Badminton

PBL: Sai Praneeth, Carolina Marin take Hyderabad Hunters to top of the standings

Hunters will face Delhi Smashers while Bengaluru Blasters will take on Ahmedabad Smash Masters in the semi-finals.

Bengaluru Blasters rested world champion Viktor Axelsen for the final league match to decide who tops the Premier Badminton League standings going into the knock-out stage. And Hyderabad Hunters pounced on the opportunity to hammer them 6-(-1) on home turf on Thursday.

The result had a bearing on the semi-final line up despite both teams having already qualified for the knock-out stage even before the start of play on Thursday. The Hunters will now face fourth placed Delhi Smashers in the first semifinal on Friday while the Blasters meet Ahmedabad Smash Masters on Saturday.

And the hosts would be on a high after a dominating performance against the Blasters. They were given a winning start by Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Pia Zebadiah, who beat the all-Indian combination of Manu Atri and N Sikky Reddy 15-6, 14-15, 15-9. It was important for Blasters Chong Wei Feng to pull things back against Singapore open champion Sai Praneeth to keep his team in the hunt.

The Malaysian began well by winning the opening game with relative ease but Praneeth found his rhythm in the second to force a decider. The final game was a topsy-turvey affair with Chong Wei fighting back in the later stages to level scores at 14-14. However, the 25-year-old Indian managed to keep his nerves to clinch the match 10-15, 15-7, 15-14.

Olympic champion Carolina Marin then almost put the result of the tie beyond doubt when she hammered Kristy Gilmour 15-9, 15-7 and left Blasters an unenviable task of beating Hunters trump and winning the remaining two matches.

Shubhakar Dey, who replaced Axelsen in the line-up, did put up a fight as he threw himself around the court to keep the shuttle in play every time he was caught wrong footed by the experienced Lee Hyun Il. But he ultimately fell short, losing 15-11, 11-15, 15-11 to end his team’s chances of finishing among the top two.

And Blasters’ misery was further compounded when Mathias Boe and Kim Sa Rang lost their trump match 15-10, 11-15, 15-7 against Markis Kido and Yoo Yeon Seong to go without a single win on the night.

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