Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty are no strangers to firsts in Indian badminton. In the span of just one year, they have won more trophies and big medals than any other men's doubles pair in India.
On Sunday, they created more history as - coming back from the brink in a three-game thriller - they became the first Indian doubles pair to win a gold medal at the Badminton Asia Championship, also India's first gold medal at the tournament in 58 years. This performance comes right before the start of the 2024 Paris Olympics qualification cycle, which, if they qualify, will be their second Games.
Given their ages - 22 and 25 - this is just the beginning for the world No 6 pair and they could go on to be India's greatest badminton players. Here's a look at the many firsts of Sat-Chi and the way ahead for them:
Five years back, at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, they made history when they won India's first-ever medal in men's doubles badminton; a silver. Satwik was 17 and Chirag only 20 back then.
Then in 2019, they had their breakthrough season as they became India's first men's doubles pair to win a Super Series title at the Thailand Open, with a number of upset wins over higher ranked pairs. They also reached the final of the French Open Super 750 with more upsets, but went down to the 'Minions'
Heartbreak in Tokyo
They were the only Indian men's doubles pair to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics and faced heartbreak when they went out in the group stages -- despite winning two of three matches, and beating the eventual champions -- because of technicality of a three-way tie. It was just one of those cruel twists of fate, and it came in a year when they had no other silverware to show for their good performances.
In January 2022, they became the first Indian pair to win the India Open. And they did that by beating their idols, and three-time world champions, Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan of Indonesia, who are one of the legendary pairings of men's doubles badminton. To win a title at home, after a difficult season, against a seasoned pair started was just the start of their history-making season.
To say Satwik and Chirag were one of the backbones of India's historic first Thomas Cup -- the men's team world championships -- win won't be an understatement. They lost just one match out of six - to Olympic champions Lee Yang and Wang Chi Lin - and won a thriller in the final against Indonesia. They faced four match points against two of the best doubles players in the world then - the team of Ahsan and Sukamuljo - and prevailed to give India a crucial 2-0 lead. Given the inexperience of the other Indian doubles pair, the onus was on them to ensure a good first half and they delivered in all three knockout matches against heavyweights Malaysia, Denmark and Indonesia.
Commonwealth Games II
The 2022 CWG was a big moment for Satwik and Chirag, after their historic silver in 2018. This time, they would go on to win the whole thing - the first Indians to win a men's doubles gold at the Games.
The duo lost just one match across two events in the Birmingham - in the mixed team final to perennial nemeses Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik. But in the individual event, they comfortably beat Ben Lane and Sean Vendy - home favourites who had beaten the Malaysians in the semis - to stand atop the podium.
Badminton has a World Championship every year but this is a big medal, perhaps the biggest after an Olympic title. Only one Indian doubles pair had a bronze here, Jwala and Ashwini back in 2011. But the first-ever men's doubles medal had to be won by Satwik and Chirag, and they did so by Japan's Takuro Hoki and Yugo Kobayashi - defending champions, second seeds, and home favourites - weeks after the CWG title.
The 2022 French Open win in October was their first 750 title, and the biggest BWF trophy of their career, in a venue that has been their favourite hunting ground. Needless to say, they were the first-ever Indian doubles pair to win a BWF Super 750 tournament.
The French Open win late in the season showed how well they maintained their fitness and intensity through the year. It helped them finish the year as Top 5 in the world, another first
Badminton Asia Championships
In the recently concluded individual 2023 Badminton Asia Championships, they won gold -- becoming the first Indians to win gold in the men's doubles.