Road running

"Level has dropped in badminton doubles": Coach Mathias Boe plots new gameplan

If there is a singular piece of development that has brightened up the Indian badminton world recently, it is that of Denmark’s former World No. 1 and Olympic silver medallist doubles player, Mathias Boe making a return as the doubles coach for India.

Having shepherded the dynamic men’s doubles duo of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty during the Tokyo Olympics, Boe’s role in moulding the duo as India’s top doubles sensation at World No. 7 currently, is gargantuan, to say the least.

Facing a bit of a rough patch ever since Boe’s tenure ended, the signs of struggle have been evident with Satwik-Chirag failing to close out certain key matches. However, with Boe back at the helm now, ahead of the Thomas Cup, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games drill, a remedy will be conjured at the earliest, it seems – not just for Satwik-Chirag, but the whole of Indian doubles.

Moments after touchdown at Manila, Phillippines where the Badminton Asia Championships are set to begin on 26th April, Mathias Boe settled in for a chat with The Bridge, his voice tingling with excitement on being back on the tour once again and getting to train the exciting doubles pairs once more.

“I’ve missed this circus so much,” Boe confessed, first-off.

“They (Satwik-Chirag) were struggling to find a coach and since I am here in India anyway, I felt obligated to extend my help to them,” Boe explained.

For Mathias Boe, whose latest hobby is simply marvelling at the Mumbai traffic while oftentimes nursing pangs of dipping a cheesy garlic naan into a creamy plate of butter chicken once in a blue moon, India has all but tethered him, for the love of badminton and otherwise.

“I’m very familiar with the Indian badminton scene as I have been coming here both as a player, first and now as a coach, for a while. I have even trained at Hyderabad during the Premier Badminton League (PBL) and I have also played against Satwik-Chirag, back in the day. It only seemed right to step back in,” Boe conveyed.

The need to introspect

Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy (Source: BAI)

Sans a doubles coach to mentor them for the past few months, Satwik-Chirag may have won the India Open in January and been fairly consistent but it is not to say that there aren’t any points of alarm.

On the contrary, Boe feels, “Truth be told, the level hasn’t really improved. In fact, it has only decreased I feel. Not just for Indian doubles but overall as well,” he said, being as frank as ever.

The hectic badminton calendar combined with the villainous aftermath of the pandemic hasn’t been kind on either mind or body of the players and likewise, the level has also dropped.

“The level is growing indeed but the focus needs to come back. We need to go about it in a more structured way,” Boe insisted, something he will be looking to implement now.

READ | Tears and an Olympic heartbreak: Satwik-Chirag recall Tokyo tragedy

“Just last year during Indonesia, so many players were retiring in the middle of the tournament because the grind was too hectic. Apart from Viktor Axelsen, nobody really maintained their level, it was a rather mediocre showing,” Boe stressed.

Circling back to Satwik-Chirag, his key pupils, a lot of work remains to be done now.

“It’s okay to have streaks of bad luck,” Boe mentioned, his mind travelling back to the Tokyo heartbreak where despite a brave show by the pair, they couldn’t make it to the knock-outs out of sheer bad luck.

“It left us gutted, especially when you have worked so hard for something, but then again it’s about learning from it.”

“They should be able to visit their old matches and see where they went wrong, they will have to ask the difficult questions, introspect and from that, find the energy to remain focussed and stay hungry for the win,” Boe, wisely put forward.

The Minions dilemma

On paper, it may seem that if Satwik-Chirag had an Achilles heel, it seems to centre around the World No. 1 pair of Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo against whom they have an 11-0 head-to-head glaring record.

“I think they (Satwik-Chirag) have too much respect for The Minions,” Boe mentioned with a light chuckle.

“They have grown up idolizing them, looking up to them, perhaps that’s why the nerves hit. It becomes more of a mind game than just a physical game when you are up against The Minions,” Boe revealed.

“But, truth be told, I can’t find anything about Marcus and Kevin’s game that Satwik-Chirag can’t counter.”

“It’s just that they lose a bit of bravery during the crucial points but they will have to get tactically smarter, play closer games,” the Danish coach relayed.

“However, it’s an issue we have identified and we are aware of it, we’ll be working on it this year,” Boe assured.

A large chunk with potential

In many ways, Boe feels, the recently-concluded BAI Selection Trials were a bit of a revelation in showcasing the treasure trove of talent that is present in doubles currently – but it is only the tip of the iceberg, as a lot of work remains to be done.

“I can easily point out 8-9 pairs who have great potential in doubles but I can’t pinpoint a particular one to stand out. Most of them have done their bit and reached 80% of the way, it is the remaining 20% that is the most difficult to conquer,” he reasoned.

“Ultimately, it’ll all come down to who is learning, adapting and executing the fastest now. A lot of them play well physically but it’ll be up to how mentally strong they can be.”

Pausing a little, Boe continued, “It doesn’t matter what you do today, it matters what you do tomorrow – the onus will be on these pairs to learn fast and develop, thinking of the larger picture in mind.”

Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand (Source: BAI)

Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand (Source: BAI)

“In the women’s doubles half of things, the pair of Gayatri Gopichand and Treesa Jolly are working surprising well and they were exceptional at the All England Open,” Boe analysed.

“It’s wonderful to see these young players actually, they put their heart and soul into every match. At the trials also, they beat the veteran pair of Ashwini-Sikki, so they definitely have it in them to fill the shoes of the two legends and also bite them in the heels,” Boe pointed out.

With a lot of key events lined up on the badminton calendar for India, Mathias Boe’s return as doubles coach couldn’t have occurred at a better time and the upcoming Badminton Asia Championships will only be a trailer of what’s to come ahead as India steadies its course for the year ahead, steering it towards medals.

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