PBL: Bengaluru Raptors defeats Awadhe Warriors, books final berth

Bengaluru Raptors won the first semifinal 4-2 against Awadhe Warriors, with the men's doubles victory in its trump match helping it seal a place in Sunday's final.

Sai Praneeth in action against Awadhe Warriors in the first semifinal.   -  K. Murali Kumar

Sai Praneeth and Kidambi Srikanth continued their scintillating form in the Premier Badminton League with dominating wins over South Korea’s Lee Dong Keun and Son Wan Ho respectively to help Bengaluru Raptors reach the final.

The South Koreans couldn’t match the intensity of the Indians and were thoroughly beaten, raising hopes of a good year for Indian shuttlers at the world stage. Indonesia’s Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan won their trump match against Warriors’ Lee Yang and Mathias Christiansen 15-14, 15-9 to seal a 4-2 win over Awadhe Warriors at Sree Kanteerava Indoor Stadium on Saturday.

AS IT HAPPENED | Bengaluru Raptors 4-2 Awadhe Warriors

After Mathias Christiansen and Ashwini Ponnappa justified Awadhe Warriors’ trust by putting up an authoritative display to outplay Marcus Ellis and Lauren Smith in 15-7, 15-10 in their opening trump match, Sai Praneeth brought parity by tearing apart South Korean Lee Dong Keun 15-9, 15-4 to put Bengaluru Raptors on the board.

His complete domination, however, began after opening minutes of lull. At 2-3 in the first game, Sai Praneeth misjudged a return to fall long after a fascinating 31-shot rally. Immediately, another long rally ensued, this time a 28-shot feast of quality drives and hairpin net returns from both the players, but the Indian made no mistake this time and finished it off with his signature cross-court smash, setting it up and finishing it with clinical precision.

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That was all the warm-up play the 26-year-old needed and he pulled ahead with the superlative collection of shots from all around the court. He body smashed the Korean, made him dive to the extreme ends, almost in despair, and whipped flat cross-court smashes to catch Lee on the wrong foot to race to a 11-6 lead. Despite having the world’s time to send back a return, Sai left one to fall on the line to give the Warriors player something to hang on to at 13-7. It proved to be a minor aberration on a day when Sai could do no wrong.

He continued to rule over the World No. 27 by adding another dimension to his shot-making. At 4-1 in the second game, he jumped for a smash and took the pace off in the last second to effect a drop for a beautiful cross-court point. Women’s World No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying, the master of deception, would have been proud by that shot. He put the Korean out of misery with a smash to walk away with a 15-9, 15-4 win. If Sai Praneeth maintains this form and stays injury-free this year, multiple World Tour titles are likely to come his way.

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Srikanth Kidambi in action against Son Wan Ho.   -  K. Murali Kumar

 

And if Sai Praneeth dished out generous servings of cross-court winners, Kidambi Srikanth jump-smashed his way to victory over Korea’s Son Wan Ho in the second men’s singles match. The World No. 5 Korean paled in comparison to Srikanth’s superior play and a barrage of kill shots. He put up a fight late in the second game to reduce the deficit from 5-10 to 8-11, but Srikanth kept his cool to clinch the tie 15-7, 15-10.

Aided by boisterous cheers and ear-splitting drumbeats, Bengaluru Raptors’ trump pair Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan quelled a spirited challenge from Lee Yang and Mathias Christiansen 15-14, 15-9 to take their team to the final. No prizes for guessing which team the vocal Bengaluru crowd will be rooting for on Sunday.

Defending champion Hyderabad Hunters will take on Mumbai Rockets in the second semifinal on Saturday.   

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