Awadhe Warriors took itself a step closer to the semifinals of Premier Badminton League (PBL) 2018-19 with a hard-fought 4-3 win over Chennai Smashers at Sree Kanteerava Indoor Stadium in Bengaluru on Monday.
After coming close to securing a win in the penultimate match through Ashwini Ponnappa and Mathias Christiansen in the mixed doubles, it had to rely on the experience of former World No. 1 Son Wan Ho in the last singles match to seal the tie. The win helped Awadhe Warriors move to second place on the points table. Chennai Smashers, with 13 points from five ties, made a passive climb from a lowly eighth place to sixth in the ladder. A knockout place looks a little beyond reach for the defending champion this year.
With the previous editions of the league featuring good turnouts at the stadium in Bengaluru, expectations were high as the PBL scheduled its home stretch in the city. With the home team, Bengaluru Raptors, scheduled to play only on Tuesday and no major Indian names except for Ashwini Ponnappa in action, the crowd turnout was dismal. Nippy weather conditions didn’t help matters either.
Awadhe Warriors placed its Trump on the doubles pair of Lee Yang and Mathias Christiansen, who were pitted against Chennai Smashers' Chris Adcock and Sumeeth Reddy. It was a one-sided contest, with the Awadhe pair returning impressively against the sprightly jump smashes of the Chennai pair.
The Chennai pair misjudged numerous returns to concede easy points, the latter taking an imperious 11-1 lead in the second game after pocketing the first 15-8. It was a lesson on quick reflexes from the Awadhe pair. Even with a comfortable lead of 13-5, the pair refused to down ease off, diving and stretching keep the shuttle in play. Chennai saved one match point, but Christiansen forced the end of the match with a thumping smash down the middle to earn his team two valuable points. The match lasted all of 20 minutes.
Lee Dong Keun of Korea won the second match against Wei Feng Chong of Malaysia to give Awadhe a 3-0 lead. Wei Feng erred with his judgement to lose the first game 15-7. The second game was more of an even contest with both the players sticking to the front court and exchanging quick trade of shots. A remarkable winning return from Dong, however, changed the dynamics of the game at 10-10. High on confidence, Lee Dong then used the momentum to reach 14-11. Feng challenged an out call from the baseline. He was successful with his review, the hawk-eye showing the shuttle had caught the line and he lived to fight another point. Lee eventually got the job done, beating Wei Feng 15-7, 15-13 and putting Awadhe 3-0 up in the tie.
Chennai Smashers, with only 10 points from four ties before today’s match, sat a lowly eighth in the nine-team points table, played Sung Ji Hyun, the world No. 9, as its Trump against Beiwen Zhang.
Boasting a similar build, similar serving style and approach to the game, it was going to be anybody’s game to win. Zhang made the better start, with her shot placement and cross-court drives proving an effective counter against the calculated attack from the Korean. But Sung Ji Hyun, a former World championship bronze-medallist, came from behind to win the first game 15-13.
With the confidence and momentum of winning the first game, she played some sharp smashes from the net to go up 10-7 in the second game. Zhang, who was matching her shot for shot until then, fell apart as she made a wild swing in the air for the shuttle that had already whizzed past her. It was a mere formality after that for the Korean as she wrapped it up 15-13, 15-8 to finally put Smashers on the points board, dragging it to 2-3 after three matches
The mixed doubles game between Awadhe’s Ashwini Ponnappa/Mathias Christiansen and Smashers' husband-wife pairing of Chris and Gabrielle Adcock saw the most intense battle of the evening. Home girl Ashwini Ponnappa took it a notch higher with zealous screams of joy on winning points, building the excitement among the sparse crowd in attendance. Flatter strokes and strong net play were dished out by both teams, which made for interesting viewing. Tied 13-13 in the first game after short and quality rallies, Adcocks kept their cool to take the first game 15-13.
The Indo-Danish pair fought back after conceding the first game. Though the English put up a semblance of a fight in the second half, conceding early ground and going 7-1 down was going to be difficult to overcome. Awadhe went on to win the game 15-9 to take it to the decider. Ponnappa and Christiansen continued in the same vein in the third game, building an 8-4, 10-5 lead to reach 14-8 and within touching distance of a win and an unassailable lead for the team. But the Adcocks, quite sensationally, reeled off seven successive points to win the match and level the tie 3-3. It all began with a same-court smash from the Dane. As the Adcocks kept reducing the deficit, signs of frustration were visible on Christiansen’s face. He slouched and groaned with every point lost. Adcocks, on a roll, completed a stunning comeback with a win.
The experienced Son Wan Ho then walked away with a straightforward 15-6, 15-6 win over Rajiv Ouseph to give Awadhe Warriors a perfect start to the final week in the league.