A roller-coaster ride

Ajay Jayaram... proving his mettle.-PICS: K. MURALI KUMAR

Top players fail to live up to their billing as the young brigade steals the show. Kalyan Ashok reports.

The Indian seniors got a timely wake-up call from the young brigade at the NPL all-India ranking championship, conducted by the Waukon Sports Management, in Bangalore recently. Three National champions, Aravind Bhat (men), Sayali Gokhale (women) and former winner Anup Sridhar, failed to live up to their billing. P. Kashyap, the top-seed, also crashed out in the second round.

Sure, there was never a dull moment in the championship, only the second senior ranking prize money tournament in the country after the Tata Open in Mumbai in July last year.

“No senior can take things for granted, given the dicey game format now and the hunger of the youngsters to prove their mettle,” observed the former Chief National coach, U. Vimal Kumar.

After four days of exciting action, it was Ajay Jayaram (Petroleum Sports Promotion Board) who wore the crown in the men’s section. The victory ensured the 22-year-old trainee from the Tata Padukone Badminton Academy a purse of Rs. 75,000.

The three-time National finalist, Trupti Murgunde (PSPB), a long term ward of the TPBA, emerged the women’s champion. She took home a cheque of Rs. 50,000.

It was indeed a roller-coaster ride for most players. Abhimanyu Singh (MP), who stunned Anup Sridhar — returning to the court after his wedding recently — in the first round (19-21, 21-18, 22-20) and Aravind Bhat — who nearly lost to Tanishak of AP in the first round — gingerly wobbled his way to the semifinals where he met his nemesis in Guru Sai Dutt (AP).

The Commonwealth Youth champion and World junior finalist blew Abhimanyu Singh away (21-16, 21-8) in just 30 minutes.

Kashyap’s hopes were dashed early as he went down to the local favourite, Aditya Prakash, in a match that was arguably the best of the tournament. Aditya continued his march to the semifinals where he fell to Ajay Jayaram 12-21, 21-16, 14-21.

Guru Sai Dutt, who had scored five straight wins over Ajay in the past, appeared to be the favourite in the final. But the form on the day favoured Ajay, who played a tactically sound game. Without indulging in any heroics, Ajay chose to play a good mix of defence and offence. He varied his pace to unsettle Guru Sai Dutt, defeating him 21-17, 18-21, 21-15.

“I did not give away easy points and I was determined to set the record straight for once, and it sure is a special win for me,” said Ajay, whose earlier major title came in Mumbai three years ago.

Trupti Murgunde... in fine touch.-

If Ajay Jayaram, Guru Sai Dutt and Aditya Prakash shone in the men’s section, it was P. C. Thulasi (Kerala), regarded as one of the best juniors in the country, who proved her potential by making it to the title round where she was stopped by Trupti Murgunde 21-18, 8-21, 11-21.

The 18-year-old Kerala girl’s best moment of the tournament was in the quarterfinals where she stunned the National champion, Sayali Gokhale, in a battle of nerves that lasted nearly 70 minutes. Thulasi won 21-14, 17-21, 24-22.

In the final, Thulasi got off to a whirlwind start, taking an 11-1 lead in the first game, which she eventually won 21-18. But trust Trupti, the most skilful and seasoned women’s player in the country, to turn the tables on her rival. She regained her silken touch and scored winners with a mix of drops, dribbles and accurate smashes to dash Thulasi’s hopes of a maiden senior title.

The doubles exponent, V. Diju, who recently finished runner-up with Jwala Gutta in the World Masters Super Series tournament, pulled out of both the mixed doubles and men’s doubles semfinals following a viral infection, much to the disappointment of his fans.

Badminton now seems to have found an eager sponsor in NPL Home Appliance Ltd., which earlier was toying with the idea of becoming a franchisee in the Karnataka Premier League.

But the NPL Home Appliance MD, Navin Maher, changed his mind after learning about the lack of sponsorship for badminton. Cricket’s loss is badminton’s gain indeed.

THE RESULTS

Men’s singles final: Ajay Jayaram (PSPB) bt Guru Sai Dutt (AP) 21-17, 18-21, 21-15.

Men’s doubles final: Pranav Chopda (AI) & B. Sai Praneeth (AP) bt Arun Vishnu (Kerala) & Tarun Kona (AP) 23-21, 14-21, 21-14.

Women’s singles final: Trupti Murgunde (PSPB) bt P. C. Thulasi (Kerala) 18-21, 21-8, 21-11.

Women’s doubles final: Sikki Reddy (AP) & P. C. Thulasi bt Anjali Kalita (Rlys) & P. Jyotsna (AI) 21-18, 21-14.

Mixed doubles final: Arun Vishnu & Aparna Balan (Kerala) bt Pranav Chopda & Prjakta Sawant (AI) 21-17, 12-21, 21-18.