Old guard to the fore

Chetan Anand... in top gear.-PICS: RITU RAJ KONWAR

Though the youngsters made their presence felt in the tournament, it was the seniors who called the shots. Amitabha Das Sharma reports.

Indian badminton continued to thrive on the finesse and form of the old order, as Chetan Anand (Petroleum Sports Promotion Board) returned to reclaim the men’s crown at the National Championship in Guwahati recently. And joining Chetan on the podium was another seasoned campaigner, Trupti Murgunde, who defeated the reigning champion, Sayali Gokhale, to win her maiden women’s crown.

For Chetan, who had missed the previous Nationals in Goa owing to injury, the championship in Guwahati was chiefly about justifying his elevated world standing. And this he did in style, outlasting another former champion, Anup Sridhar, in the men’s final.

Ranked No. 16 in the world, Chetan is the only Indian, apart from Saina Nehwal, doing notably well in the world professional circuit. Saina, who rose to No. 6 in the women’s rankings, opted out of the Nationals citing a knee injury. However, she was present to receive the Maruti A-Star car, gifted to her by the host, the Assam Badminton Association, in honour of her achievements.

The ABA also presented the current winners, Chetan and Trupti, an A-Star car each apart from winner’s cheques.

The youth brigade, represented by players such as R. M. V. Guru Sai Dutt, Ajay Jayaram, H. S. Pranoy and B. Sai Praneeth, made its presence felt but could not progress beyond a point. Ajay Jayaram, ranked No. 1 in the country along with Guru Sai Dutt, received the top billing in the men’s singles with the latter seeded second. Anup Sridhar vanquished Jayaram in the quarterfinals, while Guru Sai Dutt and Pranoy went down in the pre-quarterfinals.

The new National ranking system, which takes into account points accrued from the National Championships and ranking events, proved a disadvantage for the seniors such as Chetan and Anup. The two, having missed a few National ranking events as they were playing abroad, were seeded 14th and 13th respectively. Thus, they faced the challenge of the younger opponents early in the draw.

Both Chetan and Anup had to dig deep into their reserves to survive a few close matches. Chetan’s first major hurdle was Guru Sai Dutt, one of the most promising wards of the Gopi Chand Academy in Hyderabad. In what was definitely one of the best matches of the tournament, Guru Sai Dutt dominated initially with a fine array of shots, but went down in three games as Chetan changed his tactics by slowing down the play.

Chetan then had a relatively easy time in the quarterfinals as he blew away Rohan Castelino’s challenge in straight games.

Fresh from winning the Indian Grand Prix in Lucknow (December 2009), Chetan displayed his class in the semifinals to quell the challenge of the defending champion, Aravind Bhat (PSPB).

Moving up the draw proved far more difficult for Anup as he had to play a series of three-game matches. He scripted remarkable fight-backs, prevailing over India’s No. 2 junior Pranoy (in the pre-quarterfinals), top seed Ajay Jayaram (quarterfinals) and third-seed P. Kashyap (semifinals), on way to the summit clash.

The final between Chetan and Anup, the two most experienced and decorated campaigners, went the distance as expected. Despite making some unforced errors in the beginning, Chetan unleashed a variety of shots to unsettle Anup, who won the first game but failed to hold on to the advantage in the next two. “My toss and drops started working well from the second game, and that gave me the confidence to make a comeback against a sound opponent like Anup,” said Chetan after winning his fourth National title.

Trupti Murgunde... maiden National title.-

Trupti Murgunde, who won her maiden title after failing thrice before — she lost to former champion Aparna Popat twice and Saina Nehwal once — made the most of the opportunity that came her way this time. Playing to her strength, Trupti, with accurate placements and controlled drops, outplayed Sayali Gokhale in the final.

In the semifinals, Sayali beat Gayatri Vartak (PSPB) in straight games, while Trupti went through to the final at the expense of Aditi Mutatkar (PSPB), who retired in the second game with a painful knee injury. Aditi, playing with a heavily strapped knee, aggravated her injury while trying to reach a return from Trupti.

“It feels great to win the National title after a long wait. It was almost now or never for me, and I am happy that I could finally make it happen,” said Trupti.

Jwala Gutta (PSPB) continued her remarkable run in the doubles. In the company of Ashwini Ponnappa (Karnataka) she lifted the women’s doubles title. She then completed a grand double by winning the mixed doubles crown with V. Diju.

Sanave Thomas (Kerala) and Rupesh Kuamar (PSPB) combined to win their sixth consecutive men’s doubles title. For Rupesh, it was his eighth doubles title — the most by a doubles player in India.

With most of the top players in its ranks, PSPB, as expected, retained both the men’s and women’s team titles for the 11th consecutive time.

THE RESULTS

Men’s singles final — Vikas Topiwala Challenge Cup: B. Chetan Anand (PSPB) bt Anup Sridhar (PSPB) 16-21, 21-19, 21-10. Semifinals: Anup bt P. Kashyap (PSPB) 19-21, 21-19, 21-16; Chetan Anand bt Aravind Bhat (PSPB) 21-19, 4-21, 21-16.

Men’s doubles final — Calcutta Badminton Cup: Rupesh Kumar (PSPB) & Sanave Thomas (Kerala) bt Akshay Dewalkar & Jishnu Sanyal (AI) 21-15, 21-18.

Women’s singles final — Olympian Badminton Challenge Cup: Trupti Murgunde (PSPB) bt Sayali Gokhale (AI) 21-17, 21-7. Semifinals: Sayali Gokhale bt Gayatri Vartak (PSPB) 21-19, 24-22; Trupti Murgunde bt Aditi Mutatkar (PSPB) 21-19, 14-3 (retd.).

Women’s doubles final — All India Badminton Association Cup: Jwala Gutta (PSPB) & Ashwini Ponnappa (Karnataka) bt Aparna Balan & Shruti Kurien (PSPB) 21-15, 22-20.

Mixed doubles final — Burdwan Challenge Cup: Jwala Gutta & V. Diju (PSPB) bt Arun Vishnu (Kerala) & Aparna Balan (PSPB) 21-12, 21-7.