Premier Badminton League: Aggressive game, dual utility spell windfall for Satwiksairaj Rankireddy

New Delhi: When the open auctions for the fourth edition of Premier Badminton League started on Monday, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy sat with his smartphone, twiddling through his Twitter timeline. Soon, anxiety would make way for elation as the 18-year-old was snapped by Ahmedabad Smash Masters for a handsome Rs 52 lakh —  highest among non-icon Indian players.

“I was a bit nervous,” Satwik admits. “The auction was not being broadcast so I was following it on Twitter. That’s when I got to know that I have gone for so much. It’s amazing. Everyone at my family is really happy…my parents, especially,” he told Firstpost.

“Frankly, I didn’t expect to get so much, and I am really grateful for Ahmedabad team to show faith in me. I am ready to prove my utility in men’s doubles and mixed doubles format.”

Known for his attacking style of play and excellent court coverage, something that his India mixed-doubles partner Ashwini Ponappa waxed eloquent about, Satwik’s steady rise has been a function of his fearless game and scant regard for reputations.

The Satwik-Chirag Shetty combine has already beaten some world-class and higher-ranked pairs this year, including the Olympic bronze-medallists Marcus Ellis and Chris Langridge of England in the opening round of World Championships. Earlier this year, the Satwik-Chirag pair won a historic silver at the Commonwealth Games, and Satwik-Ashwini ensured a memorable mixed-team gold in Gold Coast.

While his recent success and hefty money have raised expectations, Satwik insists it doesn’t put him under any pressure.

“It doesn’t put me under pressure at all; in fact, it gives me confidence. I like playing in front of a large crowd and on the big stage, so I am all ready for PBL. I will look to play my natural game,” the erstwhile Hyderabad Hunters shuttler said.

Satwik’s natural game has also impressed Ahmedabad coach Madhumita Bisht, who cited the teenager’s utility and recent form as key factors behind his signing.

“Satwik is just 18 and he has played three editions of PBL already. So yes, we are looking at a long-term prospect also. He has performed well, irrespective of the results. I have seen him closely at the Indian team also, and he has grown as a good doubles and mixed doubles player,” Bisht said.

“He won a silver with Chirag Shetty at Commonwealth Games this year, and they also reached quarter-finals at World Championships and French Open. They have beaten a lot of higher-ranked players in recent past, including Denmark’s Mads Conrad-Petersen and Mads Kolding (current World No 6). Clearly, Satwik has the ability. He is aggressive and has a big hit. He has all the makings of a good world-class player. We have picked him with an eye on the future. I am pretty sure he will deliver in doubles and mixed doubles both,” the former Indian Railways and national team coach added.

Apart from Satwik, Ahmedabad team has the likes of former world champion Viktor Axelsen, World No 25 Kirsty Gilmour, and World No 27 women’s doubles player N Sikki Reddy in their ranks, and Bisht believes the team’s balance is going to be its biggest strength.

“I  am more than happy with the squad that I’ve got. It’s a well-balanced team, thoughI’d like to believe that all teams are evenly matched. Ultimately, it will come down on how players perform on that particular day. In the last edition, we beat Hyderabad Hunters, but they went on to win the league,” the eight-time former singles champion said.

The upcoming edition of PBL will continue with the 15-point scoring system instead of the regular 21. While this certainly is a departure from the 11-point games that were introduced in the 2016 edition, it still threatens to make the games more unidimensional with increasing focus on attack.

Bisht, though, believes that 15-point system offers enough room for varying styles to flourish.

“The players are professional and they know how to play these formats. If somebody is defensive and doesn’t have a good smash, it’s not possible for him to smash and play just because it’s a 15-point game. The perception is that it’s a short game so you can smash your way to an early finish…no, it doesn’t. It’s not that easy. You still have to wait for the right time to attack, you still have to be patient and execute your plans,” she explained.

The fourth edition of PBL starts in Mumbai on 22 December.

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