Shuttlers Siril Varma and Ashmita Chaliha tossed their names into the Asian Games selection pot by winning the men’s singles and women’s singles titles respectively at the All India Senior Ranking Badminton Tournament in Hyderabad on Sunday.
Former junior world No 1 Siril from Telangana and Assam’s Ashmita beat the favourites Sourabh Verma and Sai Uttejitha Rao in the finals at the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy, with both matches lasting three games.
Siril was trailing 18-21, 4-8 against Sourabh in the men’s singles final before he fought back to win the second and third games 21-16 and 21-8. By the time the third game began, Sourabh was beginning to look tired. The 25-year-old was playing his 20th match in the last two weeks, after reaching the finals of back-to-back senior ranking tournaments in Bengaluru and Hyderabad. Both these tournaments serve as selection trials for the Asian Games.
Sourabh had won the Bengaluru tournament and considering he made the Hyderabad final as well, he is the favourite to take the last remaining men’s singles spot in India’s Asian Games squad, after K Srikanth, HS Prannoy, Sameer Verma and Sai Praneeth. However, the selectors could yet pick former junior world No 1 Lakshya Sen, 16, who lost to Sourabh in the semi-finals of both tournaments, with an eye on the future.
In women’s singles, there are three spots up for grabs after Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu. Ashmita Chaliha and Sai Uttejitha Rao, who won the Bengaluru tournament and reached the final in Hyderabad, are confirmed to take two of those spots. The third spot could go to Bengaluru finalist Rituparna Das.
The 18-year-old Ashmita caused an upset of sorts when she beat Uttejitha in the women’s singles final on Sunday. The southpaw from Assam was trailing 8-11 in the first game before she fought back to win it 21-16.
Ashmita had one game plan against Uttejitha and that was to not engage her in rallies. The diminutive Assamese, who is very agile and quick on her feet, played attacking badminton and tried to finish off points as quickly as she could.
Her aggressive play seemed to have caught Uttejitha unawares in that first game, but the shuttler from Andhra Pradesh regained her composure as the second game began and even took a massive 7-1 lead. Although Ashmita managed to close it down to 12-10, she could not hold on as the all-India No 3 won it 21-14 to force a decider.
Despite losing the second game, Ashmita did not deviate from her game plan and continued to attack Uttejitha with downward strokes and smashes. Although Uttejitha took a 10-6 lead in the third game, Ashmita won the next six points to open up a two-point lead, which flustered her opponent.
From there, Uttejitha committed quite a few unforced errors and allowed Ashmita to run away with the game. Ashmita won the match 21-16, 14-21, 21-15.
Women’s doubles selection headache
Earlier, Aparna Balan and Sruthi KP gave the selectors another headache by winning the women’s doubles title, after coming back from a game down to beat Prajakta Sawant and Sanyogita Ghorpade 19-21, 21-19, 21-18.
With one women’s doubles spot up for grabs in the Asian Games squad after Ashwini Ponnappa/N Sikki Reddy, the selectors will have to pick between Aparna/Sruthi and Rutaparna Panda/Arathi Sunil, who had won the Bengaluru tournament. Rutaparna and Arathi have the upper hand considering they had beaten Aparna and Sruthi in Bengaluru and are the younger of the two pairs.
Krishna Prasad Garaga and Dhruv Kapila, both 18, cemented their position as the most promising upcoming men’s doubles pair in India by winning the Hyderabad title. They beat top seeds Arun George and Sanyam Shukla 24-22, 21-13 in the final, although Arun was carrying a thigh injury. Dhruv and Krishna were the runners up in Bengaluru, losing to Arjun MR and Shlok Ramchandran in the final.
K Nandagopal and Sanjana Santosh won the mixed doubles title, beating Dhruv Kapila and Meghana Jakkampudi 21-16, 13-21, 21-17 in the final. Unfortunately, there is no spot available for men’s doubles and mixed doubles in India’s squad for the Asian Games.