On Tuesday afternoon at the Huamark stadium in Thailand, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Ashwini Ponnappa were all smiles as they exchanged high fives having pulled off the upset of the day at the Thailand Open World Tour 500. "It's one of the best and also one of the important wins of our career," Rankireddy would say later of their 21-18 18-21 21-17 win over Malaysia's Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying -- the current world number five (world tour ranking no.1) and the Olympic silver medallists from the Rio Olympics.
The cheer was a marked difference from the serious looks on the two Indians' faces last week as they analysed what had been a particularly demoralising defeat. While cooling down back at the practise area of the Musashino Sports Plaza, following their second round defeat in the Japan Open last Thursday, Satwiksairaj says he and Ponnappa had had a serious conversation about the state of their game.
The straight games loss to the Thai pair of Sapsiree Taerattanachai and Dechapol Puavaranukroh had been a particularly bitter pill to swallow. The Indians had been leading 17-16 in the second game but had conceded five straight points in an error-filled finish. "It was very frustrating. We had lost the game and the match because of mistakes we were making, not because the opponents played well," says Satwiksairaj.
The defeat had come just after a first round exit at the Indonesian Open, and was a result that had left the World Number 23 mixed doubles pair 1-3 this year, after a delayed start caused by a hairline fracture to Satwiksairaj's sternum. "That loss was bad but it hurts more when you lose because of your own mistakes," he says.
He says he spoke honestly about what the pair needed to do. For Satwiksairaj, this was a big step. "With Chirag [Shetty -- his partner in the men's doubles] it's different. We can get irritated about mistakes that are taking place. But I'm usually very quiet around Ashwini didi. She's far more senior than me. It's usually she who makes the plan and I go with it," he says. But the recent struggles for the 18-year-old Satwiksairaj and Ashwini, 29, were serious enough for him to speak up.
"Maybe I wouldn't have spoken during a match. But it's a lot easier to communicate just after you have lost. Indonesia was bad and both of us were worried. What I felt was that we were conceding more points than the opponents were winning. So I felt that we needed to play the endgames a lot more safely. As long as we don't give away points, we have an eighty percent chance of winning the rally because I'm confident that we will get the best opportunity," he says.
Another change the duo worked out between themselves was in the way in which they would take charge of the backcourt. "We used to divide it evenly between ourselves. But I felt that when I am not in the back, the opponents are managing to lift our shuttles. When I am at the back, they can't lift as much. I also wanted to take up more responsibility in the back because I think I can create more openings by targeting the woman on the other side," he says.
Those suggestions were agreed upon and that's how Satwiksairaj and Ashwini played out their match on Tuesday. The focus on keeping the shuttle in play rather than go for the high risk winner paid off particularly well in the final game where they came back from a six-point deficit at 5-11 to take control of the decider.
With a big win under their belt, the duo are confident of traveling past the second round of a tournament for the first time since the Syed Modi Championships last November.
The last time they beat the Malaysian pair was in the team finals of the Commonwealth Games, a win that paved the way for an Indian gold medal. And while it's early in the Thailand open yet, there's hope of repeating something special this time too.
Their next opponents are Indonesia's Alfian Eko Prasetya and Marsheilla Gischa Islami - ranked 27th in the world. "They are Indonesia's fifth best team at the moment and we have a good chance of going through if we play well. That's our next goal now. We know we have the ability to play well. Now we need to be more consistent," he says.