World championship silver medallist PV Sindhu began the new year with a morale-boosting win over Saina Nehwal, before Mark Caljouw defeated North Eastern Warriors trump Tian Houwei to hand defending champions Hyderabad Hunters their third win in the Premier Badminton League at the Balewadi stadium in Pune on Tuesday.
The 5-0 victory meant the Hunters ended the Pune leg of the league on top of the leader-board.
While the match was important for both teams in their quest for a semi-final spot, the added attraction for the fans on the first day of 2019 was the clash between India’s two shuttle queens, Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu.
Sindhu, who had lost her last two matches in the PBL against Sung Ji Hyun and Beiwen Zhang, ultimately emerged victorious 11-15, 15-9, 15-5.
Saina, who had sat out of the earlier three matches of North Eastern Warriors due to a shin injury, was definitely not 100% fit and was struggling following long rallies. But the way she fought back from a 7-10 deficit to clinch seven straight points and then wrap up the opening game showed that the former world number one was not going to go out without a fight.
However, Sindhu simply managed to raise the tempo in the second game as she raced to an 8-3 lead. Although Saina fought back to close the gap to 6-8, the 23-year-old always looked in control.
Saina clearly looked tired in the third and final game, as Sindhu simply dominated the proceedings thereafter. The Commonwealth Games gold medallist struggled to lunge towards her forehand and lost the decider rather easily.
Caljouw, who is unbeaten in the tournament so far, had to overcome a strong comeback from Houwei in the second game to win 15-11, 15-14.
The Dutchman had raced through the opening game and looked in complete control when he took a 10-6 lead in the second game. But Houwei wasn’t giving up and engaged Caljouw in long rallies to clinch four straight points to level the scores.
It was a battle of attrition from thereon as the players stayed neck and neck, with Caljouw having the final laugh after Houwei’s lift sailed long after one of the longest rallies of the match.
Earlier, the experienced Lee Hyun Il got the Hunters back into the contest from the brink as he fought back from a game down to win his trump match against Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk.
With the Hunters trailing 0-1 following the 8-15, 14-15 loss of Kim Sa Rang and Eom Hye Won in the opening mixed doubles match against Kim Ha Na and Liao Min Chun, Lee had to win the team’s trump game.
It looked an arduous task when Tanongsak dominated the opening game and looked to be on a roll. But Lee is a veteran of many a battle and the 38-year-old showed why he is still considered one of the most dangerous opponents on the circuit as he moved his Thai opponent all around the court to take a 7-1 lead in the second game, and then held on to the advantage to force a decider.
Tanongsak seemed to lose steam after the Lee masterclass in the second game. He was always chasing the game in the decider and the Hunters eventually earned two points with a 10-15, 15-13, 15-9 win before Saina and Sindhu took the court.
In the final match of the tie, Bodin Isara and Kim Sa Rang made it 5-0 for the Hunters as they beat Liao Min Chun and Yoo Yeon Seong 15-10, 12-15, 15-14 in a thrilling doubles match.
The league now proceeds to Ahmedabad.
Watch the highlights here: