BM Rahul Bharadwaj had a fair amount of support at the Babu Banarasi Das Badminton Academy in Lucknow on Friday during his boys singles semi-final of the junior national badminton championships against second seed Alap Mishra.

The spectators, who were mostly the other players competing in the Nationals and their family members, clearly had a favourite between Rahul and Alap, perhaps because of the former’s back story. Rahul, the losing finalist of the previous junior nationals, is returning to the circuit after a knee injury, which kept him out since April. He returned to competition only earlier this month at a senior ranking tournament in Bengaluru.

Thus, when Rahul fought back from losing the first game narrowly 19-21 to win the second one rather comfortably 21-9, Alap was up against it. Not only did he have to fight off a resurgent Rahul in the decider but he also had to do it with hardly any support from the stands.

Alap, however, was up for it. He had erred in the first couple of games by perhaps playing a bit too defensively against Rahul, who is a very good retriever. Attack comes naturally to Alap and he had been curbing those traits in the first two games. All that changed in the decider as Alap went on the attack and bagged himself a 16-8 lead.

It wasn’t over there. Rahul was not going away so easily. The 18-year-old dug into his tank and managed to somehow reduce the gap to 17-18, much to the delight of the spectators. Alap did not get flustered and managed to win the next two points to give himself three match points. He lost two of them to further increase the tension, before Rahul netted an attempted lift to concede the match.

Alap roared in delight as he completed a 21-19, 9-21, 21-19 win in an hour and three minutes, even as Rahul dropped to his knees in disappointment. Alap then went over to embrace his friend, with whom he trains at the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy in Bengaluru.

“He was defending very well,” said Alap after the match. “I was attacking but not getting the points in the second game. The courts were also slow so it was a bit difficult for me to play my attacking game.

“I started the third game really well. Glad I was able to pull it off. Every part of my body hurts right now but I’m happy to be in the final,” added Alap, who has played 10 matches across singles and doubles in the tournament since Tuesday.

In the boys singles final on Saturday, Alap will be up against another academy peer in top seed Kiran George, who ousted third seed Orijit Chaliha in straight games – 21,14, 21-8 – in the other semi-final.

Alap’s day was not over there, as he had to contest the boys doubles semi-final with partner Dhruv Rawat against the top seeds Vishnuvardhan Goud P and Sri Krishna Sai Kumar Podile.

Unfortunately for Alap, he did not have enough gas in the tank to give the top seeds a challenge. Vishnu and Krishna won the match easily 21-7, 22-20 in half an hour. In the final, they will take on second seeds Manjit Singh and Dingku Sing of Manipur.

The two girls singles semi-finals ended in straight games, as top seed Aakarshi Kashyap and third seed Purva Barve set up a title clash. Kashyap cruised to a 21-13, 21-12 win over Deepshikha Singh, while Barve had to work a bit harder for her 21-15, 21-19 victory over second seed Malvika Bansod.

Fifth seeds Tanisha Crasto and Aditi Bhatt reached the girls doubles final after knocking out the top seeds Ritika Thaker and Simran Singhi in three games: 21-14, 17-21, 21-10. In the summit clash, Tanisha and Aditi will take on the third seeds Shruti Mishra and Samridhi Singh, who beat second seeds Srishti Jupudi and Varshini VS comfortably 21-15, 21-10.

Tanisha had the chance of appearing in two finals, but she lost in the mixed doubles semis with partner Ishaan Bhatnagar after playing three games against third seeds Sai Pratheek Krishna Prasad and Ashwini Bhat K. Tanisha and Ishaan lost the match 6-21, 21-17, 19-21. In the final, they will take on fifth seeds Akshan Shetty and Rashi Lambe in the final, who defeated eighth seeds Dingku Sing and Priya Devi 21-19, 14-21, 21-15.