Satwiksairaj-Chirag win thriller to make French Open final

The French Open was the second final of 2019 for Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, after the pair won the Thailand Open in early August. Shi Tang/Getty Image

India's Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty entered the final of the French Open, a BWF World Tour Super 750 event, in Paris on Saturday. Satwiksairaj and Chirag, currently ranked 11th in the world, beat World No. 6 duo Hiroyuki Endo and Yuta Watanabe of Japan 21-11, 25-23 in a thriller, needing five match points to close out the fifth-seeded Japanese team.

The story of the opening game was of how well the Indian pair asserted themselves and took control of the match. They did so by playing at a frenetic pace, not allowing their opponents a chance at any sort of rhythm. While Chirag covered the front of the court with his interceptions and smashes, Satwiksairaj was in particularly good form with his defence, coming up with multiple improvised behind-the-back retrieves. From 6-4 up, the Indians went into the changeover leading 11-5. After the break, except for a couple of errors, the Indians picked up where they left off, going from 15-9 up to close out the game 21-11.

The Japanese showed more aggression to make the second game more competitive. They jumped out to a 3-0 lead and were up 8-5 before the Indians began their fightback, Satwiksairaj and Chirag winning six straight points to lead 11-8 at the break. Coming into the match, the Japanese had a 2-0 head-to-head against the Indians, having won both those matches in straight games. While the players upped their level after the break, the proceedings also got noticeably tense. Both teams remained neck and neck until the Indians opened up a two-point lead and then had two match points at 20-18. The first was saved after a 40-shot rally, the second with a lucky net cord for the Japanese.

The Indians' third match point was saved after a 50-shot rally, the best of the match and one that left both teams in disbelief. Another match point came and went before the Japanese had a game point of their own, which was quickly saved. Finally, on their fifth match point, the Indians converted for their first win against the Japanese duo.

Satwiksairaj-Chirag, who are the first Indian men's doubles pair to medal at the Commonwealth Games, are in their second final of the year after they won the Thailand Open in early August to become the first Indian doubles pair to win a World Tour 500 event.

After winning in Thailand, however, a spate of injuries forced both players to miss the World Championships later that month, causing their ranking to drop to 15. Despite a couple of early losses to World No. 4 pair of Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda at the China and Korea Open and Satwiksairaj's struggles with illness at the Denmark Open, the pair's self-belief didn't waver. Now they are in their first final in the French Open, a tournament where they have done particularly well since 2017. That year, they made their first ever World Tour Super 750 quarterfinal and improved on it to reach the semifinal last year.

In the final, Satwiksairaj-Chirag face reigning World No. 1 team Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo of Indonesia.