Chetan and Trupti are champions

THE Canara Bank all India badminton championship, held in Bangalore from August 12 to 16, was the last domestic tournament before the Indian shuttlers embarked on their tight and demanding overseas schedule.

Chetan Anand, the men's singles champion. — Pic. K. GOPINATHAN-

Naturally, the performance was noted with more than passing interest as the event was one of the yardsticks for selection of the Indian squad for the European tour, which included the German Open, Dutch Open and Danish Open championships. But three top guns of the game in the country, former All-England champion, Pullela Gopi Chand, Nikhil Kanetkar and National women's champion Aparna Popat opted out of the tournament. Gopi and Aparna preferred to concentrate on their training for the foreign fixtures and Kanetkar was down with a viral infection.

Despite the absence of these three stars, the championship provided a good fare and gave scope for gritty campaigners such as Vidyadhar, Arvind Bhat, Krishna Deka Raja and Saina Nehwal to make their mark. The ultimate champions however were the consistent Chetan Anand and Trupti Murgunde, for whom the title triumphs were memorable. Bangalore has always been a lucky venue for Chetan Anand, the 23-year old Petroleum Sports Promotion Board player. Chetan won his maiden Asian satellite title in Bangalore in the 2000-2001 season and he returned to top a loaded field.

Besides Gopi Chand, Chetan Anand, along with Nikhil Kanetkar, is reckoned as the best for the country on the world stage. But, somehow, this talented ward of Bhaskar Babu, who has an all-round game, failed to deliver on foreign soil.

Even in the `A' grade event like the New Zealand Open, where he played before coming to Bangalore, he made an early exit. He took a long flight to Bangalore on a sombre note.

The first two rounds proved to be easy for Chetan, but he had a tough time against the local youngster Rohan Castelino in the quarter-finals. Rohan, who plays an attacking game, had the champion on the defensive before Chetan, with his better experience, prevailed in three games.

Chetan had a tough match against Arvind Bhat, who again is a strong player with a penchant for aggression. Arvind Bhat had Chetan in trouble, playing at a scorching pace, before the latter settled to slow down the game and forced his opponent into a series of errors. After the two split the first two games — Chetan taking the first at 15-11 and Arvind claiming the second at 15-6 — the stage was set for an absorbing finish and the two battled all the way. Chetan wiped out an early lead from Arvind and caught up at 11-all and even had a 14-11 advantage before choking for a while on match point. The game spilled to extra points and Chetan held his nerves to win at 17-15.

After two tiring matches, Chetan squared off against Railway player and India No. 5 J. B. S. Vidyadhar. Both the contenders played below their potential, always holding back the strokes. Chetan trailed 3-8 in the first game before staging a fine recovery to take it at 15-11. Vidyadhar then turned on the heat, playing strongly from backcourt, reeling his half smashes with pin-point accuracy as Chetan struggled to keep moving. Trailing all the way, Chetan dropped the second at 9-15.

In the decider, Chetan cut the pace and played with a lot more deception, especially at the net. That paid good dividends as he maintained his marginal lead till the later stages and then opened up to stretch his lead to 12-8. Vidyadhar made a fierce counter-assault and though he picked a few points in the bargain, he lost more with unforced errors. The Railway ace held on for a while trailing 10-14, but the end result was inevitable.

For Chetan Anand, the victory was worth more than the glittering trophy and the Rs. 40,000 cheque as he regained his confidence. "True, I was a bit low on spirits after the New Zealand Open, but I played three tough matches here and ultimately won and that has given me a good boost. Playing in a domestic event just before an international tournament is pretty strenuous. But then one has to keep up with such demands. My aim now is to improve my ranking (which is in the 90s) and play as many international events as possible and qualify for the 2004 Olympics," said Chetan Anand.

Vidyadhar, though he was vanquished, can take pride with his performance. The 25-year-old from Hyderabad made the first senior ranking final of his career, beating the top seed and National champion Abhinn Shyam Gupta in the semi-finals, which certainly was a high point of the tournament. Abhinn had a nagging ankle injury, which has not healed completely, and also a back trouble, but then one expects a champion to never give up easily.

Abhinn was up against a very determined Vidyadhar in the semi-finals. He was at his defensive best in first game, playing to a plan, cutting down on rallies and picking points with some judicious smashes and neat dribbles. After a close going he broke free at 12-all and grabbed a couple of quick points, which ultimately saw him take the game (15-12). Vidyadhar's down-the-line smashes worked like magic in the second game and he turned the heat with an attacking display and won the game at 15-9. In the decider, Abhinn looked a spent force as he struggled to move. Vidyadhar showed no mercy as he reeled off quick points to seize a 11-1 lead and there was simply no looking back for him as he wrapped up the game and match at 15-4.

