Second-seeded Aakarshi Kashyap (Chhattisgarh) defeated top-seeded Malvika Bansod (Maharashtra) to win the badminton Women’s Singles gold at the 36th National Games at the PDDU Indoor Stadium in Surat on Thursday.
There were two gold medals for Telangana across the five categories. Basel World Championships bronze medallist B Sai Praneeth (Telangana) justified his top billing by taking the Men’s Singles gold after an intense battle with Mithun Manjunath (Karnataka). The former eventually won 21-11, 12-21, 21-16 in 63 minutes.
The fancied N Sikki Reddy and Pullela Gayatri Gopichand expectedly won the Women’s doubles title for Telangana, making it a happy outing for the State with three gold to show from the Badminton competition as they had already won the mixed team event title.
Aakarshi, who has a 1-1 head-to-head record this year against Malvika on the international circuit, won 21-8, 22-20 in three-quarters of an hour, beating back a late attempt by the left-hander to take the match into the third game.
The Chhattisgarh player was quick and meant business with her well-placed strokes that wrong-footed an error-prone Malvika. The Maharashtra star regrouped in the second game but Aakarshi was up to speed. She fought back from 12-16 and 14-18 down to clinch the match in straight games.
“It was tough. There were two long rallies and she had a lucky point through a net cord to take the second game into extra points. But I held my nerves to win the next two points,” Aakarshi Kashyap said.
The 30-year-old Sai Praneeth faced a tough contest against Mithun. “Any gold medal is good for any player. I’m happy I could get my first-ever National Games gold,” the Telangana star said, adding that he was happy with the way he played, staying calm when Mithun gained the upper hand in the second game.
Sai Praneeth, who has struggled for results on the tour internationally, has had a confidence-boosting week in Surat, defeating HS Prannoy in the mixed team event final before a run to the singles gold.
A new journey for Ashwini
In mixed doubles, Ashwini Ponnappa and K Sai Pratheek made a perfect start to their journey as a mixed doubles pair, eking out a 21-16, 21-13 victory over Rohan Kapoor and Kanika Kanwal (Delhi). Ashwini Ponnappa was all praise for her 22-year-old partner.
With her partnership with Sikki Reddy reportedly coming to a close, Ashwini is exploring mixed doubles as a specialism, as per the Indian Express. Sai Pratheek is going to be her parnter in this new chapter.
On Thursday, she took a successful first step, beating Delhi’s Rohan Kapoor and Kanika Kanwal in straight games to win the gold.
“I am very happy that we started with the National Games title,” 33-year-old Ashwini said after wrapping up their victory. “Incidentally, this is my first gold in the National Games.”
After coming through a test by fire in the semifinals against Tamil Nadu’s VR Nardhana and Hariharan Amsakarunan, Ashwini Ponnappa and Sai Pratheek were more at ease in the final with a 21-15, 21-13 victory.
Ashwini said Pratheek looks a very confident player. “He hits the shuttle powerfully. He has a strong defence and has good court coverage. It is all about learning one another’s game and finding the right balance. Prateek is a quick learner,” she said.
“We don’t know one another’s styles yet and we didn’t have too much preparation. This gold will give us confidence.”
Ashwini played the role of senior partner admirably.
“I tell him to remain positive on court. We held our nerves. It was not easy. It was our first tournament and, being the top seeds, there was pressure. He dealt with it well. This is what makes a player stronger,” she said, hopeful of forging a strong combination with Sai Pratheek.
On his part, 22-year-old Sai Prateek is intent on making the most of the experience of playing with Ashwini. “I have so much to learn from her. I believe she is the best mixed doubles player,’’ he said “I grew up admiring her game. I am now lucky enough to play alongside her. She is always calm on court.”
Badminton final results
Singles: B Sai Praneeth (Telangana) beat Mithun Manjunath (Karnataka) 21-11, 12-21, 21-16; Bronze medals: M Raghu (Karnataka) and Aryamann Tandon (Gujarat).
Doubles: PS Ravikrishna and Udaykimar Sankarprasad (Kerala) beat Hariharan Amsakarunan and R Ruban Kumar (Tamil Nadu) 21-19, 21-9; Bronze medals: HV Nithin and Vaibhaav (Karnataka) and Shyam Prasad and S Sunjith (Kerala)