Victorious Fighters soar to top of the table

Castelino, Jacqueline shine in win over Lions

 Rohan Castelino of Aratt Fighters in action against B R Sankeerth of Li Ning Lions in the Karnataka Badminton League on Monday. DH PHOTO

Having already made the semifinal cut following their 3-2 win over Team Cane Boutique on a thrilling Sunday, the big-spenders warmed for the business end in style by signing off the seven-team league phase at the summit.

The Fighters thus finished with 10 points -- five wins and a loss – while nearest rivals HB Challengers are second with the same points tally. Since the Fighters defeated the Challengers in the league, they finish first and Challengers second according to tournament rules.

Despite not taking the court, Cane Boutique (6 points) qualified for the semis in third place and their match on the morrow against K2 Smashers is inconsequential. However, all eyes will be on Flypower Warriors-White Peacock clash, the winner going through to the knock-out phase as the fourth team. Both Warriors and Peacocks are locked at four points each.

Showing little effects of his three-game humdinger less than 24 hours earlier against Mohit Kamat, the former Junior National champion Castelino flirted with danger due to complacency before re-imposing his authority in a 21-7, 21-23, 21-6 defeat of BR Sankeerth to put the Fighters 1-0 ahead.

Jacqueline, who is yet to taste defeat in the tournament from six matches, dished out another impressive performance, beating Jamunarani 21-16, 21-18 as the Fighters led 2-0.

Missing their most expensive player in Ashwini Ponnappa, the Fighters were found wanting in the third mixed doubles. The pair of Harshit Agarwal-Anusha GM were no match for Venkatesh Prasad and Nitya Sosale, the Lions’ duo winning 21-17, 21-13 to delay the proceedings. However, Kamaldeep Singh wrapped up the rubber for the Fighters in the fourth match, defeating Irshad Khan 21-17, 21-12.

Castelino took off in blazing fashion, running the clueless Sankeerth ragged with his vast array of strokes. Using the tie as a practice match for the bigger challenges, Castelino toyed with Sankeerth, experimenting many shots that one would hardly venture into in an equal contest.

Smashes, lobs, long services, short services, it all flowed from the racquet of Castelino and with everything working to his plans, Sankeerth lost the extremely lop-sided opening game in about 10 minutes.

Perhaps, the ease at which he won the opener made Castelino take things for granted in the second game. Trying one trick too many, Castelino was caught by surprise as Sankeerth cashed in on his complacency in brilliant fashion.

Despite the rising unforced errors, Castelino hardly threw caution to the wind, and by the time he did, Sankeerth was in command. Trailing 16-19, Castelino won three points in a row but a lob to the net gave Sankeerth game point. Serves kept interchanging during the final phase but Sankeerth kept his nerves to win the second and level the contest after Castelino hit long. Not willing to risk anything in the crucial decider, Castelino realised his mistakes and stuck to his basics before unleashing his supremacy halfway the game. Leading 11-4, the youngster galloped to 20-6 lead before sealing the win when Sankeerth hit wide.

Results: Aratt Fighters lead Li Li Ning Lions 4-1 (Rohan Castelino bt Sankeerth BR 21-7, 21-23, 21-6; Jacqueline Kunnath bt Jamunarani 21-16, 21-18; Harshit Agarwal/ Anusha GM lt to Venkatesh Prasad/ Nitya Sosale 17-21, 21-13; Kamaldeep Singh bt Irshad Khan 21-17, 21-12; Govind MK/ Naveen Ubhayakar bt Abhinand Shetty/ Adarsh Kumar 21-17, 21-14).).

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