Ritwik Bhattacharya, the star-performer

It was Delhi all the way in the senior inter-State squash championship.

AMITABHA DAS SHARMA

It was Delhi all the way in the senior inter-State squash championship. It won the team as well as the individual honours at the Calcutta Racket Club. Delhi's performance was inspired by the presence of Ritwik Bhattacharya.

Ritwik Bhattacharya (left) makes a return while Saurav Ghosal watches in the final of the senior National championship at Kolkata. Ritwik proved too good. — Pic. S. PATRONOBISH-

Bhattacharya, who regained the senior National crown after he had lost to Maharashtra's Manish Chotrani last season, did show his class. Though he did not win the National crown last season, he won two back-to-back international titles. Two Satellite titles in New Zealand made Bhattacharya the first Indian to win an international event. This boosted his PSA (Professional Squash Association) circuit rankings.

Bhattacharya, who stays and trains in London to pursue his professional career, makes it a point to come home for the Nationals. With his consistent show, he has been one of the top players in the national circuit.

There have been no dearth of talents in this sport but most of them use it as a pedestal for a scholarship in a foreign university. Bhattacharya has chosen to pursue the sport seriously and his determination and hard work are fetching him the rewards. During the nationals he was ranked No. 83 in the world and hoped to take his position up among the top 60, by the turn of the year.

The action started with the inter-State event and justifiably Delhi, the defending champion, retained the title beating Tamil Nadu 3-2 in an evenly contested final.

Sonali Philip (left) and Joshna Chinappa in action in the women's final. Joshna was the comfortable winner. — Pic. S. PATRONOBISH-

Generally, the competition would be among Delhi, Maharashtra and Services. But this time Tamil Nadu sprang a surprise. Tamil Nadu scored an upset win over Services in the semifinals to make its maiden final and stretched Delhi to five games in the title match. Bhattacharya led the Delhi charge with support from Gaurav Nandrajog and Amjad Khan. With a clutch of India Cements squash academy wards — who are the top junior players training at the best squash facility in the country — turning out for Tamil Nadu, Delhi was given a good fight. But the Northern powerhouse made its ground, thanks to the presence of country's two top-ranking players — Bhattacharya and the No. 4 Nandrajog.

Bhattacharya beat the National under-19 champion and the top-ranked Tamil Nadu player Saurav Ghosal in the third match to put Delhi 2-1 up. Ghosal matched his senior opponent both in class and stamina but Bhattacharya's experience prevailed in the end. Delhi lost the first match when Vinayak Shetty of Tamil Nadu beat Varun Kataruka in five games. Khan restored parity for Delhi winning the second tie against A. Parthiban. Then Bhattacharya beat Ghosal. But the National under-15 champion Harinderpal Singh brought Tamil Nadu back into the reckoning as he outlasted Yashvardhan Singh. Nandrajog finally defeated Bala Murugan in straight games to settle the issue for Delhi. Maharashtra took the third place, beating Services 4-1.

The individual events saw a good field of 128 players. Bhattacharya and Ghosal got the top billings in the two halves of the draw, while Nandrajog and Sahil Vora of Maharashtra were the next two in the order of seedings. On the distaff side, there was only three outstation participants including the top seeded Joshna Chinappa and the second seeded Sonali Philip of Tamil Nadu. Surbhi Misra of RajAsthan was the other player. There were five local entries to make it a draw of eight. The organiser — Squash Rackets Federation of India — was forced to adopt the circuit format, which had the winners moving up while the losers of each round playing against each other to decide the lower positions.

In the men's event, Bhattacharya sailed through the draw without losing a game. Even the opponents in the higher end of the draw failed to put up a fight against him. He beat Vikas Jangra of Services in the quarterfinals and then thrashed the fourth seeded Vora in the semifinal. Vora, who beat Dhiraj Singh of Rajasthan in a four-games in the quarters, failed against the power and precision of Bhattacharya. The title contest was between the top two seeds, Bhattacharya and Ghosal.

Tamil Nadu, which saw five of its players Cyrus Poncha, A. Parthiban, Vinayak Shetty, Bala Murugan and Ghosal reaching the pre-quarterfinals, found only the junior National champion making it to the semifinals. Ghosal made it to the last four stage, beating State-mate Murugan before facing third seeded Nandrajog in the semifinals. Nandrajog, who got past the local challenger Dalip Tripathi, made the semifinal.

