In a day of oscillating fortunes, it was left to the mixed doubles teams playing the fifth and final match of the day to decide the finalist. It was Kim Sa Rang and Sikki Reddy who rose up to the challenge to take Bengaluru Blasters into the final in the third season of Premier Badminton League at the Gachibowli Indoor Stadium in Hyderabad on Saturday.

Kim Sa Rang, who helped Bengaluru win the trump match (men’s doubles) earlier in the day, paired up with Sikki Reddy to defeat Law Cheuk Him and Kamilla Rytter Juhl 15-12, 13-15, 15-9 to help Bengaluru reach the final.

Bengaluru will take on Hyderabad Hunters in the final on Sunday.

Read: Hyderabad seals final spot with 3-0 win over Delhi

After Mathias Boe and Kim Sa Rang won their trump match against Ahmedabad’s Kidambi Nandagopal and Lee Chun Hei Reginald, Tai Tzu Ying dug herself out from what looked like a certain defeat against Bengaluru Blasters’ Kirsty Gilmour to give Ahmedabad Blasters a crucial 3-2 lead.

Viktor Axelsen then brought out his A game to defeat H.S. Prannoy 15-11, 15-14 to help Bengaluru stay alive in the contest. The world champion smashed left, right and centre to seal the first game 15-11. Though Prannoy tried his best to make a comeback, Viktor knew exactly where to place his shots at the right moment to register a straight victory in the second.

Viktor Axelsen in action against H.S. Prannoy.   –  NAGARA GOPAL

 

With the organisers facing an uphill task of packing in enough action for 24 days from eight teams without overburdening the players, they decided on having a draw, where each team would pick two teams they wouldn’t be playing against until the knockouts. This is how Bengaluru and Ahmedabad were competing against each other for the first time in the tournament.

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When the draw was out, it was a given that World No. 1 Tai would win her trump match for Ahmedabad Smash Masters against Kirsty Gilmour . But the first game proved to be the anti-thesis of it. Though the World No. 1 from Chinese Taipei went into the mid-game break just one point down, she looked shaky. Her drop shots at the net deserted her. She attempted the same shot for at least five times. It kept landed wide and Tai could earn a grand total of only one point to lose the first game 15-8.

First signs of recovery

It was at 4-4 in the second game that Tai played a point that came straight out of a World No. 1’s closet. A humdinger of a 30-shot rally that had both players attacking the net as well as the backcourt ended when Tai sent down a screamer of a smash at Gilmour’s face. At 8-9, Tai showed her brilliance; a deft touch from high above the head saw the shuttlecock drop dead to Gilmour’s side of the net. Even the chair umpire couldn’t suppress a grin at the stunner. The Scot was more consistent with her shots and was at her attacking best today to take a 12-8 lead in the second game, but that was when Tai brought a complete turnaround in the match.

At 8-9, Tai showed her brilliance; a deft touch from high above the head saw the shuttlecock drop dead to Gilmour’s side of the net.   –  NAGARA GOPAL

 

Realising that she was moments away from defeat, Tai decided to unleash all the shots from her arsenal. For a start, she cut down on her errors to scrape to a 15-13 win in the second game.

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She then began dictating terms.

Reasserting supremacy

Her drops were in place, her smashes had the power to be a winner and her rally game was top notch. There couldn’t be a starker difference between the first game and the third game. If the first game saw a despondent Tai making sense of her failing efficacy at the net, the third was all about a champion reasserting her supremacy. She clinched her fist after every point; she knew she had the match in her hands. A smash down the line wrapped up the proceedings with Tai winning the clash 8-15, 15-13, 15-8.

In what was the first trump match of the day, the Blasters decided to place its trust on the experienced duo of Boe and Kim against the lesser established players like Smash Masters’ Kidambi Nandagopal and Lee Chun Hei Reginald.

Though they conceded a huge 12-6 lead in the first game, local boy Kidambi and his doubles partner Reginald were good with their defense, blocking hard smashes with quick swish of hands. Reginald did his best by playing some awe-inspiring returns on Rang’s hard smashes. After returning two near unplayable smashes, Reginald failed to put across the third. It was an anti-climactic end to the rally helped Bengaluru clinch the first game 15-13.

After making it 8-8 in the second game, the duo committed a series of errors to hand over a three-point lead. But Boe made it a habit to hurl down smashes at no-man zones or to the player’s body to put the match beyond Ahmedabad’s reach. At 14-10, Nandu, as he was endearingly cheered on by a large of number of his friends, picked a perfect place to drop a winner after some attacking display. The duo managed to shave off another point to reduce the deficit, but there were one too many points to recover for the team and Kim closed the match with a powerful smash to earn his team two crucial points and take the lead.

Earlier in the day, Ahmedabad Smash Masters’ Sourabh Verma put the team ahead by winning the first match against Bengaluru Blasters’ Chong Wei Feng 15-2, 14-15, 15-10.

Seven-minute first game

Ahmedabad Smash Masters’ Sourabh Verma took just seven minutes to clinch the first game 15-2.  Chong Wei Feng failed to give even a semblance of a fight to Sourabh and hardly had any attacking shots in the first game. The couple of instances that he did go on the offensive, he failed to put the shuttle over the net.



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