Saina Nehwal bags a double

ONE precocious girl and an exciting boys singles final made the 17th National sub-junior badminton championship, held in this Northern Kerala city, a memorable affair.

Saina Nehwal, living in Hyderabad but originally from Haryana, is considered as one big hope in Indian badminton. The 13-year-old is the finest talent to surface in the country after Aparna Popat, and she's already proved a threat to the top senior Indian players.

She was expected to win the under-16 girls title without much difficulty. "I don't see any competition for me here," she had said on the eve of the competition. This girl is, refreshingly, devoid of any false modesty.

In the final, against Assam's Anjali Kalita, the fifth seed, she dropped a game. "But I was playing with cramps," she explained afterwards.

In the deciding game she destroyed whatever hopes Anjali may have entertained of winning. Saina won the game even before her rival could figure out what was happening. The top seed scored all the 11 points from her first serve, as she won the match 11-3, 11-13, 11-2.

The second game of the final was not the only game she lost in the tournament; it was in fact the only game she lost in a domestic competition in her age group after the Krishna Khaitan tournament final with Aditi Mutatkar in Chennai in the first week of July. Aditi is actually the only girl who could've of<147,1,7>fered some resistance to Saina, but she's out of action now, following an injury.

Though Saina wasn't quite at her best during the tourney, she still demolished the opposition round after round with expected ease. She made it a double when she teamed up with P. Jyothsna to pick up the under-16 girls doubles title.

The boys under-16 singles produced more drama. Ajay Jayaram of Maharashtra, seeded third, emerged as the champion, beating team-mate and giant-killer Abhinav Kapoor in the final, 15-12, 15-9.

The winners — Ajay Jayaram (boys under-16), Saina Nehwal (girls under-16), Aditya Prakash (boys under-13) and Vinita Ghate (girls under-13). — Pic. RAMESH KURUP-

Though the unseeded Abhinav was outplayed in the match, he had accounted for two seeds, including the No. 1, G. M. Nandish of Karnataka (quarterfinal).

The under-13 boys singles final, between Aditya Prakash of Karnataka and Niket Karnatak of Uttaranchal was the best game of the meet. Aditya, the top seed, won the exciting game 17-14, 17-16, but the unseeded Niket, who had shocked the second seed Raj Kumar of Punjab in the semi-finals, fought bitterly.

Both the youngsters look promising. Joint Chief National coach U. Vimal Kumar, who observed most of the matches, spoke highly of the kids. "Among the boys, only those two impressed me here," said the former French Open Champion, for whom the tournament provided an occasion to visit his some State. "They are talented and need to be nurtured properly. And I thoroughly enjoyed their clash in the final."

He couldn't have said the same about the all-Maharashtrian under-13 singles final, in which third-seeded Vinita Ghate scored a 11-5, 11-3 win over Pradnya Gadre, who had stunned top seed I. R. D. Sravani of Andhra in the semi-finals. The second seed, Vaishali Baria of Gujarat had gone out in the quarterfinals, losing to Karnataka's Sruthi Sreedhar.

There were good crowds on all days at the V. K. Krishna Menon Indoor Stadium, as the city hosted a badminton Nationals after a gap of ten years. Sankar P. Gopan gave the host something to cheer about when he and G.M. Nandish won the boys' under-16 doubles title.

P. K. Ajith Kumar