Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty are Indian men’s doubles’ most recognisable faces, but at least one other pair has made their presence felt in recent months.
Arjun MR and Dhruv Kapila’s quarterfinal finish at the TotalEnergies BWF World Championships 2022 could well be a sign of bigger things to come.
The Indian pair stumped eighth seeds Kim Astrup/Anders Skaarup Rasmussen in straight games in the second round – their first win over a top 10 pair. Victory over Singapore’s Terry Hee/Loh Kean Hean saw them through to the quarterfinals – the furthest they’ve gone at a major event.
Their performance in Tokyo might have caused a stir, but the Indian duo have steadily been chipping away against higher-ranked opponents. Before the World Championships, for instance, all three of their completed matches against Mohammad Ahsan/Hendra Setiawan had gone the distance.
Coming into the World Championships, Arjun and Kapila fed off the confidence of the team’s Thomas Cup-winning performance.
“It (quarterfinals) is a big thing,” said Arjun. “We knew we could challenge everyone, as we’ve been telling ourselves. We were not overwhelmed with the wins, that came with the Thomas Cup win, that confidence behind us, that we can play the next round. I think we’re ready.”
Part of the reason they took time to find their footing was that they came together only in late 2019, playing just one tournament in 2020. This being only their second full season together, the results are now starting to show.
Chirag Shetty, who used to partner Arjun in his junior years, is not surprised at the rising graph.
“I used to play with Arjun, and he’s very good at the net – the way he controls is very tricky; the best of players will find it hard,” said Shetty. “Dhruv has a hard smash, and he’s also got some variety. They’re a more balanced pair now; they’re steadier than before. The inputs from (coach) Mathias have helped.
“The way they played at the World Championships was very good; beating a top 10 pair was due. They’ve become a lot more steadier in the crucial stages of a match, and they don’t get overawed.”
Their opponents at the World Championships did offer words of praise.
“They are accurate, they can control the soft shots very well,” offered Setiawan, while Loh Kean Hean observed: “They’re fast, they’re confident, and they executed their tactics well.” Rasmussen noted that they had “good energy and drive and some more weapons: the flick serve, the flat serve, so that shook us a bit”.
Apart from the quarterfinal itself, when they were outwitted by the experienced Ahsan and Setiawan, they were clear-headed about their tactics and execution all through.
“To defeat a top 10 pair was always in our mind,” said Arjun. “We always used to play close games against good pairs, but to finally get a win in an event like the World Championships is a huge confidence boost for us.”
Once they’d tasted the big win, the Indians knew the elusive results against the top pairs were not so unattainable after all.
“I feel like if we have a great plan, if we know what we have to do, then I didn’t feel like we’re playing such a good pair,” said Kapila, after they’d upset Astrup and Rasmussen. “I was just ready. I was not thinking about who we were playing. We just had a plan.”