The flick serve in doubles employed by both Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, will go down in history as the singularly cheeky gameplan that took India into the finals of a Thomas Cup.
Badminton serves are seldom attacking – by definition they are polite, defensive rally-openers. But the complexion of the game changes altogether when the shuttle isn’t introduced into play at a short length, and instead sent lobbed in a mocking arc to the backcourt – while opponents are keyed up and high strung, to start flat exchanges from the front court.
What Chirag Shetty did so brilliantly through the length of India’s first doubles rubber against Kim Astrup and Matthias Christiansen, was to send the Danes scurrying back with neat little lobs to enforce a turn of the torso. This would inevitably open up the court for Satwik to send the second return into an empty space.
Winning 21-18, 21-23, 22-20 in the crucial match, it was the cackling flick serve that went moon-balling to trigger chaos in the Danish returns.
Jwala Gutta was renowned for saying she judged a doubles player on the quality of their serves. This included discretion on when to not serve short and at what point in a rally. Chirag and Satwik – he used it to wrap up the match, looked proficient in using the flying bird at outset, at crucial times through their opening doubles.
Chirag has been a force of nature in this Thomas Cup campaign, assuming leadership on the court, putting in the workload and oozing positivity that wouldn’t allow shoulders to slump. But with his racquet head he did two things – he swayed his upper body while serving to mask the serve. And then added such wristiness on the angled returns from midcourt while galloping about that the cocky Danes and their cacophonous drums were nicely
Chirag’s game is all about placement, which compensates for speed and power and fast twitching fibres of East Asian whizkids. Satwik’s read on the game is underrated too, and he ensured that even after the Indians lost the second set flubbing two match points, they remained equally electric in the third, and equalised 1-1 after Axelsen had bullied Lakshya Sen in the opener.