Whose circuit is it anyway?

After his victory, Anup Sridhar was candid enough to admit that he was nowhere near his best. "I still need to get that match fitness and sharpness and more such wins would help," he said.-RITU RAJ KONWAR

The case of top players staying away from senior ranking tournaments undermines the domestic circuit. It's time the Badminton Association of India stepped in to arrest this trend. By Kalyan Ashok.

Is the domestic badminton circuit losing its sheen? If one takes into account the recent spate of top players staying away from senior ranking events in the country, it seems to be the case.

The two major domestic events this season, the Maruti-Suzuki all India senior ranking tournament and the Tata Open, have suffered on account of players' apathy towards domestic events. While the Tata Open was postponed, the organisers of the Maruti-Suzuki event (prize money: Rs. 5 lakh) in Bangalore were compelled to go through the motions in the absence of the top guns, Chetan Anand, Arvind Bhat, P. Kashyap, Sanave Thomas (in doubles ) and Guru Sai Dutt.

It is difficult to sponsor an event that lacks star appeal, and there is no point in blaming the sponsors for not backing the sport. The players who chose to be absent preferred to play on the international circuit, ostensibly to protect their international rankings.

The National Coach, Pullela Gopichand, observed: “International rankings matter; and no player likes to risk getting injured playing in domestic events, especially with a hectic international season ahead.”

But this, once again, raises the question: How good has the record of our players been in international tournaments, and have they been consistent enough to reach at least the quarterfinals?

Barring Saina Nehwal, the World No. 2, the rest of the Indians have been erratic on the international circuit. As regards players getting injured, that can happen anywhere, even in international events.

“The value of domestic events cannot be underestimated. At least at home, they will be made to fight for their spots by a talented junior bunch we have here. I don't think any player should skip domestic events; even Saina should play a few at home for the sake of Indian fans and motivate a host of other players who wish to emulate her,” said the former national chief coach, U. Vimal Kumar.

The Badminton Association of India (BAI), which is contemplating allocating a major share of its funds that come from the new sponsor Premier Brands as incentives to players, should do that only on the basis of the players' involvement in the domestic circuit.

For the former National champion, Anup Sridhar, the Maruti-Suzuki all India ranking tournament was an exercise in confidence building. He won the men's singles title, defeating the unseeded Sourabh Verma of Madhya Pradesh 21-19, 20-22, 21-15. Anup, no doubt, had a better range of strokes, but Sourabh Verma proved to be a great retriever and counter-attacked splendidly to put his rival under pressure.

Anup finally prevailed, thanks to his experience that came in handy in crunch situations. Sourabh ran out of steam in the decider and threw in the towel after Anup went 20-9 ahead.

Trupti Murgunde... combining guile and style.-K. MURALI KUMAR

Anup was candid enough to admit that he was nowhere near his best. “I still need to get that match fitness and sharpness and more such wins would help,” he said.

Earlier in the semifinals, Anup defeated Rohan Castelino, once a very promising junior, 21-19, 21-11, while Sourabh Verma accounted for Anand Pawar 24-22, 21-13.

The two best youngsters on view were the National junior champion B. Sai Praneeth (Andhra Pradesh) and H. S. Prannoy (Kerala). Praneeth lost to Anup in the quarterfinals, while Prannoy went down fighting to Sourabh Verma in three games after knocking out top seed Ajay Jayaram (Petroleum Sports Promotion Board) in the first round. The two deserved direct entries for the event, but had to slog their way through the qualifying rounds which probably took its toll.

In the women's section, National champion Trupti Murgunde ruled the roost. The Pune girl, who combines guile and style, proved too good for Arundhati Pantwane in the final. She won 21-12, 21-18.

Trupti's major hurdle came in the semifinals where she had to quell a spirited challenge from Neha Pandit of Maharashtra 24-22, 12-21, 21-10.

In the other semifinal, Sayali Gokhale, who ran into a determined Arundhati Pantwane, developed a hamstring pull which undid her. Arundhati won 6-21, 21-18, 21-16.

Given the none-too-strong field, one expected the two promising juniors, P. C. Thulasi and P. V. Sindhu, to go beyond the round of 16, but they failed to do so.

In doubles, Aparna Balan (Kerala) and Prajakta Sawant (Maharashtra) stunned the fancied pair and World No. 34, Jwala Gutta (PSPB) and Ashwini Ponnappa (Karnataka) 21-19, 21-11.

Aparna also picked up the mixed doubles title, partnering Arun Vishnu. Pranav Chopra and K. Tarun won the men's doubles title.

THE RESULTS

Men's singles final: Anup Sridhar (PSPB) bt Sourabh Verma (MP) 21-19, 20-22, 21-15.

Men's doubles final: Pranav Chopra (AI) & K. Tarun (AP) bt Akshay Dewalkar (AI) & Arun Vishnu (Kerala) 21-18, 12-21, 21-19.

Women's singles final: Trupti Murgunde (PSPB) bt Arundhati Pantwane (Maharashtra) 21-12, 21-18.

Women's doubles final: Aparna Balan (Kerala) & Prajakta Sawant (Maharashtra) bt Jwala Gutta (PSPB) & Ashwini Ponnappa (Karnataka) 21-19, 21-11.

Mixed doubles final: Arun Vishnu & Aparna Balan bt Pranav Chopra & Prajakta Swant 21-19, 18-21, 21-19.