Hyderabad: Aakarshi Kashyap and Ira Sharma were finding it difficult to hear the chair umpire announce the score during their second-round match at the All India Senior Ranking Tournament in Hyderabad on Thursday, after almost every point.
It was a tense match that had gone into three games and would eventually clock an hour. The two players were scraping for every single point, but a majority of the spectators were not even watching the match. Their attention was on the adjacent court, where Gayatri Gopichand was engaged in a long battle of her own against Unnati Bisht.
Playing in an academy named after her father Pullela Gopichand, the chief national coach and former All England champion, 15-year-old Gayatri could not have asked for better support from the crowd. This was home territory. Even when she started slowly and lost the first game 14-21 against Bisht, currently India No 4 in the Under-19 category, her fellow academy pupils were cheering her every single point.
As Gayatri launched a fightback in the second game, the Gopichand academy pupils upped their decibel levels. Soon, inflated plastic balloons in the shape of cricket stumps began to thump against the walls of the academy. There were chants, hoots, whistles, the whole shebang, even as PV Sindhu watched from the gallery looking rather amused.
Any other result apart from a Gayatri win was not even conceivable, and that is how it turned out. The current India No 1 in the Under-17 age group beat her senior 14-21, 21-19, 21-13 to progress to the pre-quarterfinals.
On paper, Gayatri is not a favourite to win the title, but the 15-year-old has shown enough class to be someone the favourites will be wary of, especially considering the kind of support she will get as long as she is alive in the tournament.
Gurusaidutt, Sourabh Verma coast
Gayatri was not the only benefactor of home support on Friday. Earlier, RMV Gurusaidutt, another academy pupil, received similar support from his friends and juniors, as he breezed past 11th seed Siddharth Thakur 21-13, 21-14 in the second round.
Sourabh Verma, one of the favourites for the title, had a difficult second-round match on paper, against top seed Pratul Joshi. However, the 25-year-old was barely troubled as he won his 16th match in the last 10 days, 21-9, 21-14. If he was low on fuel after a gruelling schedule over the last two weeks, the support he got from the partisan crowd on Thursday evening must have been a worthy substitute.
Joshi and Thakur were not the only seeds to tumble on Thursday. Vaishnavi Bhale , Rasika Raje , Riya Mookerjee , Shruti Mundada , Kanika Kanwal , Daniel Farid , Malvika Bansod , Mugdha Agrey , Kiran George  all bowed out of the tournament, which serves as a selection trial for the Asian Games.
The pre-quarterfinals on Friday morning have some interesting match-ups. Third seed Sai Uttejitha Rao, who won the senior ranking tournament in Bengaluru last week, will take on the woman she beat in that final, Rituparna Das, in the third round itself in Hyderabad.
Gurusaidutt will also face the man who beat him in Bengaluru, Chirag Sen. The two women’s doubles finalists in Bengaluru – Rutaparna Panda/Arathi Sara Sunil and Simran Singhi/Ritika Thaker – will again lock horns in Hyderabad in the third round.
The two Sen brothers – Lakshya and Chirag – could clash in the quarter-finals provided they win their respective third-round matches. Gayatri Gopichand and top seed Anura Prabhudesai are also on collision course in the quarter-finals on Friday evening.
Should that happen, Prabhudesai will not be the favourite, at least for the home crowd.