023
Sometimes the pace of his returns from the midcourt gave opponents no time to position themselves for attack. And though defense is not considered the Indians’ forte, the slowish conditions today meant they could transition from defense to attack in split seconds, and earn points on the counterattack against the world champion pair.
Shetty is 187 cms, which means his head is a foot at least above the net which is 5 feet high. To bring his head at eye level with the net, Shetty has had to crouch down in defense — bend at the knees. Not only has he perfected the squat defense from where he was taking the shuttles coming at high speed onto him, but he’s also developed the pouncing action which helps him get to the forecourt net in a matter of seconds.
The quick movement to the net is spectacular, in a flash, partly from anticipation, and also because his coordination with Satwik and court craft has improved tremendously.
Peak fitness was also on display because both didn’t slow down. Usually when pushed into defensive positions, the Indians tended to slow down in the past, start playing safe, something Aaron Chia would immediately capitalise on. Not today.
(1/3) Indonesia Open Super 1000 Champions!
On this Fathers Day , I can’t help but think of the man who helped shape me into the person I am today – My Dad. This victory is dedicated to him , my forever inspiration and the person who believed in me from the very beginning. pic.twitter.com/d4YbcHuHFF
— Chirag Shetty (@Shettychirag04) June 18, 2023
The exceptionally high pace in defense meant it was hardly seen as a liability by the opponents – something to pick up on. It was the same pace which incidentally had helped the Indians beat the World No 1s 21-13, 21-13 in the quarterfinals.
Satwik’s net game meanwhile improved ever since he stopped playing mixed doubles – lifting cross, not straight et al.
Assured in defense
Eight losses in a row have meant there was plenty of experience to mine from to devise strategy. “We’ve come close in beating them but we’ve held ourselves back, but this time we stuck to the plan and it paid rich dividends. Plan was to not hold ourselves back while receiving. We’ve always served well against them. Their service and receiving is good, serve spins a lot. So we had to be upfront. Also knew rallies will be short. Didn’t want that. If the shuttle was low we were lifting it instead of putting in in between because we knew our defense is strong now,” Shetty told the BWF.
— BWF (@bwfmedia) June 18, 2023
Defense had been their bane, rather their own belief in their defense – something that did not waver on the day. “The previous 8 times we lost we always felt we could’ve defended well,” Rankireddy told the BWF. On Sunday they defended with conviction.
It took a while to course correct. “Starting we were playing to their strength – they wanted fast, flat. But then we said in the break let’s play our style, let’s open up the game. Let them move, let them work to get the point. That was the strategy. First they played well to get to 6-3, then they gave away five easy points. Realised they are under pressure. In the second we decided we will defend, no problem our defense is good,” Satwik added.