Trump card H. S. Prannoy had set himself up nicely with three match-point opportunities in the third game. A win would have effectively sealed the tie for the Ahmedabad Smash Masters and helped the team climb to the top of the table in the third edition of the Premier Badminton League.
But Thailand’s Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk kept Chennai Smashers alive in the contest by winning a 51-shot rally at 14-14 in the third game to take the match. Playing in front of a delirious home crowd at the JN Indoor Stadium for the first time ever, Chennai Smashers had to win the tie.
It was destiny.
With scores tied 1-1 at the end of the fourth match, P. V. Sindhu and Sumeeth Reddy won the deciding mixed doubles tie 15-14, 15-13 against Kamilia Rytter Juhi and Lee Chun Hei Reginald for a 2-1 victory. With nine points after four ties, Chennai Smashers will need a stupendous effort in the next match to stay in contention in the PBL , but the win spread some weekend cheer for the vociferous home fans.
The clash between Sindhu and World No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying was the most anticipated match of the day. And it fit the bill perfectly.
Both the shuttlers play attacking badminton and yet are completely different in the way they go about it. If Sindhu is the hard worker, Tai Tzu Ying is the trickster/magician. In a way, it felt a lot like a Federer-Nadal match. If Sindhu unflinchingly retrieves every shot that comes her way, like Nadal, Tai Tzu possesses the badminton version of the SABR (Sneak Attack By Roger).
Not only is it difficult to take a guess at the direction in which the shuttle is heading, the World No. 1 from Chinese Taipei mixes up the pace of the shots. What seems like an offensive forward motion for a shot, she stops midway and converts it into a dip shot. She magically concocts an extra half a second for her shots and relies more on placement than speed and that makes her one of the most dangerous players to combat on the court.
On Saturday, in front of a delirious home crowd which was witnessing Chennai Smashers play for the first time in the city, Sindhu found a way around it. Being one of the best retrievers helped. The Smashers star and Olympic silver medallist negated most of the deceptive shots thrown at her by putting the shuttle back in play from some unimaginable spots close to the net.
But Sindhu took her time to plot the win. The World No. 1 began solidly, deploying all her deceptive shots to race to a 5-1 lead in the first game. The edgy crowd kept Sindhu in good spirits despite the initial jitters. The first long rally of the game came when Sindhu was trailing 2-7.
The point, after Tai Tzu’s shot caught the net, helped the Indian build confidence. It helped her find the range as well. After losing two more points at the net, Sindhu managed to clear one from what one would consider an unplayable spot close to the net. That shook Tai Tzu’s confidence and she began to err. Taking advantage, Sindhu went on the offensive and pocketed the first game 15-11.
After an error-strewn first half in the second game from both the players, it was Tai Tzu who rose up to the challenge. At 5-6, the Taiwanese player hit the most aesthetically pleasing cross court smash - the poise of the player, the trajectory of the shuttle and the final dip at the corner of Sindhu’s short service line, it was a perfect shot. Just for that point, it was only befitting that Tai Tzu won that game.
The third game hit a crescendo with both the players outdoing each other with every shot. The 41-shot rally was indicative of the hunger both the players had to win the match. There was even an attempt at role reversal– Sindhu going for the deceptive shots and Tai Tzu attempting those traditional offensive shots. But it was Sindhu who survived the battle of nerves to win the match 15-11, 10-15, 15-12.
Soon after, Brice Leverdez of France undid all of Sindhu’s good work by losing his trump match to Sourabh Verma of India. Brice moved slowly on the court and was ineffective against an attacking Sourabh Verma. He lost 12-15, 15-14, 15-12.
But Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk was there to save the day for Chennai Smashers with a stunning victory over an aggressive H.S. Prannoy in another feisty clash of the day.
Prannoy, Ahmedabad’s trump card for the day, has frequently expressed his admiration for his PBL team-mate and World No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying. It was evident he was trying to emulate her skills at deceptive shot-making against Thailand’s Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk.
He was quite successful at it too. He combined aggression and deft play but lost some crucial points on unforced errors to gift the first game 10-15 to the Thai but cut down on his mistakes to win the second game and take the match to a decider. Deploying all the shots in their arsenal, the duo matched each other shot for shot; they even matched each other in the kind of errors they made.
The exchange of shots and winners put the duo at a nail-biting 14-14 junction, with the last point deciding the course of the entire contest. And the two reserved their best game for the last point. Matching shot for shot, block for block, they had the crowd standing up in excitement and hooting for every stroke. It took a 51-shot rally of the highest quality to decide the winner of the match. Tanongsak sent down a body smash to be that winner. Chennai needed that win to survive the contest. On Saturday, the hunger for survival triumphed.
In the first match of the day, Kidambi Nandagopal and Lee Hei Reginald put Ahmedabad Smashers on the points board with a 15-13, 15-12 win over Lee Yang and Chris Adcock. While Reginald took charge of the backcourt, Nandagopal, K. Srikanth’s elder brother, manned the net for the first game.
Nandagopal didn’t possess a destructive smash and was often targeted by the opponents, but he rose up to the challenge, blocked the smashes coming right at him and earned his team a creditable win in the first match. Lee Reginald, the quicker of the two, did his part well to win the matches.