The quarter-finals did not throw up any surprises barring Castelino's fighting display against Chetan Anand. One expected another promising young man Anup Sridhar to fare well. But he went down to his Karnataka-mate Arvind Bhat in a tight match at 10-15, 12-15. The early upset in the tournament was provided by qualifier K. Srinivasan of Andhra Pradesh, who beat the fifth seed Sanave Thomas. The younger lot, Nishad Dravid, Bahniman Borah, Anand Pawar and Utsav Prakash, went out early which showed that they have a long way to go in the senior field.

The 20-year-old Trupti Murgunde is next only to Aparna Popat in terms of class. The Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy trainee has come a long way with strings of good performances this season, including a title triumph at Jamshedpur in a major ranking event. But Trupti needs to push herself more and have the right attitude to make an impact on the international circuit.

The third seeded Trupti defeated Krishna Deka Raja to claim the women's singles title at 11-0, 13-11. She had Krishna pinned on her back hand and groping at the net, but Trupti, after completing a swift 11-0 whitewash in the first game, in her typical laid back fashion, let her opponent off the hook in the second. Krishna came back from match point down at 4-10, to equalise at 11-all and push the game into extra points. Trupti woke up to the situation and rallied to take the game and the match at 13-11.

For Krishna, the National junior girls' champion, it was a good outing and she began her campaign in style, drubbing the former National champion Manjusha Kanwar in the second round. But another youngster, Saina Nehwal of Hyderabad, had her in trouble in the semi-finals, before Krishna hustled her way to victory at 7-11, 11-6, 11-5.

One should be hearing a lot about Saina Nehwal and the 13-year old lass, along with Aditi Mutatkar, should be rated as the country's best future prospects. She was very impressive in her quarter-final victory over the top seed, B. R. Meenakshi. The youngster, a ward of former National chief coach S. M. Arif, has variety in her strokes. She needs to develop her speed and power and one hopes that would come with experience and age.

B. R. Meenakshi, the country's No. 2 star, was a big disappointment. She struggled against the Assamese lass, Bibari Basumatari, in the second round. Then came the shock defeat at the hands of Saina. Meenakshi was too erratic to hold her ground against a fearless Saina, who was clearly the better player on the day. Neha Makwana of Railways did well to reach the semi-finals, but her limitations were however exposed by Trupti Murgunde, who easily won at 11-8, 11-4.

The performances of Shruti Kurien and her doubles partner, Jwala Gutta, came as a disappointment in the singles. Both were quickly sidelined. Jwala fell to Krishna Deka Raja at 6-11, 8-11, while Shruti, seeded No. 2, was beaten by another Assamese girl, Oli Deka at 13-12, 7-11, 7-11. But Jwala and Shruti came good in the doubles beating Trupti Murgunde and Fathima Mohammed Nazeen 15-7, 15-8 for the title.

The doubles honours in the men's section went to Sanave Thomas and V. Diju. The Kerala pair proved too good for National champions Rupesh Kumar and Marokse Bristow to won 15-4, 15-5 in the final.

The heartening display of the two pairs, Jwala & Shruti and Sanave Thomas & V. Diju augurs well for the Indian prospects in mixed events like the Sudirman Cup. The two pairs can certainly play their way into the top 20 league, provided they get adequate exposure and make proper use of the opportunities.

In the wake of BPL shying away from sponsorship for the past couple of seasons, Canara Bank's decision to extend its support and conduct the tournament for the next two years, comes as a welcome bounty for the game, which is once again craving for sponsors.

The results (all finals):

Men's singles: Chetan Anand (PSPB) bt J. B. S. Vidyadhar (Rly) 15-11, 9-15, 15-11.

Doubles: Sanave Thomas & V. Diju (Ker) bt Rupesh Kumar & Markose Bristow (PSPB) 15-4, 15-5.

Women's singles: Trupti Murgunde (Mah) bt Krishna Deka Raja (Asm) 11-0, 13-11.

Doubles: Jwala Gutta & Shruti Kurien (PSPB) bt Trupti Murgunde (Mah ) & Fathima Nazneen Mohammed (Ker) 15-7, 15-8.

Kalyan Ashok