PBL: Bengaluru Raptors blanks Mumbai Rockets 5-0

Bengaluru Raptors beat Mumbai Rockets 5-0 in the tie, winning all but the mixed doubles match.

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Kidambi Srikanth sets up to return against Anders Antonsen.   -  K. Murali Kumar

Kidambi Srikanth overpowered Anders Antonsen in an engaging battle to maintain his unbeaten streak and seal Bengaluru Raptors’ win over Mumbai Rockets in the fourth edition of the Premier Badminton League at Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Tuesday.

It was an exhilarating exchange of strokes from the players, but the experienced Indian, egged on by home crowd, won the crucial end points to win 15-14, 15-13 and give his team an unassailable 4-0 lead in the tie. It was Raptors’ third successive win in the tie and fourth successive victory in the league. B. Sai Praneeth of Bengaluru then inflicted further damage by handing Sameer Verma his first loss in the league in the latter's trump match. Sai Praneeth came from behind to register a deserving 12-15, 15-5, 15-13 win.

In the last match of the day, Indonesia’s Pia Zebadiah Bernadet and South Korea’s Kim Gi Jung salvaged some pride for Mumbai Rockets with a 15-14, 15-13 win over England’s Marcus Ellis and Lauren Smith, but couldn’t stop Raptors from completing a 5-0 win at home and climb to the fourth place in the table with 18 points. At the end of its last league tie, Mumbai Rockets has 19 points and is placed third. Bengaluru has another tie to play, against Chennai Smashers on Thursday, but it looks well-placed to secure a semifinal berth.

As it happened     

Srikanth, who was world No. 1 for a brief period last year, showed good anticipation at the net to deprive Anders Antonsen of easy court space for winners. He alternated between deft touch returns and perfect backhand strokes to keep the Danish player on his toes. The Danish World No. 18, however, was equally adept with his net play and utilised every opportunity to smash home winners and keep the scores level. When Antonsen briefly took the lead in the first game at 13-11, Srikanth held his nerve and upped his game a notch higher.  

During a particularly fast-paced rally between the two, Srikanth, with a swish of hands, returned a power-packed smash for an unexpected backhand winner. Neither Antonsen nor the lively crowd expected Srikanth to return that hammering of a smash and heaved a collective sigh at his brilliance. Antonsen responded with his own backhand cross court winner for a 14-13 lead and, with a chance to go one up in the match, Srikanth levelled and walked away with the first game with a smash down the middle of the court.

The high-quality exchange continued in the second game. At 6-6, with both players going toe-to-toe, Antonsen briefly took centrestage with back-to-back jump smashes either side of the backcourt for an 8-6 cushion. During those fleeting moments, Antonsen looked the man in charge. But Srikanth, ranked 10 places higher than the Dane, kept himself in the hunt with good forehand winners. From 8-8 till 13-13, the shuttlers took points by turn and kept the audience hooked. After an Antonsen forehand drive sailed long, Srikanth made no mistake and sealed the tie with a flat forehand winner.      

In an interesting choice for trump match, Bengaluru Raptors opted to go with World No. 59 Thi Vu Thrang of Vietnam who also happens to be the only specialist women’s singles player in the team. But it made sense considering Mumbai Rockets had only World No. 202 Shriyanshi Pardeshi and No. 111 Anura Prabhudesai to handle singles responsibilities in the team. The team went with Shriyanshi for the opening clash against Raptors.

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Vu Thi Trang in action against Shriyanshi Pardeshi in Bengaluru Raptors' trump match.   -  K. Murali Kumar

 

The Vietnamese player raced to 8-1 and took under 10 minutes to wrap up the first game 15-4 against a slow-moving Shriyanshi. The 20-year-old from Madhya Pradesh often caught the net while attempting a smash and lost points. She was defensive in the second, but against an erring Thi Vu, cutting down on unnecessary frills was enough to seal the second game. She took an 8-7 lead into the mid-game break and, by cutting down on unforced errors, secured a 15-11 win to take the match to the decider.

In the end, experienced triumphed as Thi Vu attacked a lot more to build an 8-4 lead and sustained it till the end to close out the match 15-4, 11-15, 15-7.

Indonesia’s Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan, a two-time World Championship-winning pair, then registered a 15-11, 15-11 victory over South Korean pair of Kim Gi Jung and Lee Yong Dae to give the home team a 3-0 lead before Srikanth's and Sai Praneeth's victories. After the first singles match of the day, the men’s doubles match that pitted world class doubles specialists against each other seemed a lot faster, almost akin to watching videos in fast forward, with the Indonesian world No. 9 pair proving marginally better in a straightforward win.

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B. Sai Praneeth in action against Sameer Verma in the fourth match of the tie.   -  K. Murali Kumar

 

Mumbai Rockets chose an unbeaten Sameer Verma as its trump card for the tie. Despite a positive start, Sameer couldn’t sustain the intensity against an inspired Sai Praneeth and went down in three games. Interestingly, Sai Praneeth’s only loss in the campaign so far came at the hands of his younger brother Sourabh Verma.