Sindhu the cynosure; Kashyap keen to excel

PSPB favourites to retain titles in team events

Teen badminton sensation PV Sindhu will be the star attraction in the Senior National Badminton Championship, which returns to the capital after 14 years, at the Siri Fort Sports Complex here.

Sindhu, who won the title in 2011, raised her career graph with a string of exciting performances on the international circuit this year. The 18-year-old won two Grand Prix events and also became the Indian woman to win a World Championship medal -- a bronze.

Her consistent performances have leapfrogged her to the career-best ranking of World No 10 and made up for the slump in form of ace Saina Nehwal, who has slipped to No 6 this year.

Meanwhile, Saina continued to skip the national championships in which she had last participated in 2008.

As been her wont in these five years, she pulled out at the last minute, citing ill health, and left the sponsors, the Badminton Association of India and her employers PSPB groping for a suitable explanation. She remains the top seed in the individual event as she pulled out after the draw was made.

The strong Petroleum Sports Promotion Board will be favourites to retain the team titles in men’s and women’s event starting on Wednesday.

The focus of the individual competitions, beginning Friday, will be on Sindhu and defending men’s champion Parupalli Kashyap, who has skipped the team event due to shoulder injury.

While Sindhu has raised the bar for herself this year, she knows she cannot take the risk of being complacent. The defeat in the final of the previous edition to Sayali Gokhale is fresh in her mind.

“In the last one year I have improved a lot but I will not like to take anything easy. There are many good players like Arundhati (Pantawane), PC Thulasi, and, of course, Sayali (Gokhale) is there too. She is in the top half and I am looking forward to a good competition against her,” said Sindhu, who reached here on Monday afternoon.

She has got a bye in the first round and is likely to meet fifth-seeded Thulasi in the quarterfinals. Defending champion Sayali is seeded seventh in the tournament and has got an easy passage to the last-four stage in absence of Saina, who was in her quarter of the draw.

Former national runner-up Arundhati Pantawane, seeded third, too has got an easy draw till the semifinals. The progress of junior national champion and 15th-seed Rituparna Das in the senior tournament would be keenly followed. She, though, is all set to clash against former champion and eighth-seeded Trupti Murgunde before the semifinals.

In the men’s event, top seed Kashyap will like to end the year on a high after a tepid season which saw his world rankings plummet to No 14.

Snapping at Kashyap’s heels will be Ajay Jayaram, HS Prannoy, K Srikanth, RMV Gurusaidutt and Sourabh Verma. Fourth-seeded Anand Pawar will be a dangerous floater in the draw. In the women’s doubles, the comeback pair and former champions Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa will like to drive home a point ahead of the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games next year.

The fast improving pair of Pradnya Gadre and Sikki Reddy, who beat them in the finals of the recently concluded Tata Open International Challenge event in Mumbai, will pose a strong challenge.

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