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By Our Special Correspondent
Sachin Ratti of Railways (left) and B.R. Meenakshi of PSCB who won the men's and women's titles respectively in the Hari Chand memorial badminton tournament at Kanpur on Saturday.
The men's final of the Hari Chand memorial rating tournament at the packed Harsh Tiwari badminton hall at the Green Park Stadium here saw Ratti hit back from 0-5 and 2-6 to save four match-points in the deciding game for a memorable 8-6, 0-7, 7-4, 2-7, 8-6 triumph.
This 68-minute battle, which ended when Gopi netted a service-return, may not have risen to the heights of the Gopi-Arvind Bhatt semifinal on Friday, but the dramatic turnabout will surely be etched in the memory of the spectators for a long time.
Ratti's dream victory eclipsed everything else. B.R. Meenakshi's laboured victory over an out-of-practice Neelima Choudhary was pushed to the background. A "well-prepared'' Meenakshi's third successive victory over Neelima came in 50 minutes, the score-line being 6-8, 7-2, 7-5, 8-6. Meenakshi received Rs. 30,000 while Neelima collected Rs. 16,000.
If Bhatt showed that Gopi was beatable, Ratti went a step ahead and actually beat everybody's favourite. Though Gopi twice levelled the match and seemed well poised to finish off the match, it was the 22-year-old Ratti who gave it his all and walked away with much more.
More than his first ranking title in the country in the last couple of years and the Rs. 40,000 winner's share, Ratti gained the respect of Gopi and all his peers in the country. After all, against Gopi, Ratti had nothing to lose and everything to play for.
``Having beaten Gopi (7-5, 7-5, 7-5) at Udaipur (in November last year), my confidence was high. I played my natural game and attacked even when I was down in the deciding game. Towards the end, he gave away a few negative points but I got a few positive ones, too,'' said an exhausted and jubilant Ratti, who is presently training under former Internationals Vikram Singh and Madhumita Bisht in the New Delhi-based SAI Academy.
``Now that I've done well against the World's top-10 player two occasions, I am now aiming to improve my record overseas. Now I really feel confident that I can do it. Of course, I'll have to work harder on my game,'' were Ratti's words after posting "a very signficant result'' of his career.
Gopi, having blown away the chances that came his way, was candid in his assessement of the match. "I messed it up in the end. What can you say when you commit such simple errors on the short serves? On match-point, I hit a mid-court shuttle wide and then netted twice. But Sachin did well to capitalise on the chances, though he was not required to pull off anything special. Still, he played very well.''
Describing the result as "not a pleasant one,'' Gopi maintained that he would continue to play in the domestic championships. "When you play abroad, you don't play with clipped shuttles. You don't play in sweat-soaked socks and shorts. But then, these are the same conditions where I played for so long and did well. So there can be no excuses. It is important for me to win at home as well. I hope we have more tournaments in the country and I get to play in them,'' said Gopi, who is "about 70 to 80 per cent fit'' at the moment and uses an ankle-support on this right foot.
Some how, right through the match, Gopi's body-language was not very positive. Though Gopi later put aside suggestions that yesterday's match may have taken a toll on his stamina, he seemed to lack the confidence with which he monopolised the domestic circuit for so long. To make matters worse, his defence let him down and the percentage of errors from the backhand, especially at the net, were uncharacteristically high on this day.
But no praise is too high for Ratti. After being written off by the people who matter in Indian badminton, this gritty Railwayman has come back on the right track. After all, it is no mean achievement to beat a top-10 player in the World twice in succession.
From Indian badminton's point of view, it was great to see Bhatt and Ratti do so well against Gopi, who earlier this month beat the World champion Hendrawan and World No. 3 Lin Dan on way to the Japan Open semifinals.
Ratti's fighting qualities were there for everyone to see as he fought off four game-points in the first game, where he was down 2-6 at one stage. Despite being blown away by Gopi in the second, which lasted just four minutes, Ratti again came back from 3-4 to wrap up the third game. Undeterred Gopi jumped to a 4-0 lead in the fourth before forcing the decider without being threatened. But in the decider, Ratti was destined to have the last laugh.
Later, in the men's doubles final, Jaseel P. Ismail and Jaison Xavier outwitted National champions Sanave Thomas and V. Diju 7-3, 7-0, 1-7, 7-3 and collected Rs. 15,000 each. The runners-up shared Rs. 16,000.
The women's doubles final, that followed, was far more dramatic. P.V.V. Lakshmi and C.H. Deepti woke up at 0-5 in the deciding game against comeback-lady Manjusha Kanwar and Archana Deodhar to win 7-1, 7-2, 5-7, 3-7, 7-5. Interestingly, in the third and fourth games, Manjusha and Archana had rallied from 0-5 and 1-3 to respectively. The winners shared Rs. 25,000 and the runners-up, Rs. 13,000.
The results (finals):
Men's singles: Sachin Ratti (Rlys) bt P. Gopi Chand (IOC) 8-6, 0-7, 7-4, 2-7, 8-6.
Women's singles: B.R. Meenakshi (PSCB) bt Neelima Choudhary (PSCB) 6-8, 7-2, 7-5, 8-6.
Men's doubles: Jaseel P. Ismail and Jaison Xavier (PSCB) bt Sanave Thomas and V. Diju (Ker) 7-3, 7-0, 1-7, 7-3.
Women's doubles: P.V.V. Lakshmi (PSCB) and C.H. Deepti (AP) bt Manjusha Kanwar (PSCB) and Archana Deodhar (Mah) 7-1, 7-2, 5-7, 3-7, 7-5.
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