Badminton prodigies fly high on Panchkula courts

Nitin Sharma
Players in action during the 28th Smt Krishna Khaitan Memorial All India Junior Ranking Prize Money Badminton Tournament at Tau Devi Lal sports complex in Panchkula on Sunday (Express photo: Jaipal Singh)

As top-seed 16-year-old Maisnam Meiraba of Manipur completed the 21-12, 21-11 win over second-seed Sathish Kumar of Tamil Nadu to claim the U-19 boys title and Krishna Khaitan Memorial Trophy in the Yonex Sunrise 28th Smt Krishna Khaitan Memorial All India Junior Ranking Prize Money Badminton Tournament at Tau Devi Lal Sports Complex on Sunday, the junior world number 15 patted Kumar s back and headed towards his father and coach Maisnam Romesh Luwang. The Manipuri player, who shifted base to Bengaluru in 2013 to train at Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy, won his fifth All India U-19 ranking title of the year. Sunday s win in one of the two selection tournaments for the upcoming Junior World Championship to be held in Russia in October almost cemented Meiraba s place in the Indian team for Russia.

It feels special to win my fifth U-19 title of the year here. The fact that my father was also watching me win the title makes it more special. He has been my first coach and always keeps track of my wins. My father played at the national level in the 1980s before he became a coach and if I make it to the Indian team for the World Junior Badminton Championship this year, it will be a dream come true for him. Winning the All India U-19 Ranking Tournament here will add to my confidence ahead of this week s All India U-19 Ranking tournament at Bengaluru and I want to cement my place in the Indian team for World Junior Championship, said Meiraba, who had won four All India U-19 ranking titles last year.

winners along with guests pose for photographers. (Express photo: Jasbir Malhi)

While it was Sathish s third loss of the year against Meiraba, the Tamil Nadu youngster believes that the final appearance will add to his confidence. Sathish, who belongs to Coimbatore and trains at Asian Sports Centre at Hyderabad, was watched by parents R Karunakaran and K Jayanthi as he won the Aiyappa Trophy for the player of the tournament (boys). The youngster, who was also part of the Indian U-17 team, which played in the Asian U-17 junior badminton Championship at Myanmar in 2017, is currently ranked second in the U-19 national rankings and is hopeful of making the cut for the Indian team for World Junior Badminton Championship. I started playing at the of 13 years and we shifted from Chennai to Coimbatore as we wanted to train at an academy in Coimbatore. I have been reaching semi-finals in the All India U-19 ranking tournaments this year but never reached final before this tournament. This final appearance will boost my confidence a lot and help my game ahead of the Bengaluru tournament, said Sathish.

If it was Sathish, who was adjudged the best player of the tournament (boys), Delhi player Aditi Bhatt was adjudged the best player of the tournament (girls). Bhatt, whose father Manoj is a 1991 Santosh Trophy winner from Maharashtra, originally hails from Ranikhet, Uttrakhand, and trains in Delhi, where her family is currently based. Bhatt won her first All India U-19 title on Sunday and also won the girls doubles title partnering with Tanisha Crasto of Goa. It was the third U-19 doubles title for the pair, who had also won the U-19 title in the last year s nationals. My father played for Mahindra and Mahindra and he wanted me to play any sport. My elder brother plays football and my father always keeps track of my achievements. My mother Poonam Bhatt was also here to see me win the girls singles and doubles titles and it means a lot for me and my family, Bhatt said.

Sathish Kumar with the Aiyappa Rolling Trophy. (Express photo: Jasbir Malhi)

