Gayatri Gopichand stormed into the semi-finals of the All India Senior Ranking Tournament in Hyderabad on Friday with straight-game wins in the third round and quarter-finals.
Gayatri, only 15 years old and playing in just her second senior ranking tournament, beat 21-year-old Reshma Karthik, the ninth seed, 21-18, 21-9 in the third round, before breaking down Saili Rane, who is 10 years her senior, 23-21, 21-9 in the quarter-finals.
While Gayatri was hardly tested by Reshma, Saili did start the quarter-final match better than her younger opponent. But it wasn’t long before Gayatri, usually a slow starter, got into the groove and began making her more experienced opponent travel all four corners of the court.
What Gayatri lacks in speed she makes up with her strokes, which are delightful to watch and frighteningly accurate for a 15-year-old. She has enjoyed some great home support, playing at an academy named after her father Pullela Gopichand, and young Gayatri has used it to the fullest.
In the semi-finals on Saturday, Gayatri will face her biggest test yet in Sai Uttejitha Rao, who is placed third in the all-India rankings for women’s singles. Uttejitha is in great form, having won the senior ranking tournament in Bengaluru last week.
Both these tournaments serve as selection trials for the Asian Games in August.
Uttejitha recorded two straight-game wins herself on Friday. She first beat former national champion Rituparna Das 21-16, 21-16 in what was a repeat of the final in Bengaluru. Uttejitha then breezed past another 15-year-old prospect in Aashi Rawat, beating her 21-12, 21-11.
Junior national champion Aakarshi Kashyap and Ashmita Chaliha will contest the second semi-final on Saturday. Aakarshi had two testing outings on Friday, first against Bhavya Rishi, whom she beat 21-19, 23-21, and then against Shriyanshi Pardeshi. She needed an hour and five minutes to win that one 21-17, 18-21, 21-12.
Ashmita had more straightforward outings, winning both her matches in straight games, against Samiya Farooqui and Shikha Gautam.
Sourabh, Lakshya set up semi-final
Over in the men’s singles draw, Sourabh Verma and Lakshya Sen set up a potential blockbuster of a semi-final after coasting through their respective third-round and quarter-final matches on Friday.
With only one men’s singles spot available in India’s squad for the Asian Games, Saturday’s semi-final could just be the decider as to who gets it. Verma had won the Bengaluru tournament last week to put himself in pole position but Sen, who was in the Thomas Cup squad last month, would be looking to snatch it away from him.
Verma beat 16th seed Aryamann Tandon and eighth seed Siddharth Pratap Singh in straight games on Friday. Sen also got past fourth seed Kartik Jindal and the experienced RMV Gurusaidutt without dropping a game.
Siril Verma, another former junior world No 1 like Sen, also reached the semi-finals after beating seventh seed Bodhit Joshi 19-21, 21-12, 21-10, and Alap Mishra 21-18, 21-11. Siril will take on Rahul Yadav C in the semi-finals. Rahul beat second seed Mithun Manjunath 21-19, 21-11, and then Nikhilshyam Sriram 22-20, 21-15.
Rutaparna-Arathi coast to semis
In the doubles, the new pair of Rutaparna Panda and Arathi Sara Sunil continued to impress as they reached the semi-finals with straight-game wins in the third round and quarters. Rutaparna and Arathi had won the Bengaluru tournament, which was their first together as a pair, and are now in pole position to take the second women’s doubles spot in the India squad.
Their only competition could come in the form of their semi-final opponents, Prajakta Sawant and Sanyogita Ghorpade, who have international exposure and are more experienced.
In men’s doubles, top seeds Arun George and Sanyam Shukla are the favourites to take the title on Sunday.