One of the few positives in India’s limp performance at the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2019 was Satwiksairaj Rankireddy.
Watching Rankireddy drill big smashes past opponents in the two matches he played, it didn’t seem he had skipped a beat on the circuit.
But he had, in fact, spent most of this season recovering from a hairline fracture in his sternum (chest bone) that he suffered in December.
Unaware of the injury, he had aggravated it during the Premier Badminton League and that ruled him out until early May.
Nevertheless, Rankireddy and men’s doubles partner Chirag Shetty made a strong return at the Brazil International Challenge, beating Jelle Maas and Robin Tabeling for the title, before making the semifinals of the Denmark Challenge.
In India’s opening match of the Sudirman Cup against No.13 pair Goh Soon Huat/Shevon Jemie Lai, Rankireddy was impressive as he sent his thunderbolts past the Malaysians, while also showing fine touch and cleverness in placement.
“The injury took so long to heal. I couldn’t do any strengthening and had to rest for all of two months. I couldn’t do any upper body work or even running,” said Rankireddy, after he and Ashwini Ponnappa beat No.13 Goh Soon Huat and Shevon Jemie Lai of Malaysia in three close games. “We didn’t play any tournament (mixed doubles) before coming to the Sudirman Cup. We practised two or three times.”
Ponnappa was all praise for her partner after they’d given India the lead: “We were sketchy in the beginning but it got better as the match went on because I started trusting him more and I could go and keep the shuttle at the net. Satwik did a good job in controlling the situation and the back of the court. The most important thing is how we controlled our nerves and stayed positive throughout even though we didn’t have the best of starts in the first game, we kept supporting each other, we were there for each other on court.”
In India’s next tie – a do-or-die battle against China – Rankireddy and men’s doubles partner Chirag Shetty were the only Indians who looked like they could take a point off China, but No.7 pair Han Chengkai and Zhou Haodong recovered from a game down to stop the Indians.
“This is the first match of this level for us this season,” explained Shetty. “We did put up a good show, taking it to three games. We should have been more patient at the end.”
Despite the injury layoff, Rankireddy has not slid too far in both his categories. Rankireddy and Shetty are No.23 now (their best was No.16 in January), while his mixed doubles ranking with Ponnappa is No.27 – from a best of 21 in December.
If they stay the course, the two Indian pairs could cause some ripples at events later this season, particularly the TOTAL BWF World Championships in Basel.