A show of AP power

Overall, I am satisfied with the way I am playing, but I need to strengthen my defence. - Sikki Reddy-NAGARA GOPAL

Pullela Gopi Chand’s wards, B. Sai Praneeth and N. Sikki Reddy, lead AP’s remarkable surge as the state’s players grab four of the five open event titles. Kalyan Ashok reports.

Andhra Pradesh almost made a clean sweep of the titles at the 34th Junior National Badminton Championship in Mandya, Karnataka (Nov. 1 to 9). It won four of the five open event titles and finished runner-up in the Inter-state team championships.

Leading the AP surge were Pullela Gopi Chand’s wards, B. Sai Praneeth and N. Sikki Reddy. For Praneeth the championship proved to be a memorable one — he not only won his maiden singles crown but also picked up the doubles title in the company of Pranav Chopra of Air India. In the girls section, Sikki ruled the roost, defending her crown in the singles and winning the doubles title as well with P. C. Thulasi of Kerala as her partner.

The five-day open events saw some interesting matches, and as the championship reached its climactic stage, the top seeds, B. Sumeet Reddy (boys) and P. C. Thulasi (girls) made their exits, losing to worthy rivals. It was Air-India’s H. S. Prannoy who crashed Sumeet’s hopes in the semifinals with a 26-24, 21-18 victory and set up the title clash with Sai Praneeth.

Sai Praneeth seemed to be pleased with the semifinal verdict, for he had beaten Prannoy in earlier meetings including the final of the Inter-state Narang Cup. He maintained that winning streak, posting a deserving 21-16, 14-21, 21-15 victory over Prannoy again.

Sai Praneeth did not allow Prannoy to get into his rhythm and raced to victory in the first game. But Prannoy drew level in the second with clever net play. The decider proved to be a real test of nerves, but at 14-all the tide turned against Prannoy as he dropped two points after misfiring from the back court. Sai Praneeth, thereafter, stepped up the pace with his half smashes and sealed the match.

Sikki Reddy’s dominance was tested to some extent by her 14-year-old AP team-mate P. V. Sindhu, whose strong back court play and effective net dribble saw her enter the title round at the expense of P. C. Thulasi. But Sikki Reddy, attacking relentlessly, kept Sindhu on a tight leash to win 21-17, 21-16.

“Overall, I am satisfied with the way I am playing, but I need to strengthen my defence,” said Sikki Reddy. Though beaten, Sindhu was not disgraced. The tall and talented youngster, who also trains under Gopi Chand, is sure to go places as she has the game and a sound temperament.

K. Nandagopal of Railways, who made it to the boys semifinals before losing to Sai Praneeth, was another player who impressed a lot. In the doubles, the outstanding player was Air India’s Pranav Chopra. He has the speed and showed good anticipation. Besides winning the doubles title with Sai Praneeth, Pranav also won the mixed doubles crown with Prajakta Sawant.

Another young talent to impress was Rituparna Das of Bengal, who lost to Daya Elsa Jacob of Kerala in a close contest in the quarterfinals.

The AP players, however, suffered a twin blow in the team event finals. In the Narang Cup final, they went down to Air India 1-2. And in the Shafi Quereshi Cup for girls, Maharashtra shocked AP 2-1.

But overall, it was AP which dominated and the trend should continue for a few more years.

It is not difficult to fathom the state’s success in the sport, for AP has a pro-active association, good infrastructure, well run private training centres, notably Gopi Chand’s academy, several district coaching centres and plenty of local tournaments. “On an average we get not less than 300 to 500 entries for our local tournaments,” said an AP official.

The event, though conducted well, had a glaring glitch. It was to do with the shuttles. Though the shuttles were from Yonex, the ones that were used at the meet seemed not up to the standard as players struggled with their strokes. “It is a pity that they were made to play with such inferior shuttles; they deserve a better deal and the quality of the matches would have been much higher,” said the former Chief National Coach, U. Vimal Kumar.

The winners at the Junior National Championship held in Mandya.-

THE RESULTS Boys singles final:

Doubles final: Pranav Chopra (AI) & Sai Praneeth bt Sumeet Reddy (AP) & H. S. Prannoy 21-15, 21-18.

Girls singles final: N. Sikki Reddy (AP) bt P. V. Sindhu (AP) 21-17, 21-16.

Doubles final: N. Sikki Reddy & P. C. Thulasi bt Gauri Ghate & Prajakta Sawant (Maharashtra) 21-15, 21-14.

Mixed doubles final: Pranav Chopra & Prajakta Sawant bt K. Nandagopal (Railways) & Megha Merin Ninan (Kerala) 21-15, 21-18.

Team Championships

Narang Cup (Boys): Air India beat AP 2-1 (H. S. Prannoy lost to B. Sai Praneeth 12-21, 17-21; H. S. Prannoy & Pranav Chopra bt B. Sumeet Reddy & Sai Praneeth 21-17, 21-4 ; Hirak Jyoti Neog bt B. Sumeet Reddy 17-21, 21-17, 21-18 ).

Shafi Quereshi Cup (Girls): Maharashtra beat AP 2-1 (Sai Purandare lost to N. Sikki Reddy 12-21, 10-21; Prajakta Sawant & Gauri Ghate bt N. Sikki Reddy & P. V. Sindhu 21-13, 18-21, 21-19; Sanyogita Ghorpade bt P. V. Sindhu 21-14, 21-19).