Bhatt s doubles winning partner Tanisha Crasto, whose family is based in Dubai, earlier partnered with Ishaan Bhatnagar to claim the Sasha Goenka trophy for U-19 mixed doubles title with a 20-22, 21-16. 21-13 win over the pair of Dhruv Rawat and Trisha Hegde. Seventeen-year-old Bhatnagar, who belongs to Raipur, Chattisgarh, had earlier partnered with Crasto to reach the semi-finals in mixed doubles category in the All India Senior ranking badminton Tournament at Hyderabad earlier this year apart from reaching the final of the All India U-19 Ranking Tournament at Chennai in May this year. The pair also had reached the quarter-finals in the Bulgarian Junior International Championship last week. Last year the pair had reached the semi-finals of the Junior National Championship at Lucknow. We have been playing together for the last 18 months and competing at the U-19 level will also help us at the senior level. This is our first U-19 mixed doubles title and it feels good to win the tournament at Panchkula. Last week, we reached the quarter-finals in Bulgaria and it also boosted our confidence. Hopefully, we can continue the form in this week s tournament in Bengaluru and make it to the Indian team for World Junior Championship, said Bhatnagar, who is ranked 11th along with Crasto in the U-19 national rankings.

Unlike other pairs, the boys doubles pair of Iman Sonowal of Assam and Yash Raikwar of Madhya Pradesh have been playing together for the last six months only. The pair had won the boys U-19 doubles title in the All India U-19 Ranking Tournament at Vijaywada earlier this year and on Sunday, the pair scored a 21-12, 21-15 win over the top-seed pair of Manjit Singh Khwairakpam and Dingku Singh Konthoujam to win the Anant Goenka Trophy for boys U-19 doubles and to win their second title of the year. Raikwar, who trains at Suchitra badminton Academy at Dhar, Madhya Pradesh, had won the U-13 doubles title with Tukum Laa of Arunchal Pradesh in the junior nationals at Cuttack in 2013. Raikwar partnered with his brother Aman Raikwar to reach the boys doubles final in the junior nationals at Udupi in 2016. Both me and my brother started playing badminton at Raja Devi Singh Club at Dhar. The club had three courts and we would wait for our turn to play. Winning the U-13 title with Tukum Laa was a special win for me and later I would partner with my brother Aman. I decided to partner with Iman earlier this year and today s title win is our second title of the year, said Raikwar. Eighteen-year-old Sonowal, who belongs to Tinsukia in Assam, is currently ranked 12th in the boys U-19 singles rankings in India, and believes that Sunday s win will increase their chances to make it to the Indian team. I have played with different partners in the last three years and playing with Yash has meant that we have won two titles so far. Khwairakpam/Konthoujam were the top seed in this tournament and to win the final against them is a special win for us, Sonowal said.

It was also a day to remember for Haryana players Ravi Kumar and Sakshi Gahlawat, who were adjudged the best players of the tournament of Haryana in boys and girls categories respectively. Both the players train under coach Harvinder Malik at Malik Badminton Academy, Sonipat. Ravi, who had scored win over 10th-seed Sonowal in the tournament, lost to eventual winner Meiraba in the quarter-finals. Competing against higher- ranked players in U-19 category has given me a lot of confidence. Last year, I had competed in the Asian U-17 Junior Championship in Myanmar where I lost in the third round. I hope I can learn from this experience and reach the semi-finals or finals in the upcoming tournaments, said Kumar, who was given the Ram Sewak Aggarwal trophy. Gahlawat had ended the challenge of second-seed Amolika Singh before losing to eventual winner Aditi Bhatt in the quarter-finals. Scoring the win against second-seed Amolika Singh is something which I will remember for a long time. Aditi has been playing on the national circuit for long and competing against a player like her will help my game, said Gahlawat, who was given the Neera Datt trophy.

This year, the tournament saw participation of more than 800 players and the tournament acted as one of the selection tournaments for the Indian junior team s selection for the World Junior Championship to be played in Russia later this year. In the past, players like Rio Olympic silver medallist P V Sindhu, 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Saina Nehwal and former world number one player Kidambi Srikanth had won the title in the previous editions of the tournament, which is being conducted by Express Shuttle Club Trust under the aegis of Haryana Badminton Association. Being one of the selection tournaments for the selection of the Indian team for world junior badminton championships, the tournament sees a lot of participation from players from all over India apart from top-ranked players in the country. We are thankful to Viveck Goenka, chairman, Express Shuttle Club trust, who started the tournament in 1991, said Sanjiv Sachdeva, former Indian chief junior coach and organising secretary of the tournament.