PBL 2017: Delhi Acers were a team in despair on Saina Nehwal, Kidambi Srikanth's day of redemption
Awadhe Warriors to Mumbai Rockets, as they handed out a 6/-1 drubbing to defending champions Delhi Acers in the course of their Premier Badminton League (PBL) pool clash at the jam packed Babu Banarasi Das Indoor Stadium in Lucknow on Thursday night.
“Anything you can do, we can replicate.” This would appear to have been the combative message conveyed by Awadhe Warriors to Mumbai Rockets, as they handed out a 6/-1 drubbing to defending champions Delhi Acers in the course of their Premier Badminton League (PBL) pool clash at the jam packed Babu Banarasi Das Indoor Stadium in Lucknow on Thursday night.
Both Mumbai and Awadhe (the only two unbeaten teams, who will cross swords at the same venue on Friday evening) ended up beating the hapless Delhi squad in all five matches of their respective PBL ties, and also snatching the rival trump, which ensured that the demoralised Acers ended up with a minus score.
Just as the Rockets had conceded only one game (in the mixed doubles) while winning ten during their comprehensive demolition of the Acers, the Warriors lost only a solitary game (in the first men’s singles) against Delhi while winning the required ten for the clean sweep.
It was the first time in the tournament’s history that a team had ended up losing ten matches in a row. Actually, eleven matches, if one includes the result of the last match in their opening clash against Bengaluru Blasters, when the Acers were actually leading 3-2, with the rivals’ trump match still to play. Tanvi Lad made a losing PBL debut against trump Cheung Ngan Yi, handing the tie to Bengaluru at 4-3.
The ignominy of this prolonged winless streak was further intensified by the knowledge that the Acers are almost definitely out of the tournament, with two league ties – against Hyderabad Hunters and Chennai Smashers – still to play.
Even in the event of a three-way tie at the bottom of the league table for teams that end up with two victories each, the Acers would likely have the most inferior points tally, since they have been hit for a six twice and also sport two minus points against their name. Their current position looks seriously wretched – 3 points for, 18 against; or 1 point for, 16 against, depending on which side of the ledger the minus points are tallied. In either case, their net position is an unimaginable -15 score.
Delhi’s individual performances have left much to be desired. Their exalted singles duo of Denmark’s Jan O Jorgensen and Korea’s Son Wan Ho have notched up a solitary victory against two defeats each, including losses when they were nominated trumps for their team. Doubles specialist Vladimir Ivanov, who played with such distinction for Mumbai last year, that he took them all the way to the final, was fielded in both the men’s and mixed doubles events in all three ties thus far, but is without a victory in his six outings.
Ivanov's problems were apparent to all who saw him take the court for the opening match of the tie, with Akshay Dewalkar as his doubles partner, against the Indonesian-Malaysian combination of Markis Kido and Goh V Shem, who are unbeaten for Awadhe in two outings this year.
It was arguably the most one-sided match seen at this year’s PBL. Such was the deficiency in their combination that Ivanov and Dewalkar appeared to be on different courts. Considering the gravity of the situation for Delhi, it would make eminent sense to have kept the reigning All-England champion pair of Ivanov and Ivan Sozonov going for at least another match, notwithstanding their two earlier losses in the ongoing tournament.
Kido and Goh had no trouble exploiting the numerous gaps that the Delhi duo left between them. To add to their discomfiture, the gangling Russian was totally off-colour, and the woebegone expression on his bearded visage reflected his inner turmoil.
The Awadhe twosome put their Porsche into gear, and roared away to 6-1 and 9-2 leads, before sealing the first game at 11-4. The second game was virtually a repeat of the first; and the 11-4, 11-4 final scoreline was an accurate indicator of the one-way traffic.
Much to the delight of the partisan Lucknow crowd, their heroine Saina Nehwal took the court as Awadhe’s trump against Thailand’s Nichaon Jindapol, who was given her first outing, in preference to Tanvi Lad, who had lost the two matches she had played in earlier rounds.
The Indian ace had the comfort of a 7-0 head-to-head career lead against Jindapol, who is ranked third in her country behind Ratchanok Intanon and Porntip Buranaprasertsuk. Saina made a nervous start, her play was littered with errors galore, as the Delhi player broke out to 4-1, 5-2 and 6-4 leads, chasing down every shuttle that her opponent could hurl at her.
