PBL: Focus on Saina as Warriors faces winless Aces

As host Awadhe Warriors prepares for defending champion Delhi Acers and runner-up Mumbai Rockets, the next two days promise fierce contests at the Babu Banarsi Das Stadium.

Saina Nehwal lost to Carolina Marin on Monday.   -  K. V. S. Giri

With the first five matches of the Premier Badminton League producing different winners, it is difficult to sight a favourite in the six-team field.

As host Awadhe Warriors prepares for defending champion Delhi Acers and runner-up Mumbai Rockets, the next two days promise fierce contests at the Babu Banarsi Das Stadium here. For the record, Warriors and Rockets won their opening matches but ironically, a winless Acers is already staring at the possibility of being the first team to be ousted from the race for a place in the semifinals.

From Warriors’ perspective, the form and fitness of home-favourite Saina Nehwal will again be of paramount importance.

The former World No. 1 is keen to use the opportunities in the first fortnight of the year to be ready for the challenges in the BWF Superseries events in the season ahead.

Having slipped to 10th in the world rankings, Saina expectedly lost to the world and Olympic champion Carolina Marin in Hyderabad in the team’s campaign-opener. On the brighter side, her on-court movements were encouraging, considering the fact that she is continuing her comeback from a knee-surgery.

Saina should find it easier against Acers’ Tanvi Lad on Thursday but Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun, turning up for Rockets, could prove a handful on Friday. After all, a consistent and persistent Sung is enjoying her career-best ranking (World No. 3) after winning the Korea Open and reaching the final of the year-ending Dubai World Superseries Finals.

Serious contender

As a team, Warriors looks fairly balanced. With K. Srikanth and Hong Kong’s Wong Wing Ki Vincent, ranked 15th and 17th respectively, the team’s challenge in men’s singles may not look intimidating but these two can prove very effective. The men’s pair of V. Shem Goh (part of the World No. 1 Malaysian pair) and Markis Kido provides Warriors with a realistic chance of adding another point. What's more, the services of the World No. 10 in mixed doubles, Thailand’s Bodin Isara and Savitree Amitrapai, makes Warriors a fairly serious contender.

Surprisingly, Acers’ is yet to fire. In spite of having Denmark’s Jan O Jorgensen and Korea’s Son Wan Ho, ranked second and fourth in the world, along with the World No. 9 men’s doubles pair of Vladimir Ivanov and Ivan Sozonov, the champion side was blanked by Mumbai on Tuesday. Worse, the Acers could take just one game off Mumbai, that too, in mixed doubles. But like last year, this team can be expected to make a comeback from a slow start.

Rockets, clearly on a high after humiliating Acers and running into Hyderabad, is looking to enhance its prospects. The team needs no reminding that Warriors will be looking to win the two doubles and claim at least one of the two men singles matches. Should Saina give a surprise reason to rejoice, it will be a more than a bonus for Warriors.