When Aravind Bhat served for the senior national singles title in 2002 at Lucknow, he cracked under pressure and missed three match points to lose out on the crown. Seven years and three more failed attempts later, the 29-year-old once against got a chance to carve his name on the Vikas Topiwala Challenge Cup and he did it with minimum fuss on Wednesday.
The top seed missed a match point but kept his cool to defeat his Petroleum Sports Promotion Board teammate P Kashyap 21-19, 21-14 at the Abhay Prashal complex. Air India's Sayali Gokhale gave her team their first national title when she overcame a stiff challenge from Kerala's P.C. Thulasi 21-17, 16-21, 21-13.
The men's singles final turned out to be a low quality affair with both players not playing to their potential. The cautious approach was visible from the start and Bhat had already lost five points in the first game when he began to find his touch.
Kashyap was proving superior in the net exchanges and his impeccable defence meant the top seed had to come up with a different strategy. Bhat did just that, opting to play flatter and use his height advantage for sharp cross-court smashes whenever the opportunity arose.
His opponent, on the other hand, used quite a few tactics to unsettle the Bharat Petroleum employee, given his history of cracking under pressure in big games. However, Bhat was up to the task this time and wrapped up the tie. "A seven-year wait for a national crown is not something I will want anyone to go through," said the world No. 27.
In the women's singles final, Sayali had to overcome a tenacious Thulasi and her own nerves to pocket her maiden national title. The Prakash Padukone Academy trainee looked stiff at the start and handed Thulasi the initiative. But once the nerves were settled, the 22-year-old began using her deft touches and deceptive drops to unsettle her junior opponent.
Nerves once again got the better of Sayali in the second game as she made numerous errors but came back strongly in the decider to wrap up the final.
Doubles specialists Jwala Gutta and Shruti Kurien bagged their seventh consecutive and eighth overall women's doubles title when they thrashed Railways' Dhanya Nair and Anita Ohlan 21-12, 21-13.