Arundhati Pantawane's dream run continues and how! Coming through the qualifying rounds and showing fierce determination, she gatecrashed into the 75th National badminton ladies singles final after saving five match-points spread over two marathon matches on Sunday.
On a day when Dhar-based Saurabh Varma stunned top seed and defending champion Chetan Anand in the men's quarterfinals before falling to Arvind Bhat, favourite P. Kashyap escaped to victory against the National junior champion P. Sai Praneeth, his sparring partner at the Gopi Chand Academy at Hyderabad.
Stamina of the Indian women shuttlers has always been questionable.
But on this day, Arundhati, “the first outstation trainee” of the Gopi Chand Academy — that she joined in 2006 — and the more experienced Aditi Mutatkar dismissed that debate.
Aditi, coming back following a knee-injury, scripted inspired performances to stun 2008 winner Sayali Gokhale, seeded two, and went on to reach the final at the expense of her good friend Neha Pandit, the third seed who is also her practice partner at Pune.
Arundhati, winner at Bareilly and runner-up at Bangalore in two major ranking tournaments this season, defeated the National junior girls' champion 9-21, 24-22, 21-18 in 55 minutes. She saved match-points at 19-20 and 21-22 in the second game and then battled from a 11-17 deficit in the decider to leave young Sindhu stunned in defeat.
Following this energy-sapping match, the Nagpur girl returned and battled fourth seed P. C. Thulasi for 66 minutes for a 21-14, 19-21, 24-22 triumph after saving three match-points in the decider.
She appeared short of energy but it was her determination that carried her against all odds.
“For the past four months, I have been playing for a club in the cold environs of Stockholm raised my confidence. And of course, playing the Gopi Chand Academy has helped my game,” said Arundhati.
She now faces Aditi to whom she lost in the pre-quarterfinals of the last edition but defeated in the team championship earlier this week.
Aditi, using all her experience, stepped up the pace when trailing in the decider against a tiring Neha to repeat the triumph of the team event.
Earlier, the men's semifinal featuring Kashyap and Praneeth produced plenty of thrills. The two, well accustomed to each other's style of play, battled for every point with Praneeth, backed by the crowd, looking better to come out stronger.
He clearly won more positive points but gave away far too easy “kills” for the confident Kashyap on the big points.
Bhat got the better of Varma, also in three games, to earn the right to challenge Kashyap. Varma, who was at his defensive best against Chetan, ran out of steam in the decider against a more organised Bhat.
The results (suffix indicates seeding):
Men (semifinals): 8-Arvind Bhat bt 5-Saurabh Varma 21-15, 13-21, 21-9; 13-P. Kashyap bt 16-P. Sai Praneeth 18-21, 21-14, 21-19.
Quarterfinals: Varma bt 1-Chetan Anand 16-21, 21-7, 22-20; Bhat bt Pratul Joshi 21-18, 21-7; Kashyap bt 7-Ajay Jayaram 21-10, 21-14; Praneeth bt 15-Guru Sai Dutt 21-14, 21-19.
Women singles (semifinals): Arundhati Pantawane bt 4-P. C. Thulasi 21-14, 19-21, 24-22; 7-Aditi Mutatkar bt 3-Neha Pandit 21-15, 18-21, 21-13.
Quarterfinals: Arundhati bt 6-P. V. Sindhu 9-21, 24-22, 21-18; Thulasi bt 5-Anita Ohlan 21-19, 21-16; Neha bt Gauri Ghate 21-12, 21-18; Aditi bt 2-Sayali Gokhale 21-15, 21-17.
Women doubles (semifinals): 1-Aparna Balan and Prajakta Sawant bt Meenakshi Nair and Mohita Sahdev 21-15, 21-11; 2-Pradnya Gadre and 4-P. Jyotsna bt Shruti Kurien and Nitya Sosale 21-13, 21-18.
Men doubles (semifinals): 4-Rupesh Kumar and Sanave Thomas bt 1-Akshay Dewalkar and Arun Vishnu 21-16, 21-13; 3-Manu Attaree and Jishnu Sanyal bt Pranav Chopra and K. Tarun 21-19, 21-17.
Mixed doubles (semifinals): 1-Arun Vishnu and Aparna Balan bt K. Srikanth and P. Jyotsna 21-18, 21-15; 2-Pranav Chopra and Prajakta Sawant bt 3-Akshay Dewalkar and Pradnya Gadre 19-21, 21-16, 21-19 .