Bhat’s moment of glory

In the final, Arvind Bhat appeared to be caught in self-doubts. The early signs were bad, but fortunately for him, his mentor at the Tata-Padukone Academy in Bangalore, Vimal Kumar, calmed him down.-A. M. FARUQUI

Despite the absence of the top stars, Saina Nehwal and Chetan Anand, the Indore Nationals will be best remembered for the intensity of the competition and the manner in which the young and fresh aspirants capitalised on the opportunities that the event threw up, writes S. R. Suryanarayan.

In a small town like Indore, the sports infrastructure available is quite enviable. A cricket stadium, a tennis facility, a billiards and snooker hall and in their midst the huge multi-purpose indoor stadium, Abhay Prashal, all of which took shape thanks to Abhay Chhajlani, a sports lover and visionary, who was recently honoured with a Padma Shri. But what is surprising is that despite the presence of this indoor facility — this has been in place from the early 1970s — it took so long for the premier badminton tournament, the National Championship, to come to Indore.

Understandably then, the Madhya Pradesh Badminton Association went on an overdrive to ensure that the badminton ‘mela’ was a memorable one. The climate was salubrious and with a festive atmosphere all over the place, thanks to the marriage season, the people of Indore seemed more than ready for the National Championship.

But then, even the best-laid plans can sometimes go awry. As a damper on the eve of the championship came the announcement that the top seeds, Chetan Anand (men’s section) and Saina Nehwal (women’s section), had pulled out citing injuries.

“How can this be? Why should they be informing this at the last moment? Was the Badminton Association of India (BAI) aware of this? Is there no concern for us, the organisers, who have gone all out to get sponsors?” were the flurry of questions from the Organising Secretary, Anil Chougule, who was perturbed over the turn of events.

“We had placed over 30 billboards all over the town announcing, in particular, the arrival of the World junior champion and current star in Indian badminton, Saina. Now, how do we answer the fans and the sponsors? BAI has to be a lot more serious about these things. It could have given us a hint early so that we could have been prepared. When BAI allots the dates I think it is also mandatory that the parent body ensures good participation,” Chougule went on, full steam.

The old timers could hardly recall any Nationals in the last 60 years or more where the top seeds in both the men’s and women’s sections had withdrawn from the competition.

Though the tournament appeared to be devalued by the absence of Saina Nehwal and Chetan Anand, the Indore Nationals will be best remembered for the intensity of the competition and the manner in which the young and fresh aspirants capitalised on the opportunities that the event threw up.

Resilience pays... National women’s champion Sayali Gokhale with the trophy.-A. M. FARUQUI

The tournament was

Bhat was understandably shaky in the final. He was over-cautious against the wily P. Kashyap, whose demolition of another title aspirant, Anup Sridhar — who was on a comeback trail after being plagued by injuries for most of 2008 — in an earlier round had made him the dark horse.

The diminutive Kashyap, coached by Bhaskar Babu, the man who gave Chetan Anand to Indian badminton, is a bundle of energy and tricks. He would have had his way had Bhat allowed things to drift because of his self-doubts.

The early signs were bad for Bhat, but fortunately for him, his mentor at the Tata-Padukone Academy in Bangalore, Vimal Kumar, calmed him down. “I have seen him wasting chances when on top, so I decided, even though I am not in favour of coaching in the arena, he should not let go of the opportunity,” said the former National coach on his decision to take the coach’s chair.

Bhat quelled Kashyap’s racy start with his judicious mix of net-play and mid-court smashes. The rest is history.

The way people came running in to congratulate Bhat indicated how the fans were waiting for this glorious occasion.

On the distaff side, many expected that the new sensation, P. C. Thulasi would take the title. The unseeded Thulasi had dislodged the top seed Neha Pandit to not only reveal the hollowness of the seeding following Saina’s withdrawal but also instantly came into the spotlight. Coached by Mohanachandran, the girl from Thrissur progressed majestically, defeating Sikki Reddy, her conqueror in the Sivakasi Junior National final, in the quarterfinal and then Mudra Dhainje in the semifinal.

In the final, Thulasi was befuddled by Sayali Gokhale’s resilience. Thulasi thrives on soft placements and fast finishes but Sayali was willing to stretch the rallies, which worked in favour of the experienced Air-India player, who emerged triumphant. Sayali had earlier defeated favourite and second seed Trupti Murgunde (PSPB).

Nevertheless, it was a special moment for Thulasi. The 18-year-old became the first player from Kerala to reach the women’s final in a National championship.

There was no upheaval in the doubles as the established pairs held sway. Jwala Gutta was the pick, winning two titles. Jwala and Shruthi Kurien remained unchallenged in the women’s doubles for the eighth year in succession. Jwala then teamed up with V. Diju to win the mixed doubles title for the third successive time.

Rupesh Kumar and Sanave Thomas won the men’s doubles title for the fifth time.

Earlier, in the team event, PSPB’s dominance continued as it annexed both the Rahimatoola Cup (men) and the Chadha Cup (women) for the 10th successive time.

THE RESULTS

Men’s singles final: Arvind Bhat (PSPB) bt P. Kashyap (PSPB) 21-19, 21-14.

Men’s doubles final: Rupesh Kumar (PSPB) & Sanave Thomas (Kerala) bt K. Tarun (AP) & Arun Vishnu (Karnataka) 21-15, 21-16.

Women’s singles final: Sayali Gokhale (Air India) bt P. C. Thulasi (Kerala) 21-17, 16-21, 21-13.

Women’s doubles final: Jwala Gutta & Shruthi Kurien (PSPB) bt Dhanya Nair & Anita Ohlan (Railways) 21-12, 21-13.

Mixed doubles final: V. Diju & Jwala Gutta (PSPB) bt Arun Vishnu (Karnataka) and Aparna Balan (PSPB) 16-21, 21-19, 21-12.

TEAM EVENT

Men’s final (Rahimatoola Cup): PSPB bt Railways 3-0 (Aravind Bhat bt Arup Baidya 21-16, 21-10; Anup Sridhar bt Sachin Ratti 21-6, 16-21, 23-21; V. Diju & Rupesh Kumar bt Jayan James & T. Dinesh 21-14, 21-13).

Women’s final (Chadha Cup): PSPB bt Karnataka 2-0 (Trupti Murgunde bt V. Ruthmisha 19-21, 21-9, 21-13; Jwala Gutta & Shruthi Kurien bt B. R. Meenakshi & Ashwini Ponnappa 19-21, 21-11, 21-16).