Barring a few players, the All-India Senior Ranking Badminton Tournament had a mediocre talent on display

As expected, it was an event which gave a feel of what sort of talent the Indian badminton has in the assembly line when some of the ‘second best’ category players vied for top honours in the All India Senior ranking badminton tournament at Film Nagar Cultural Centre in Hyderabad last week.

For the record, Sourabh Varma and Neha Pandit won the men’s and women’s singles titles respectively with relative ease though the former won against his brother Sameer Varma by default as the latter had pulled out in the second game after losing the first one because of an injury. It was a comeback of sorts for Neha Pandit when she outsmarted fancied Tanvi Lad in the women’s final.

In a way, this national-level tournament also served a reminder that all is not well in the girls category given the fact that only one of them – Rituparna Das – figured in the semi-final. Even in men’s section, only Bhamidipati Sai Praneeth was the lone local player in the semi-final though the quarter-finals featured two more from the City — M. Kanishq and A.S.S. Siril Varma. The early exit of two-time National champion B. Chetan Anand was one of the sad sights of the edition.

But clearly the one who caught the imagination of one and all is the gritty Nelakurthi Sikki Reddy, India’s top women’s doubles player (with her partner Aparna Balan). This 21-year-old braved off a career-threatening ligament tear suffered in 2009 which kept her away from the badminton court for 13 long months, has bagged a double winning the women’s doubles partnering Pradyna Gadre and then the mixed doubles title pairing with Manu Attri.

A performance, which should only help Sikki look far beyond the horizon. “I badly need a couple of big wins in the international circuit to get the kind of recognition I am looking for,” confesses the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games finalist (she lost to Saina Nehwal in a close final). But the best part is that she has the willingness to go that extra yard to keep improving.

“Never easy given the turbulent phase I went through when I almost thought it was all over because of that injury suffered during a tournament in the Asia circuit,” points out Sikki.

Well, that she continues to be the best bet in doubles when someone looks beyond the champion doubles player from Hyderabad – Gutta Jwala, it is Sikki who comes to mind of the critics. “I have a long way to go. I am focusing a lot to improve on many aspects of my game and I only hope this ‘double’ will help me realise my bigger goals,” says the confident shuttler.

Ironically, Sikki, who has been winning most of the national-level titles with the focus being more on doubles, is still in search of a decent job. This even as players with fewer achievements were more lucky in getting jobs in PSUs.