In one of the most stunning results in a BWF Grand Prix Gold event, concluded at the German city of Mulheim an der Ruhr on March 2, 2014, unseeded Arvind Bhat of India surprised the Badminton community in emerging as the most unlikely champion. The 34-year old Bhat, who was once India’s national champion, played brilliantly through the tournament, and beginning with the first round, made short work of most of his opponents. Bhat is well past his prime and he is currently ranked 87 in the world as per BWF. To his credit, he is the winner of 6 international titles, two of which are the Scottish Open in 2004 and Czech International in 2007. But that was many years ago and for some time his participation in major tournaments has seen a decline. It was, therefore, unexpected to watch the veteran getting the better of several higher ranked players in the Yonex sponsored tournament in Germany.
Arvind Bhat began his German Open campaign with an easy first round match against Germany’s qualifier Ari Trisnanto, whom he beat 21-18, 21-12. However, Bhat had a tough second round, where he was up against Hong Kong’s third seed, Yun Hu, who is ranked no. 10 in the world. Though Hu lost the first set to Bhat 17-21, he bounced back in the second to win 21-16 and leveled the set scores to 1-1. At this point Bhat displayed devastating form and Hu didn’t know what hit him. Bhat closed the match by winning the final set and the match 21-17, 16-21, 21-11 in just under one hour. In the third round, Bhat was unstoppable against the Malaysian world no. 40 Daren Liew, whom he outclassed in 38 minutes with a match score of 21-14, 21-12.
In the quarterfinal Bhat had to face Denmark’s 20 year old 14th seed Viktor AXELSEN, who is ranked 26 in the world. Bhat surprised Axelsen with a 35 minute display of sublime badminton by beating the Dane 21-17, 21-14 and setting up a semifinal clash with 15th seed Chinese Taipei Tien Chen Chou. It was a one of the toughest games for Bhat against the world no. 24 Chen Chou, who fought bitterly till the end. But maintaining his great form, Bhat had the last laugh in beating his more formidable opponent 12-21, 21-12, 22-20 in 55 minutes.
In the championship match, Bhat faced the tournament 12th seed and world no. 25 Hans-Kristian Vittinghus of Denmark. The match began with a hard-fought first set, which could have gone either way. Vittinghus had taken a 4-point lead in jumping to 12-8, but Bhat displayed a remarkable fighting spirit in saving two game points and finally prevailed by taking the set 24-22. Hans-Kristian Vittinghus came back strongly in the second set and beat the Indian 21-19. With set scores level, it was expected that the title fight could become bitter in the final set. But Bhat drew on his mental reserves and prevailed in the end. With the easy third set win, Bhat emerged the champion with the final score of 24-22, 19-21, 21-11.
Bhat is known for his belated national title at the age of 29, though his current rank among Indians has slipped to 10. All this, however, did not matter in his lifting the first-ever Grand Prix Gold title at German Open. It was the most spectacular week for the veteran Arvind Bhat, when he became only the second Indian to win a Grand Prix Gold-level title in Europe. Earlier, Bhat’s illustrated predecessor, P Gopichand was credited with winning such an event.
In contrast to Arvind Bhat’s dream display through the week-long event, other Indians had a rather poor run in the tournament. P Kashyap, HS Prannoy and Anand Pawar lost early without making any mark while, in the women’s category, Arundhati Pantawane and PC Thulasi were also listless.
While Bhat won the men’s crown, the sixth seeded Japanese Sayaka Takahashi won the women’s singles by beating the top-seed Korean woman Sung Ji Hyun 21-17, 8-21, 21-12.