Ghosal came up with a classy performance, sweeping aside Nandrajog. Ghosal, who had shown a tremendous form against his opponents till the final, failed to find his groove against Bhattacharya who did not lose a single game in the tournament. The final thus came out to be a one-sided contest with Bhattacharya completely outplaying Ghosal.

The women's event saw the top seed Joshna Chinappa beating Sonali Philip in straight games in the final to lift her second National title this year. Chinappa had earlier won the junior (under-19) title and with her latest triumph she has regained the senior National crown, which she had lost to Mekhla Subedar of Maharashtra last year.

Joshna Chinappa who shot into fame, winning the British Open title this year, displayed her power and agility to completely overshadow her opponents. Joshna conceded only 10 points on her way to winning the title. Like Bhattacharya she never lost a game. Surbhi Misra beat local challenger Neha Rathi for the third position.

The results:

Inter-State: Final: Delhi bt Tamil Nadu 3-2: Varun Kataruka (Delhi) lost to Vinayak Shetty (TN) 9-5, 9-7, 7-9, 3-9, 2-9; Amjad Khan bt A. Parthiban 9-2, 9-6, 9-2; Ritwik Bhattacharya bt Saurav Ghosal 2-9, 9-6, 9-2, 10-8; Yashvardhan Singh lost to Harinderpal Singh 9-5, 6-9, 9-3, 1-9, 1-9; Gaurav Nandrajog bt Bala Murugan 9-4, 9-5, 9-0; Third-place play-off: Maharashtra bt Services 4-1.

Individual events: Men's (final): 1-Ritwik Bhattacharya (Del) bt 2-Saurav Ghosal (TN) 9-2, 9-1, 9-3; Semifinals: Bhattacharya bt 4-Sahil Vora (Mah) 9-3, 9-0, 9-2; Ghosal bt 3-Gaurav Nandrajog (Del) 9-7, 9-4, 9-3; Quarterfinals: Bhattacharya bt Vikas Jangra (Services) 9-5, 9-0, 9-2; Vora bt Dhiraj Singh (Raj) 9-2, 9-7, 2-9, 9-3; Nandrajog bt Dalip Tripathi (Ben) 9-0, 10-9, 9-7; Ghosal bt Bala Murugan (TN) 9-7, 9-4, 9-2.

Women's: (final): 1-Joshna Chinappa (TN) bt 2-Sonali Philip (TN) 9-5, 9-2, 9-2; Third position play-off: Surbhi Mishra (Raj) bt Neha Rathi (Ben) 9-0, 9-0, 9-0; Semifinals: Chinappa bt Neha Rathi (Ben) 9-0, 9-1, 9-0; Philip bt Surbhi Mishra (Raj) 8-10, 9-4, 9-2, 9-6; Quarterfinals: Mishra bt Pragya Bajoria (Ben) 9-2, 9-4, 9-3; Philip bt Snehal Bathwal (Ben) 9-0, 9-0, 9-2.

Professionals (final): Mahesh Verma (Mah) bt Bala Murugan (TN) 6-9, 1-9, 9-6, 10-8, 9-4; Semifinals: Murugan bt Vijay M. Sonavane (Mah) 9-0, 9-6, 9-0; Verma bt Dalip Tripathi (Ben) 9-6, 9-3, 9-0; Quarterfinals: Bala Murugan (TN) bt Mukhtiar Ali (Del) 9-7, 9-1, 9-2; Dalip Tripathi (Ben) bt Vijay Waghela (Mah) 9-2, 9-3, 9-3; Mahesh Verma (Mah) bt Hari Narayan Tripathi (TN) 9-3, 9-2, 9-0.

Men's Masters:(35-39yrs): Rohit Thawani (Mah) bt Mukhtiar Ali (Del) 9-4, 9-5, 9-0; 40-44: O'Niel Pramanik (Ben) bt Deepak Moolani (Mah) 9-2, 9-3, 9-3; 45-49: Vaman Apte (Mah) bt V. Laxman (TN) 9-1, 8-10, 9-6, 9-6; Over-50: Kishan Lal (Mah) bt Sunil Patel (MP) 9-1, 9-2, 9-1.