Gopi Chand finds his winning touch

V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

FOR Pullela Gopi Chand, the three-year long drought of an international title finally ended in front of his home crowd. Ever since he won the prestigious 2001 All England badminton championship, there have been expectations from his fans. But Gopi Chand could not find his winning ways. It was not for want of quality game that he was out of focus, but niggling injuries had bothered him.

Gopi Chand and Chansrisukto Saratja (below), the champions. — Pic. P. V. SIVAKUMAR-

So when the 30-year-old shuttler from Hyderabad finally picked the singles title in the Asian Satellite championship at the Swarnandhra Pradesh Complex Indoor Stadium (Gachibowli) outplaying his sparring partner and one of the quick movers in Indian circuit, J. B. S.Vidhyadhar, 15-6, 15-1, in just 30 minutes, it was evident that the gap between the top player and the rest in the country is wide. In fact Gopi Chand was not fully fit and this he himself said.

No doubt, by his own confession, this edition has not seen the big guns of Indonesia and Malaysia in action, but he pointed out that no one gives away a match. "You have to fight for every point. It is not as if the lowly-rated players will concede because they are up against a former All England champion," he stresses.

Gopi Chand clearly enjoyed every moment on the court. Taking optimum advantage of playing in front of the home crowd, the champion shuttler was simply in no mood to give away. He bounced back from 0-8 deficit in the first game of the quarter-final against Sachin Ratti.

Sachin is the only player to beat him thrice in the national circuit about a year ago. Gopi's 17-14, 15-7 quarter-final win gave ample proof of his approach to the game. His half-court smashes were quite effective. His passage was made easy when the Sri Lankan second-seeded Niluka Karuneratne conceded his match when he was down 6-15, 2-8 in the pre-quarters.

The win against Thomas Kurien, who earlier recorded an upset win over national champion Chetan Anand in the quarter-final, in the semi-final showed the Hyderabadi is great touch. Matching the speed, power and precision of the opponent, he won the game in style.

And the final was an anti-climax of sorts against the 25-year-old J. B. S. Vidhyadhar. It was all the more pleasing win for Gopi as his opponent had earlier beaten the top-seeded and World No. 36 Abhinn Shyam Gupta in the semi-final with a high quality game. But in the end, the final was a lacklustre show. For Vidhyadhar the drops, which fetched him a lot of points in the semi-final, let him down badly.

"After the first game loss I should have come back in the second set. But, unfortunately, Gopi has moved into top gear with a near flawless game to give little chance," the loser complimented the champion. And, the eventual winner too was modest in acknowledging the threat his opponent could have posed. "I was aware how dangerous Vidhyadhar could be if gets close to the 10-point mark in a game. So, I just tried to pin him down well below that. He is normally a very good player but knowing his game very well for he is the only player I train with in the city I was sure about my shot selection," is Gopi's post-match observation.

Jaseel P. Ismail & V. Diju (left), the doubles winners.-

The fortunes of Indian badminton in international circuit still revolve around the form and consistency of Gopi Chand. Importantly, Gopi, richer by $ 900 with the singles title, is now seriously chalking out an international calendar to have a second go in the elite circuit. "I know it is going to be really tough, for you have to play a lot of matches against much better players. But, this win gives me the confidence that I can still compete. I will try to focus on the positives from this performance and look ahead," he says.

The women's final was an all-Thailand affair between the second-seeded Saratja and top-seeded Molthila. The former was trailing 4-8 in the first game and was giving an impression of being not in the mood to fight back. But that turned out to be a misleading one, for she soon she changed gear to outbeat Molthila with a series of impressive cross-court smashes and perfect drops.

By virtue of better court coverage, Saratja clearly dictated terms to the better rated opponent, for she could place the deep returns where exactly she wanted. Definitely, once she clinched the lead in the first game after a terrific fight back, she was a totally transformed player to the chagrin of Molthila. Thus the end-result was not surprising at all as Saratja clinched the singles title with ease.

Mundiastiri Rani & Apriliana Rintan (left) took the women's doubles trophy. _Pic. P. V. SIVAKUMAR-

The Indians still have a long way to go. With the best-known face of Aparna Popat not in the fray, the focus was on the likes of Trupti Murugunde, B. R.Meenakshi,Gutta Jwala, Shruthi Kurien. But as usual, they showed that they were way behind when it comes to big matches.

The Indonesian women's doubles combination of Mundiastiri Rani and Apriliana Rintan defeated Chansrisukot Saratja and Meemek Molthila of Thailand 15-4, 15-5 to clinch the title.

For the home team there was something to cheer about apart from Gopi's terrific comeback as doubles pair of Jaseel P.Ismail and V. Diju won the title defeating another Indian pair of Rupesh Kumar and Sanave Thomas 15-9, 15-1.

The results

Men's singles: Final: Pullela Gopi Chand (Ind) bt J. B. S. Vidhyadhar (Ind) 15-6, 15-1. Semi-finals: Pullela Gopi Chand bt Thomas Kurien (Ind) 15-10, 15-4; J. B. S. Vidhyadhar (Ind) bt Abhinn Shyam Gupta (Ind) 15-9, 15-3.

Doubles: Final: Jaseel P. Ismail & V. Diju (Ind) bt Rupesh Kumar & Sanave Thomas (Ind) 15-9, 15-1.

Women's singles: Chansrisukto Saratja (Tha) bt Meemek Molthila (Tha) 11-9, 11-3. Semi-finals: Monthila Meemek (Tha) bt Gutta Jwala (Ind) 11-2, 11-5; Saratja Chansrisukto (Tha) bt Dhanya Nair (Ind) 11-5, 11-9.

Doubles: Mundiastiri Rani & Apriliana Rintan (Ina) bt Chansrisukot Saratja & Meemek Molthila (Tha) 15-4, 15-5.