Beiwang Zhang pulled off a sensational win over Saina Nehwal in three exciting games to help Awadhe Warriors move to the top of the table after humbling North Eastern Warriors in the second tie of the day at Sree Kanteerava Stadium. Saina, North Eastern Warriors’ trump card, fizzled out in the third game to give Zhang a memorable win.
Though World No. 5 Son Wan Ho went down in straight games to Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk 8-15, 10-15, the mixed doubles pair of Lee Yang and Arjun M.R. registered 15-5, 15-12 win over Kim Sa Rang and Dhruv Kapila and Yoo Yeon Seong to complete a 5-0 win for Awadhe Warriors.
The marquee clash between World No. 9 Saina Nehwal and No. 10 Beiwan Zhang was expected to be an interesting battle.
AS IT HAPPENED | Awadhe Warriors vs North Eastern Warriors
It lived up to the expectations and got the crowd involved and engrossed as both the players dished out a scintillating all-round show. But for a frustratingly high number of long or wide shots from Saina in the end, there was little to separate the two.
Though NorthEastern Warriors was never in the mix for a top-four slot on Wednesday, Saina gave it her all at the start. She mixed up her placements and kept the lead in the first game. At 9-5, the fans were treated to a brilliant 24-shot rally that ended with a Saina forehand winner, the crowd breaking into a round of applause without needing a nudge from the men at the DJ console.
She followed it with some impactful smashes close that offered Zhang no room to make a return, taking the first game 15-11.
The second game saw Beiwan deploying more shots to counter Saina’s skills. A flick at the net for a 7-4 lead was the start of World No. 10’s domination over Saina. Though Saina negated that deceptive net point with two smash winners of her own, Beiwan began taking charge and kept Saina on her toes.
In desperation to finish points on long rallies, the Indian began to err, conceding points with long and wide shots to help her opponent take the match to the decider. Saina continued her erroneous form into the third to hand the match to a deserving Beiwan 15-11, 11-15, 7-15.
Saina Nehwal said she was happy to win a game each against Zhang and Sindhu despite not completely recovering from a shin injury. She showed no signs of discomfort during the match, but said it would take her another month to be completely fit. “After November, I took a break for four and a half weeks. I started training at around 27, 28 December because I had a shin injury. Whatever I could do in the last seven-eight days, I have tried my level best. It’s not easy to be 20-30% fit and play matches. But I’m happy that I could pull off one game against Zhang Beiwen and Sindhu. That shows I’m on the right track,” she said.
Awadhe’s Mathias Christiansen and Ashwini Ponnappa took the trump responsibilities quite seriously on Wednesday. After wasting seven match-point opportunities in the previous game to Chris and Gabrielle Adcock of Chennai Smashers , Ponnappa and Christiansen kept a hawk-eye vigil of the shuttle and left Chinese Taipei’s Liao Min Chun and Korea’s Kim Ha Na to fight hard for the points.
The Indian doubles specialist Ponnappa was in a particularly devastating form against the North Eastern warriors, sending down thunderous smashes. Steady hands and swift movements made her a menacing presence at the net. Mathias Christiansen complemented her by finding holes to send winners from the baseline to take the first game 15-7.
The second game was a lot closer with doubles World No. 12 Liao targeting Ashwini with his smashes to take a 6-4 lead. Mathias, however, returned the favour soon after by targeting Kim. Mathias was particularly good at judging when to leave a shot unattended and that helped the team race to a 14-12 lead. With the opponents levelling the score, it brought back fear of another meltdown at the end, but the Indo-Danish pair held their nerves to seal the match 15-7, 15-14.
It was an energy sapping opening encounter between Awadhe Warriors’ Lee Dong Keun and North Eastern Warriors’ Tian Houwei. The scoreline read 15-10, 15-13 in favour of Lee Dong, but it was a lot closer than what the numbers suggest.
Houwei, who announced his retirement from professional badminton early last year, matched Lee Dong shot for shot, but the Korean managed to stay marginally ahead throughout the game to register a win.