Chetan overwhelmed by the occasion

Ponsana Boonsak of Thailand celebrates after beating Chetan Anand in the final.-G. KRISHNASWAMY

In the final, Chetan Anand was nowhere near the awesome form he had displayed in the quarterfinals and semifinals. His defeat to Ponsana Boonsak of Thailand was a big disappointment. V. V. Subrahmanyam reports.

National badminton `champion Chetan Anand missed his date with history. The 27-year-old player from Hyderabad, who could have become the first Indian ever to win a Grand Prix title (outside the All-England Championship), faltered at the final hurdle as he was outplayed by the fifth-seeded Ponsana Boonsak of Thailand in the men’s singles final of the Rs.1.2-crore prize money India Open Grand Prix Championship at the Gachibowli Indoor Stadium in Hyderabad.

In the final that lasted 33 minutes, Ponsana proved too good for the Indian who was nowhere near the awesome form he had displayed in his quarterfinal and semifinal matches. The spectators were terribly disappointed, but in their heart of hearts they would have appreciated the vastly superior game of the World No. 12 Ponsana. Chetan Anand’s game was disjointed. Ponsana denied him the liberty to come up with his trademark half-smashes and net dribbles. Moreover, the Thai dished out a lesson or two in the art of scoring points at the net.

The match showed where India’s best player on show stood compared with the big guns of world badminton. Once Ponsana took the first game 21-16, he elevated his play to a new level, employing more of his delectable drops. It was clearly not Chetan’s evening as the Thai sustained his brilliance in the second game.

The Indian paid dearly for his inability to engage his opponent in long rallies. Eventually, Ponsana finished it off in style with a splendid forehand smash, then a well-earned point after a net-dribble before forcing the Indian into an unforced error after yet another display of amazing control. “I was not moving well. Not able to get the length of my strokes right. Definitely, I must confess that I was nervous and conscious of the fact that I was playing my maiden Grand Prix final,” Chetan said later.

He was, however, graceful enough to acknowledge his opponent’s exceptional game. “He was able to handle my half-smashes admirably. He played a splendid game,” Chetan said.

In the semifinals, Chetan, ranked No. 71 in the world, outplayed Andrew Smith of England (world No. 35) 21-6, 21-9. It was a mismatch as the Indian reduced his opponent to a mere spectator with his high-quality game. In the other semifinal, Ponsana rallied from a game down to defeat Sasaki Sho of Japan, ranked No. 29 in the world, 19-21, 21-14, 21-15.

Perhaps the best match of the tournament from India’s perspective was Chetan Anand’s stunning victory over third-seeded Chen Yu, ranked No. 10 in the world, in the quarterfinals. It was his first ever win against a top Chinese player.

The elegant Indian overcame a sluggish start in both the games with a change of strategy midway to stun his fancied opponent. Chetan kept the shuttle flat, denying Yu the chance to go for his smashes.

Playing an excellent net game, Chetan dictated terms to his opponent. Soon he changed the length of his returns to pick up several crucial points. Having pushed Yu to the baseline, Chetan had plenty of space to land his awesome forehand smashes. The high point of the match was when Chetan cut a long rally at 19-all with a splendid, forehand cross-court smash that stunned the Chinese. Though the scores became 20-all after Chetan made a mess of a simple net point, the Indian won the match when Yu’s intended drop shot fell on the net.

In another quarterfinal, India’s Anand Pawar made a mess of a convincing lead to go down to Andrew Smith 18-21, 19-21.

Mi Zhou, the 2003 All England champion, shocked second-seeded Lu Lan of China in 34 minutes to win the women’s singles title. It was a near-flawless display from Zhou, who interspersed her impressive forehand shots with delectable drops. As the game progressed, Zhou showed her mastery in deception to outplay her 20-year-old opponent.

In the second game, Lan did play some excellent smashes and drop shots but it was a bit too late to change the script as Zhou sustained her level of excellence to emerge clear winner.

Mi Zhou of Hong Kong salutes the crowd after claiming the women’s singles title.-AP

For quite some time, inconsistency has been the bane of Saina Nehwal. It came to haunt her again in the second round against the eighth-seeded Eriko Hirose of Japan and she crashed to a 21-15, 21-10 defeat in 33 minutes.

Even the presence of India’s tennis sensation Sania Mirza failed to inspire Saina. Hirose’s game was more organised and she attacked Saina’s weak backhand relentlessly. The match also put in perspective the difference in fitness levels of the two players.

Aditi Mutatkar of India showed flashes of brilliance during her second round loss to Hong Kong’s Yip Pui Yin. The Indian led 21-18, 18-10 but suddenly became erratic. Yip pounced on the opportunity and surged ahead with an impressive display.

Indian coach Bhaskar Babu aptly pointed out that Aditi was just not ready mentally and physically for the third game in which she was outplayed by Yip, who recorded an 18-21, 22-20, 21-11 win.

The tournament lost some sheen following the withdrawal of Chunlai Bao and Xie Xingfang, the top seeds in the men’s and women’s sections.

Chong Wei Feng of Malaysia caused the biggest upset of the tournament by knocking out the reigning All England champion, Chin Jen of China, 25-23, 12-21, 21-16 in the men’s second round.

THE RESULTS

Men’s singles final: Ponsana Boonsak (Thailand) bt Chetan Anand (India) 21-16, 21-12.

Men’s doubles final: Zhendong Guo & Zhongbo Xie (China) bt Eng Chew Choon & Ming Chan Chong (Malaysia) 19-21, 21-14, 21-12.

Women’s singles final: Mi Zhou (Hong Kong) bt Lu Lan (China) 21-14, 21-14.

Women’s doubles final: Chin Chien Yu & Hsing Cheng Wen (Taipei) bt Maeda Miyuki & Suetsuna Satoko (Japan) 21-17, 21-16.

Mixed doubles final: Hanbin He & Yang Fu (China) bt Kristof Hopp & Birgit Overzier (Germany) 21-18, 21-9.