PBL: Mumbai Rockets joins Bengaluru Raptors in final with convincing win

P. V. Sindhu won her Trump Match to give Hyderabad Hunters hope with two matches of the tie left to play, but Anders Antonsen beat Lee Hyun in straight games to send Mumbai Rockets through.

Anders Antonsen beat Lee Hyun in straight games to seal Mumbai Rockets' place in the final.   -  Jignesh Mistry

Denmark’s Anders Antonsen shifted gears midway through the first game to humble Lee Hyun Il of South Korea to take Mumbai Rockets to the final of Premier Badminton League at Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Saturday. It will face home favourite Bengaluru Raptors in the summit clash on Sunday. P. V. Sindhu’s one-sided win over an inexperienced Shriyanshi Pardeshi in her trump match was defending champion Hyderabad Hunter’s only silver lining of the night. It went down 4-2 as Sameer Verma and the doubles pair of Kim Gi Jung and Lee Yong Dae put Rockets 3-0 up after the first two matches of the tie.

Antonsen, playing the penultimate match against Lee Hyun with the responsibility of sealing the tie, didn't begin as well as he would have like. It was the Korean left-hander who had the game under control, smashing cross-court winners and moving a lot more fluidly on the court. Down 8-13, Antonsen, ranked 15 places higher than the Korean at 18, began showing a sense of urgency.

From the reactive approach to shot-making he displayed until then, he shifted to a more attacking stance, charging half a second early to the net and smacking winners. He kept at it to reel off 10 successive points to seal the first game and charge to a 3-0 lead in the second game. Lee Hyun tried his best to contain the Dane, but the latter went for his second burst of winners soon after to jump to a 10-4 lead. The Korean could manage only two points after that as Antonsen charted Rockets’ course to the final.  

As it happened

If one were to pinpoint a passage of play that helped tilt the scales in Mumbai Rockets’ favour in the opening doubles match of the second semifinal, it had to be the orchestration of that ultra quick reflex return shot from Kim Gi Jung when the scores were tied at 11-11 in the second game. Standing close to the net on the left and facing a screamer of a smash falling too close to his body, Jung swung his racquet in an upward arc from a squat position to send it back to play. It wasn’t an ordinary return. Even from that difficult position, he returned it with force and continued to inspire awe from the fans by single-handedly countering the continuous assault from Hunters’ Bodin Isara and Kim Sa Rang.

All his equally strong partner Lee Long Dae at the net could do was to dutifully send the one return that his compatriot couldn’t get his racquet to. Fittingly, Kim won the point with a forehand smash to the mid court. That moment of brilliance was all that separated the two teams as Mumbai Rockets went on to register a 15-14, 15-12 win.

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Sameer Verma stretches for a forehand return in his match against Mark Caljouw.   -  K. Murali Kumar

 

With P.V. Sindhu scheduled to play her trump match next against inexperienced Shriyanshi Pardeshi, Sameer Verma carried the burden of keeping Mumbai ahead in his trump match against a tricky Mark Caljouw, but he played a largely error-free match to clinch a 15-8, 15-7 victory.

Sindhu vs Pardeshi

As skewed as her chances were, Pardeshi did put up a good fight against Sindhu. The 20-year-old wore her heart to the sleeve and ran around chasing and returning Sindhu’s shots back to play, not that the Hyderabad marquee player sent any screamers her way in the opening five minutes. Shriyanshi helped herself to a respectable 6-8 against the World No. 3 and BWF World Tour Finals champion. But where Sindhu had the chance to smash, she did and won her points. It was pretty evident that Pardeshi was never going to be a threat to the Hyderabad superstar.

But Sindhu changed tempo after the mid-game break. She resumed play with her most telling smash to sound out her intentions to the 20-year-old from Madhya Pradesh and didn’t relent for the next 15 points. There were just two instances in the game that showed the 20-year-old in a better light. The first was a cross-smash smash at 3-7 that saw the shuttle graze Sindhu’s racquet before before whizzing past her. The second was a morale-lifting rally which ended in Shriyanshi’s favour after Sindhu’s clear sailed long for a 4-9 score. Sindhu always followed it up with a forceful smash to assert supremacy in the match. That was all the joy Hyderabad Hunters could experience on Saturday. 

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