For most of 2020, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and his two partners – Chirag Shetty and Ashwini Ponnappa – were in different cities, following their individual training programmes. Rankireddy was in his hometown, Amalapuram, while Shetty was in Mumbai and Ponnappa in Bangalore.
After just a few weeks training together, the two pairs find themselves in the semifinals of an HSBC BWF World Tour Super 1000 event at the TOYOTA Thailand Open.
What explained their form after nearly a year spent away from each other?
“We’ve played with each other for a long time. However long we are away from each other, the combination is always set,” said Shetty. “It will take time to get back to our usual selves, but a month’s practice was good enough for us. We’d prepared well individually.”
Ponnappa was training at the Padukone Academy from her home base in Bangalore, and recalls that the many months of training, away from the demands of travel and competition, had done her a world of good.
One important factor was improved fitness as they had more time to get in peak physical condition. The sting in Shetty’s smashes and his dynamism around court has been noticeable.
Rankireddy says he got “super fit” during the lockdown, and despite gaining weight while recovering from COVID, was able to quickly return to peak fitness.
“I was training every day in my home town. I had a very good time, I got super fit. I was eating only home food, avoiding junk food. I’d bought some gym equipment as well.
For Rankireddy the achievement is particularly impressive, for he was diagnosed with COVID-19 in September, and the 25 days spent recuperating saw him gain eight kilos.
“For a month while recovering from COVID I was all by myself in a room at home. Then, all through October I trained off-court. I started on-court training only in November when he came to Hyderabad. It was tough in the beginning.
“It was about getting back to all-out attack. We were making a lot of errors due to stress. We’d win a point in a rally and then give away a point easily. We had to be more consistent.”
On Saturday, Rankireddy and Shetty will have an opportunity to do where no other Indian men’s doubles pair has achieved – make the final of a Super 1000 event.