Charge of the young brigade

Champ in action… Sourabh Varma who won his maiden National singles crown.-Pics. K. MURALI KUMAR

That only one player aged over 25 managed to enter the last eight in either section tells its own tale: there is no place for tired legs in Indian badminton anymore. Over to Avinash Nair.

The teen brigade stole the show at the IFCI 76th National Badminton Championship at the K. Raheja-KBA courts in Bangalore recently. It was a maiden triumph for both the champions, Sourabh Varma and P. V. Sindhu of Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB).

PSPB also claimed the Rahimtoola Cup (for men) and the Chadha Cup (for women), the symbols of supremacy in the Inter-State Championships.

That only one player aged over 25 managed to enter the last eight in either section tells its own tale: there is no place for tired legs in Indian badminton anymore. Anand Pawar, 25, showed enough pluck and purpose to survive till the semi-final stage before bowing out to B. Sai Praneeth, the second seed and runner-up in the tournament.

Top seed Sourabh Varma, only 19 and ranked No. 48 in the world, came into the tournament after a fine run in the Syed Modi Indian Open in Lucknow where he made it to the final. So obviously, his confidence level was high.

“Against H. S. Prannoy in the semi-finals, I had to attack more, especially after losing the first game 21-23. But against Sai Praneeth, I mixed caution with aggression so as to not let go easy points. Wanted to finish the match in two straight games which I managed,” said a beaming Sourabh, who earlier humbled the crowd favourite and former champion, Anup Sridhar, in the round of 16.

Anand Pawar was unseeded but accounted for the defending champion, Aravind Bhat, and R. M. V. Guru Sai Dutt (both of PSPB) before falling to Sai Praneeth. With his deceptive half-smashes and effective backhand flicks Pawar often caught his rivals stranded in the middle.

In top gear…P. V. Sindhu with the trophy after defeating Neha Pandit in the women's singles final. Though seeded No. 9, she became the favourite in the absence of Saina Nehwal.-

Another youngster to catch the eye was K. Srikanth of Andhra Pradesh. He came in for praise from the National coach, P. Gopi Chand, for his commitment.

In the women's section, Saina did not play, preferring to rest after the Malaysian Super Series where she failed at the semi-final stage. Therefore, P. V. Sindhu, who has had a meteoric rise in the rankings with a few victories in the international circuit, was the automatic favourite despite the fact that she was seeded only ninth owing to a paucity of National ranking points. However, her reach and all-round game was too hot for the rest of the field to handle and she won her first National title with ease.

“Barring top seed P. C. Thulasi of Kerala, against whom I dropped a game, I had no difficulty against any other player and won comfortably. I am happy to add the senior women's National title to all the other age-group National titles in my kitty,” said the 16-year-old from Gopi Chand's stable.

There is a yawning gap between Sindhu and the rest. Thulasi comes a distant second — more so as she is Sindhu's training partner and knows her game well enough to exploit the little chinks in her defence. Otherwise the defending champion and fourth seed Aditi Mutatkar (PSPB) and second-seeded Neha Pandit (AAI) posed little challenge in the semis and final. “I am supremely fit and that's one big gain from the Academy, which is blessed with very good facilities,” Sindhu said.

The 67th Inter-State Championship that preceded the Nationals was an all PSPB affair. Air India reached the finals of both the Rahimtoola Cup and the Chadha Cup but just about managed to win the men's first doubles before losing 1-3. Here again, Anand Pawar did have the measure of Arvind Bhat, but failed to tighten the screws and pull off an upset. It was left to Akshay Dewalakar and Manu Atri to upset the fancied combination of V. Diju and Arun Vishnu in three games and extend the tie.

However, Air India was lucky to reach this far, having been let off the hook by Karnataka in the quarters. Aditya Prakash gave Karnataka a flying start before the doubles combination of Guruprasad and Adarsh Kumar kept the team in the hunt. But defeats in the other singles (Anup Sridhar fell to Anand Pawar rather tamely while Rohan Castelino was outplayed by the young Pratul Joshi, a south paw) quashed Karnataka's hopes. And in the deciding second doubles, the scratch combination of Anup Sridhar and Aditya Prakash simply couldn't pull it off. Thereafter, Air India drubbed Assam 3-0 to enter the final.

PSPB, which tried its bench strength in the earlier rounds, played its best team and won. In the women's final too, PSPB downed Air India 2-0 with Sindhu toying with Tanvi Lad in the singles before Aparna Balan and Prajakta Sawant closed out the match.

Though the government observer, Ms. Damayanthi Tambe — a former National champion — certified that it was a ‘well conducted Nationals' by the KBA (Karnataka Badminton Association), many old timers and others found loop-holes that need to be plugged. “The 2006 Nationals staged here was often referred to as the best ever, both by the players and officials, but then it was organised by the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA) with the legendary player himself leading from the front. Even the recently held inaugural Karnataka Badminton League (KBL) was better co-ordinated,” said a regular at the KBA.


Men's singles final: Sourabh Varma (PSPB) beat B. Sai Praneeth (PSPB) 21-19 21-19.

Men's doubles final: Arun Vishnu & K. Tarun (PSPB) beat K. T. Rupesh Kumar (PSPB) & Sanave Thomas (Kerala) 21-16, 16-21, 21-18.

Women's singles final: P. V. Sindhu (PSPB) beat Neha Pandit (AAI) 21-9, 21-14.

Women's doubles final: Pradnya Gadre (AI) & Prajakta Sawant (PSPB) beat Aparna Balan (PSPB) & N. Sikki Reddy (AAI) 21-19, 22-20.

Mixed doubles final: Arun Vishnu & Aparna Balan (PSPB) beat Pranav Chopra & Prajakta Sawant (PSPB) 21-16, 17-21, 21-19.

Rahimtoola Cup: PSPB beat Air India 3-1 (A. Bhatt beat A. Pawar 21-16, 21-19; S. Varma beat P. Joshi 21-17, 21-19; V. Diju & A. Vishnu lost to A. Dewalkar & M. Atri 21-13, 18-21, 18-21; B. S. Praneeth beat G. Raju 21-12, 21-14).

Chadha Cup: PSPB beat Air India 2-0 (P. V. Sindhu beat T. Lad 21-11, 17-21, 21-10; A. Balan & P. Sawant beat P. Gadre & S. Gokhale 21-14, 21-8).