With Saina Nehwal skipping the badminton trials for the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games after accusing the association (BAI) of ignoring the hectic international schedule, the focus on the five-day event that ended here on Wednesday was to find the next line in women’s singles.
Saina Nehwal is India No 2 (world No 23), behind PV Sindhu (world No 7) who has been given direct selection. The 32-year-old though has struggled with form and fitness. At the All England Championships, she provided glimpses of revival by how she took Japan’s world No 2 and eventual winner Akane Yamaguchi to three games. Her absence in Delhi though opened the way for the next generation of women’s singles players to stake claim in major events–CWG, Asian Games and the Uber Cup. For long, Sindhu and Nehwal have been pivotal to India’s success in multi-disciplinary events and team competitions.
The women’s singles had 19 players. Aakarshi Kashyap was the winner, beating left-handed Ashmita Chaliha 21-10, 17-21, 21-15 in a tough contest at the IG Stadium on Wednesday. The fight for third place was equally exciting and 14-year-old Unnati Hooda grabbed the opportunity with a 21-18, 21-16 win over Aditi Bhatt, who recently won the Polish Open. There will be two women’s singles entries for CWG and three each for Asian Games and Uber Cup.
It will be a big break for Bhilai player Aakarshi Kashyap, 20, who was in the 2018 Asian Games squad in Jakarta but didn’t get to play. She reached the India Open semi-finals this year and got an entry for All England too.
“This whole year is very important. India has done well at the Commonwealth Games. I played at the Badminton Asia Championships so that experience will be helpful,” she said. “After the Covid break, I won the all-India ranking tournament in Chennai and finished runner-up in Hyderabad in 2021. That boosted my confidence and then making it to the semi-finals of India Open (she lost to Busanan Ongbamrungphan) was big. It has been a good season and now winning the trials and getting to play in major events, I think will take me to the next level.”
Rohtak’s Unnati Hooda has been a revelation since winning the Odisha Open by toppling some big names, including world No 56 Malvika Bansod. Breaking through at such a young age has evoked comparisons with Saina.
“This is the first time that she will be part of the core group and she will get to play the top players,” says her coach Parvesh Kumar, who trains her at Rohtak’s Chhotu Ram stadium.
In men’s singles, Priyanshu Rajawat defeated Kiran George 21-15, 18-21, 21-10 while women’s doubles saw Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand beat the seasoned Sikki Reddy and Ashwini Ponnappa 21-10, 21-7 for the top place.