Just a few days before the Indian doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty claimed the Indonesia Open title, they were forced into doing some soul searching by their coach, Mathias Boe.
The rising Indian pair had been stunned in the first round of the Singapore Open by the Japanese duo Akira Koga and Taichi Saito, a defeat which came on the heels of a second round defeat at the Thailand Open. The Danish coach was blunt in his assessment with the Indians: they seemed to be lacking hunger and had gotten sloppy.
In fact, at one point, the coach even suggested that they not make the journey to Indonesia at all. Eventually, the trio ended up making the trip. The rest, as the cliche goes, is history.
A few hours after helping Satwik and Chirag take down the reigning world champions from Malaysia, Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik, for the first time in their career after eight previous attempts (and in the process become the first Indians to win a BWF Super 1000 event), Boe spoke to The Indian Express.
Excerpts from an interview:
What are things that had to go just right in this tournament for this title to come about?
They have been a little down since the Olympic qualifying and since the win in Dubai (at the Badminton Asia Championships in April). They haven’t really been up to the mark. They have been a little drained, maybe. But they have not been hungry enough to put in the effort that is required at tournaments.
(They did a) Little bit sloppy job at the Sudirman Cup. And the same going into Thailand and Singapore events. During that phase we were trying to have some conversations about how we need to stay humble and be more hungry to win because we’ve been lacking the attitude a little bit. We were not 100 percent ready and hungry to win. We’re not better than the other pairs, so we needed to still put in the effort.
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Pullela Gopichand & Mathias Boe
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We also discussed a little bit about whether we should go at all to Indonesia (laughs). We finally decided and looked each other in the eye after Singapore and said that now we’re really going to push it.
Obviously now it is a fairytale story to come here and win the Super 1000 tournament. We did a little bit of soul searching in Singapore to find that hunger which is required for these boys to win. Then they stepped up and played some really good matches from the second round. I’m extremely proud. As I have revealed earlier, I like to win a bit more than I like to lose.
You spoke of soul searching that happened after Singapore. What were the things that were said?
That I cannot reveal. Or else, I’d have to kill you (laughs). When you’re an athlete at this level you need to be there mentally. I know the boys well enough to know when they’re ready and when they’re not. I also know how important it is as an athlete to look forward to playing the next tournament, to be hungry and to be humble. This is from the experiences that I have gathered.
I tell the boys that when we go on court we need to find that bit extra and we need to be hungry. I try to give them these motivational speeches from my side. I don’t know how good I am at it. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. It’s about what they think about themselves. That they’re hungry.
“This part of my life, this little part, is called happiness”
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Once you won the title in Indonesia, did you guys get together, look back at those moments of soul searching and maybe have a laugh about how you discussed skipping the Indonesia event altogether?
No. I was just trying to reflect what I want them to be like on court. A smile on their lips. (I wanted them to) Try and enjoy this as much as possible. Sometimes it can take the lid off the nerves and decrease the pressure a little bit.
I was actually sitting with Gopi (Pullela Gopichand) on the sidelines during the game and I was pretty relaxed. I think they really played well and I had a good feeling. I just wanted to show them a little bit extra by having a smile on my face. By that I was trying to encourage them (to follow suit) as much as possible. It was extremely fun up until the last few moments of the match when the Malaysians got really close for my taste (when the Indians squandered multiple points away at championship point). But finally, we finished the job. That was really good.
Do you usually have to tell them to have a smile on their lips and be relaxed while playing in games?
If you’re playing in these big finals you sometimes get tense and start over-thinking. You get caught up in that (ocassion) rather than keeping it simple. I wanted to try and relax them. That’s the best way to relax is to control your breathing.
Having a smile on your lips also sends a signal to the opponents: these guys are running around and they’re making mistakes, but they’re still smiling. That’s quite frustrating. You want to see your opponents stressed. You want to see them looking like they want to crawl out of their body and leave the court. But if you see your opponents having so much fun even when they’re making mistakes, that’s a little bit of an extra (edge). I want them to relax and try and enjoy it.
Are there cues you look for to know that these guys are in form?
No. I try to plan practice sessions for them with the themes we need to work on that I believe can be important. It is difficult to sit there and in the heat of the moment to look for something.
It’s about repeating and trying to keep things as simple as possible for them so that they don’t get too much information. We need them to play their style of play. Of course, I note down trends or patterns on court when I see them during games. Then I inform them. It’s also about not over-informing them when we’re playing in games.
Until today, the Indians had not beaten the Malaysians in eight encounters. What changed?
I think today (Sunday) we were more relaxed and had more confidence. Tactically also, we were playing a little bit better. The Malaysians are really good at stretching us and good at service situations.
In the previous encounters we had become a little passive in the receiving.
We used to just play that flat drive game to the Malaysians… they’re too strong in that. That is what happened the other times we played them: we played their style of playing. Then it became too hectic. But today (Sunday) , we were really good at stopping their streaks so to speak. They were serving only once, maybe twice. They only had one streak and that would be actually it.
Aaron was serving almost above his head. We closed them down. Chirag and Satwik were just staying calm and staying true to the tactics than they were able to in the previous encounters.
Can you talk about the effort that has gone into propping up their defence?
We can’t play attacking style all the time. We also need to be able to score a few points from the defence. We have a tendency when we are under pressure to lift flat. As I said before, that’s what the Malaysians want. The Malaysian duo are not as tall as the Indians are. So if we lift flat, we lift right onto their racquets. That also leaves us less time to react. So what was really important was that we lift really high so that we have time to stand in the defence and then try and counter it. Today we succeeded really well. Just not overstressing, lifting the shuttle high and standing ready in the defence.
Then we scored quite a few points and the Malaysians realised that we were not giving as many points as we had done in previous encounters.
What’s the one quality each in Satwik and Chirag that really showed in the final?
They have way more than one. And I cannot mention all of them (laughs).
How helpful were the conditions, in terms of the fast shuttles?
This year in Indonesia it was actually quite slow. There was some side drift and little head and tail drift but not as much. The shuttles were a little bit slow. That also made it possible to play the defence than in the years when I have played here when it was extremely fast. That was good for us.
What are the goals after this and can they go the distance at the World Championships?
The goals after this are that each and every event we play we want to do as well as we can. We want to play our best and prepare as well as we can. That’s what is in our control. The level we have now, we don’t just go to the tournament to play one match. Sometimes our opponents play well and we have to accept that.
— BWF (@bwfmedia) June 18, 2023
We’re going to go home and have a little break in the upcoming week. Then we have three weeks to prepare for the Korea Open (July 18-23) and Japan Open (July 25-30). Then we have three weeks and then they’re playing at the World Championship. That’s a huge goal. The plan for what we have to do is already decided. But tonight we’re going to celebrate. This coming week we’re going to do an active holiday. Then we rest from next week and we work hard.
How do you plan to celebrate?
I’m going to have a glass of wine. And we’re going to have some good food. We are going to go to the hotel buffet where they have an Indian food section. There is an Indian chef who has been here since the first time I was here 15 years back. I hope he’s at work today.
Satwik prefers to eat Indian food and the level of food this chef makes is really good. Some of the staff also wants to eat Indian food. Gopi and Chirag want to eat something local. We’ll just enjoy the moment. It’s crazy how they played this week. Everyone is really proud of them.