If there is one recent news that has cheered the Indian badminton world, it is the return of Denmark's former World No. 1 and Olympic silver medalist Mathias Boe as the country's doubles coach. Boe's role in moulding Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty is huge, especially during 2020 Olympics.
Satwik-Chirag have been struggling since Boe's reign ended, and the indications of struggle have been visible, with Satwik-Chirag failing to finish out critical matches. With Boe back in charge ahead of the Thomas Cup, Commonwealth Games, and Asian Games, it appears that a solution will be found as soon as possible - not just for Satwik-Chirag, but for the entire Indian doubles team.
Mathias Boe spoke with The Bridge moments after landing in Manila, Philippines, where the Badminton Asia Championships are slated to begin on April 26th, his voice sparking with enthusiasm at being back on the tour and getting to train the thrilling doubles partners once more.
First and foremost, Boe admitted, "I've missed this circus so much".
"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 stated.
For Mathias Boe, for whom the latest interest is marvelling at Mumbai traffic while occasionally nursing cravings of dipping a buttery garlic naan into a creamy platter of butter chicken, India has effectively anchored him, both for 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 said.
Satwik-Chirag may have won the India Open in January and been quite steady without a doubles coach to advise them for the past three months, but that isn't to imply there aren't any red flags. 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 busy badminton schedule, mixed with the nasty aftermath of the pandemic, has taken its toll on the players' minds and bodies, lowering their level. "The level is growing indeed but the focus needs to come back. We need to go about it in a more structured way," Boe stressed, and that's something he'll be working on right now.
"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. Returning to Satwik-Chirag, his most important students, there is still much work to be done.
"It's okay to have streaks of bad luck,"Boe said, recalling the Tokyo heartbreak, in which the duo, despite a valiant performance, we’re unable to advance to the knock-out stages due to pure 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.
On paper, it appears that Satwik-Achilles Chirag's heel is the World No. 1 pair of Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo, versus whom they have an 11-0 head-to-head record. With a slight grin, Boe said, "I think they (Satwik-Chirag) have too much respect for The Minions".
"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.
The recently ended BAI Selection Trials, according to Boe, were a bit of a revelation in terms of displaying the treasured wealth of talent that exists in doubles right now - but it's only the tip of the iceberg, as there's still a lot of work 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."
"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 so many important badminton events on the horizon for India, Mathias Boe's return as doubles coach couldn't have come at a better moment, and the forthcoming Badminton Asia Championships will only be a taste of what's to come as India plots its path for the year ahead, aiming for medals.