The group stage of the Premier Badminton League ended on Thursday with defending champions Bengaluru Raptors finding a way past Awadhe Warriors in the final round. Their French recruit Brice Leverdez upset the opponent’s Trump Ajay Jayaram and set the stage for Tai Tzu Ying and B Sai Praneeth to complete the 5-0 rout.
Some of the established names in Indian badminton including world champion PV Sindhu, 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medallist P Kashyap and national champion Sourabh Verma failed to perform consistently in the fifth edition of the tournament.
Lakshya Sen, playing in his second PBL season, was impressive and showed why he has taken such big strides in world badminton in the last 12 months.
But the absence of many international stars provided opportunities for the second string Indian players to showcase their skills and some of them definitely impressed with their performance.
We take a look at the performance of these youngsters.
The 18-year-old from Madhya Pradesh had been impressing coaches and selectors with his performance in the junior circuit in the last few years. Coach Pullela Gopichand has already stopped him from playing in the domestic junior circuit and focus on the senior events.
Rajawat probably got a look in for Hyderabad Hunters’ first match against Chennai Warriors on the opening day of the tournament only because their Malaysian recruit Daren Liew was playing in Thailand Masters and the youngster had to fill in for him. But he did more than merely filling in as he pushed Sen to the deciding point in the third and final game.
He displayed his entire array of strokes, including the net flicks to keep Sen on his toes but two mistakes in the business end of the third game cost him the match.
But he did not make those mistakes when he got another chance to play against world no 50 Lee Dong Keun of Mumbai Rockets, winning the match in two straight games.
He was then handed the job of defending a Trump against Mithun Manjunath against Pune 7 Aces. The pressure did get to him in the decider as he once again made a few critical errors to lose the match.
But the results not withstanding, he did show why he is being spoken so highly in the Indian badminton circle.
The doubles specialist was probably a back up to Satwiksairaj and B Sumeeth Reddy in the Chennai Superstarz line up. But he was thrown in the deep water in their second outing after Satwik injured his ankle in the opening match against Hyderabad Hunters.
Kapila joined hands with Jessica Pugh to give his team a winning start against the Mumbai Rockets and then teamed up with Satwik in the deciding men’s doubles rubber against the experienced combination of Rian Agung Saputro and Chang Peng Soon to hand his team a 4-3 win over Bengaluru Raptors. This meant that the team then showed enough confidence in him to rotate their doubles stars to keep them fresh for the semi-final stage.
Indonesian doubles coach Flandy Limpele has identified Kapila as one of the future stars in the paired events and has made him team up with the versatile MR Arjun with an aim to build India’s next men’s doubles pair for the future.
Though Kapila was found wanting in terms of strength required to go for the kill in slower halls, his versatility at the net and good understanding of game situations came to the fore in the group stage.
The daughter of chief national coach Pulella Gopichand was tested at the start of the PBL as Chennai Superstarz first-choice women’s singles specialist Kristy Gilmour was playing the Thailand Masters and was not available for the home leg.
The slow conditions in Chennai and having Sindhu on the other side of the net in the her first match was clearly not an ideal beginning for Gayatri Gopichand as she was completely decimated by her senior compatriot. But later, she showed her skills by pushing Shriyanshi Pardeshi of Mumbai Rockets and then took a game against world no 2 Tai Tzu Ying and fought hard against Beiwen Zhang in tough conditions at the Gachibowli stadium.
Apart from the opening match against Sindhu, the 16-year-old showed that she was willing to do the hard work and not give any easy points to her more illustrious opponents. She has a pretty clean game that allows her to keep the shuttle in play longer. The one area Gayatri was found wanting was the strength to finish off points but that can easily be worked upon.
Her world ranking of 100 hardly justifies the talent Rituparna Das possess. The 23-year-old former national champion has struggled with injuries through out her career. But this year, she was the first choice singles player in the Pune 7 Aces team and played her part in helping the team reach the knock out stage.
She came within two points of beating world no 10 Michelle Li against Northeast Warriors and then helped the Aces seal a semi-final spot when she upset world no 14 Beiwen Zhang of Awadhe Warriors in the team’s penultimate league game.
In the semi-finals, Das would be the only Indian first choice women’s singles player in action and would be taking on world no 2 Tai Tzu Ying of Bengaluru Raptors. She will be a clear underdog in that match but if she could even push her more illustrious opponent in earning a win, it will definitely boost the overall confidence of her team.