Notwithstanding Saina Nehwal’s morale-boosting victory over in-form World No. 3 Sung Ji Hyun, Mumbai Rockets stopped Awadhe Warriors 4-3 in a battle involving the two top teams of the Premier Badminton League here.
Once H. S. Prannoy won his ‘trump’ match against Wing Ki Vincent Wong to give Rockets a winning lead, Warriors salvaged two points from its ‘trump’ match, the mixed doubles.
As expected, the matches were close, with four encounters going the distance. For the record, after three outings each, Awadhe continued to lead the table with 14 match-points, with Mumbai – the only unbeaten team so far in the six-team league – second at 12.
Needing to regain self-belief on her return from a knee-surgery, Saina stretched her unbeaten run in the city after stopping the World No. 3 Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun 12-10, 4-11, 11-5 in 39 minutes.
Sung, in the form of her career, entered the match trailing 1-6 in head-to-head results against Saina. The Indian carried the psychological advantage into this encounter as battled from being 9-10 down to take the opening game. The last three points – coming following a deft touch at the net, a half-smash and a return sent long by Sung – clearly gave a glimpse of Saina looking more desperate to win.
But Sung did not take long to draw level. She jumped to 10-3 after winning four straight points and eventually converted her second game-point.
In the decider, Saina gave it all much to the joy of an understandably vociferous and partisan crowd. Down 2-3 she took four points in succession to stay ahead at the mid-game interval.
She returned to stretch the lead to 8-3. Though the six-point sequence snapped but Saina was not to be denied on this day. She reached a match-point when Sung netted following a long rally. Saina went on to convert the first of the five match-points when Sung sent the shuttle out.
In a match involving the top-two Indians in world rankings, Ajay Jayaram surprised K. Srikanth after saving three match-points in the second game. Once Ajay converted his fourth match-point at 14-all, Srikanth never looked the same. In the decider, it was Ajay all the way.
The contest that set the pace for an exciting evening was the one between two previously unbeaten men’s combinations of Yong Dae Lee-Nipitphon Puangpuapech and V. Shem Goh-Markis Kido. The thrilling battle that saw both pairs squander a match-point each, went Awadhe Warriors’ way with Yong and Nipitphon holding their nerves when it mattered.
By the time Nipitphon returned with Nadiezda Zieba for the mixed doubles tie, Rockets had already taken an unsurpassable 4-1 lead. The fancied Warriors pair of Savithree Amitrapal and Bodin Isara won, as expected.
The scores (‘T’ indicates trump match):
Mumbai Rockets beats Awadhe Warriors (Yong Dae Lee and Nipitphon Puangpuapech bt V Shem Goh and Markis Kido 11-7, 3-11, 13-11; Ajay Jayaram bt K. Srikanth 5-11, 15-14, 11-5; Hyun Ji Sung lost to Saina Nehwal 10-12, 11-4, 5-11; (‘T’) H. S. Prannoy bt Wing Ki Vincent Wong 14-12, 9-11, 11-8; Nipitphon Puangpuapech and Nadiezda Zieba lost to (‘T’) Savitree Amitrapal and Bodin Isara 8-11, 4-11 ).
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