National Badminton: Shikha Gautam catches the eye

Shikha, conqueror of former World No. 40 Arundhati Pantawane, in the first round, battled for 73 minutes to get past fellow-teenager Bhavya Rishi 25-23, 21-23, 21-12 for a place in the third round.

Shikha Gautam of Karnataka in action against Bhavya Rishi of Air India.   -  Akhilesh Kumar

Doing away with the qualifying rounds and reducing the main-round playing-days from five to four is in keeping with the Badminton Association of India’s long-term objective of further pruning the duration of the National badminton championship.

However, from the perspective of the technical officials led by the Chief Referee, the logistics have become a major challenge.

As seen on Thursday at the Panjab University gymnasium hall here, the matches on six courts started at 8.30 in the morning and were set to go well past midnight.

By the evening, the matches were played nearly five hours behind schedule. In fact, even the men’s second seed Sameer Verma was expected to take the court past 1 am for his much-delayed second round match!

On the court, last year’s runner-up and former National junior champion Rituparna Das ousted two-time winner Sayali Gokhale 21-12, 17-21, 21-4 in 41 minutes but it was Bangalore-girl Shikha Gautam who caught the eye with her gritty display in two matches.

Shikha, conqueror of former World No. 40 Arundhati Pantawane, in the first round, battled for 73 minutes to get past fellow-teenager Bhavya Rishi 25-23, 21-23, 21-12 for a place in the third round.

A trainee at the Prakash Padukone Academy in Bangalore, Shikha battled from 10-16 in the first game and dramatically bounced back from 16-20 in the second to force a match-point but could not prevent Bhavya from forcing the decider.

Bhavya, looking good when engaging her rival in long rallies, faltered far too often in the final game where Shikha broke away from 11-9 to enjoy nine match-points.

Earlier, Shikha accounted for Arundhati 21-17, 24-22 in 39 minutes.

The Hyderabad-based Arundhati, a regular at Gopi Chand Academy, came here after making early exits from the Polish Open and Orleans Open last month but did not expect such an early exit.

She kept pace with the younger player till 7-8 in the first game before losing the next five points. Shikha, with good defence and retrieving abilities, gave no respite Arundhati and her choice to strokes finished quite a few points.

After dropping the first game on the fourth match-point, Arundhati was more aggressive in the second game and the ploy helped her lead 8-5 and 11-7. She did stay ahead until 18-17 before Shikha nosed ahead at

19-18. But it was Arundhati who forced a game-point and raised visions of a decider.

Undeterred, Shikha pushed the game to extended points before converting her third match-point.