Hyderabad seals final spot with 3-0 win over Delhi

B. Sai Praneeth and Carlina Marin won the trump matches on the day to seal the tie for the home side.

Carolina Marin exults after winning a point in her match against Sung Ji Hyun.   -  K. V. S. Giri

Carolina Marin came back with a vengeance after losing her first ever game in the tournament to help Hyderabad Hunters storm into the final of the third edition of Premier Badminton League after B. Sai Praneeth put paid to Delhi’s hopes with win over trump card Tian Houwei. 

As it happened

After Ashwini Ponnappa and Ivanov Vladimir had given Delhi Dashers the first points with a 13-15, 15-10, 15-10 win over Pia Zebadiah Bernadet and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, Hyderabad Hunters won the next two trump matches to register a 3-0 win in the semifinal at the Gachibowli Indoor Stadium in Hyderabad on Friday.

It was an unnaturally slow and frustrating start for Hyderabad’s trump card Carolina Marin. She erred with her smashes, her forehand nudges went wide and drops were falling outside the tramline. South Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun was there to lap it all up and take the first game.  

Backed by the slogan-chanting home crowd, Marin began to play more confidently in the second game and raced to a 4-0 lead. It was Carolina Marin in full flow. Her rhythmic skip-hop smashes were back in view and she was moving around the court well.

Sung Ji Hyung, taller than Marin by an inch, tried to counter-attack with hard smashes, but Marin put the shuttle back in play with reflexive returns. She didn’t just block the smashes to put the shuttle back into play, she returned them back with force to catch Sung Ji Hyun off guard and change the pace of the game.  

She won the second game quite comfortably at 15-10.

Read: Marin 'very impressed' with Sai Praneeth

Once Marin found her rhythm, there was little the Korean could do to salvage the match that was clearly ebbing away from her. To her credit, she didn’t give up. Despite losing their previous match in the league stage, Sung Ji Hyun kept sending down powerful smashes. Marin dived right and dived left to hit returns from just inches off the floor and was back in position soon enough to close them out with smash winners. Sung Ji Hyun could only smile at the futility of her efforts against the Olympic champion who had found her zone just in time to send Hyderabad Hunters into the final.  

It was B. Sai Praneeth who set the stage for Hyderabad’s entry into final by registering an emphatic 15-9, 15-8 win over Delhi’s trump card Tian Houwei of China. That effectively cancelled out Ashwini and Ivanov’s hard-fought win in the first match.

World No. 16 Sai Praneeth, who repeated his Singapore Super Series title-winning heroics against Awadhe Warriors’ Srikanth in the league stage, was in his elements again in the match against an ageing Houwei. Springing up and down the court with quick feet movements Praneeth gave a telling account of Indian badminton’s place in the world map by blowing away the challenge of the only Chinese player in the league 15-9, 15-8.

Houwei was more measured in his movements and lost many a points to Praneeth’s hard smashes to his left corner. Ironically, Praneeth had scraped to a win in the previous match against Chong Wei Feng despite losing many points in his left corner.

On Friday, he hardly let the veteran player feed the shuttle to his weak spot. Houwei began moving around the court with a lot more intent in the second game, but Praneeth elevated his game to the next level by judiciously judging the out calls and coming up with pleasing service return winners. 

A cross-court smash beyond the reach of an outstretched Houwei, a well-placed half smash to Houwei’s left gave Praneeth his first match point at 14-9. As the Chinese player’s attempted clear sailed long, Praneeth raised his hands and soaked in the adulation of the crowd. He had done enough. He knew Marin would do the rest to take Hyderabad Hunters into its maiden final.