Even before the senior national badminton championship had begun, Saina Nehwal was considered the runaway favourite. And the way the 17-year-old bulldozed her way through to the final, it looked like the summit clash would be a mere formality.
But then the pressure of winning the title at any cost she had lost the last two finals and a gutsy opponent in Aditi Mutatkar ensured that the encounter was not a mere stroll in the park for the top seed.
The Hyderabadi girl had to work hard to clinch a straight-sets win. She prevailed 21-19, 21-17.
The victory also means that the Olympian Badminton Challenge Cup would change hands after nine years. Aparna Popat – who opted out of the tournament due to a wrist injury – had been unbeaten in the competition since 1997.
Meanwhile, third seed Chetan Anand regained the men’s singles title after a gap of two years when he beat Anand Pawar 21-18, 21-17 in the final.
Saina began her march towards the title with a flurry of cross-court smashes and drop shots, opening up a 7-1 lead in no time.
With the 17-year-old dominating the initial exchanges it looked like the encounter would be over in no time but then Mutatkar hung on.
The reigning junior national champion has overcome a career-threatening knee injury to find her way to the top and she was determined not to go down without a fight.
She began mixing her shots and targetted Saina’s backhand. It was a move that caught the champion off guard.
In fact, at one stage Mutatkar looked like she would become the first player in the tournament to take a set from Saina. But then a lucky net chord at 19-18 helped Saina draw level and she made it count by winning the next two points with superb net play.
In the second set, Mutatkar tried involving Saina in long rallies and though she did manage to win a few skirmishes the champion always looked in control.
The men’s final was a test of Pawar’s ability to stop Chetan from playing his free flowing game but Chetan was at his best and came through easily.
Saina Nehwal bt Aditi Mutatkar 21-19, 21-17; Chetan Anand bt Anand Pawar 21-18, 21-17; Sanave Thomas & Rupesh Kumar bt JBS Vidyadhar and V Diju 21-9, 21-19.