Saina caught up at 8-all, but it was Jindapol who had the first game-point at 10-9. At 12-11, with the Awadhe player at her mercy, the Thai missed the easiest of drops at the net; and that was sufficient for the experienced Indian to take the opening game with a none-too-convincing 14-12 scoreline.
Jindapol was again ahead 3-0 in the second, and led 6-5 at the mid-game break, with a couple of her late wristy cross-court flicks at the net being reminiscent of her compatriot and regular sparring partner, 2013 world champion Ratchanok. However, once Saina caught up at 7-all, her determination was apparent, and she took the game with six of the final seven points, for a 11-7 verdict.
As she admitted at a post-match courtside interview, “I was still a little sluggish, but it is good to get a victory under my belt. Lucknow has been a lucky hunting ground for me, and I have never lost a match here!”
Awadhe’s 3-0 lead after two matches (including the extra point for Saina’s trump) seemed to weigh heavily on the man from Aalborg, Jan O. Jorgensen, who went on court with the additional knowledge that Kidambi Srikanth had been the victor in their most recent match, the pre-quarter final of the Rio Olympics.
The Indian, now fully recovered from a stress fracture of the right foot, should, by rights, have won their match in two straight games, for he bagged the opening game at 11-9, and had a huge 6-2 lead in the second.
Jorgensen had great difficulty reading the aggressive Srikanth’s overhead sideline smashes, but managed to win points whenever he prolonged the rallies. The 29-year-old World No 2 fought tigerish manner to catch up with his rival at 7-all, and held the upper hand during the remainder of the game, only to need three game-points to take the second stanza at 13-11.
Every time that Srikanth took a lead in the decider as well, Jorgensen would reel him in by staying doggedly in the rally. He was within two points of victory at 9-8, but the Indian restored parity, and went ahead.
At this stage, he hit a cross-court clear to Jorgensen’s forehand baseline, which was called as correct by the line judge. The Dane challenged the call, but was proved wrong when Hawkeye showed the shuttle to have landed on the outer edge of the baseline.
While it was Srikanth’s match, and gave Awadhe an unbeatable 4-0 lead in the tie, the spectators were appreciative of the sportsmanship demonstrated by Jorgensen when he stood with his antagonist by the court side, awaiting the review of the challenge, smiling and chatting amicably, and then gave him a warm hug of congratulation.
With the tie already decided, there was little interest left in the remaining two matches, and it only remained to be seen whether Delhi could reduce the margin of defeat, or whether Awadhe would go for the clean sweep.
Delhi did not help their cause by pairing Ivanov with the out-of-form Jwala Gutta in the mixed doubles against the world No.12 combination of Bodin Issara and Savitree Amitrapai. Ivanov had played well in the company of 21 year old K Maneesha in the tie against Mumbai Rockets, but was left with way too much to do while covering the immobile Jwala, who looked well past her best days and was a distinct liability to the giant Russian.
It appeared that Delhi would salvage a modicum of respect from the final match, when they nominated world No.4, Son Wan Ho, as their trump for the second men’s singles, and the Korean opened proceedings with a 5-0 lead against Vincent Wong. But once the Hong Kong player settled, he revealed great patience and skill in the rallies by moving his rival all over the court.
Son’s slumped shoulders and poor body language reflected the despair he was feeling at his team’s performance in the earlier matches, and it came as no surprise when the spiky-haired Vincent led 6-4 in the second, and further enlarged his lead, to send the Korean hurtling to his second defeat in three PBL matches. Son disconsolately hit his final two returns into the net, to lose at 8-11, 6-11.
What a fall there has been, for the Delhi Acers! After having been in the exalted position of title-winners in the first PBL last year, and on-paper favourites in this year’s edition, with the world’s No.2 and 4 men’s singles players in their ranks, the capital outfit have been consigned to the dung-heap even before the tournament has hit the half-way mark. They look likely to stay in the cellar as if they were dumped there with the most adherent adhesive!
Awadhe Warriors beat Delhi Acers 6/-1 (Markis Kido and Goh V. Shem beat Vladimir Ivanov and Akshay Dewalkar 11-4, 11-4; Saina Nehwal (trump) beat Nichaon Jindapol 14-12, 11-7; Kidambi Srikanth beat Jan O. Jorgensen 11-9, 11-13, 11-9; Bodin Issara and Savitree Amitrapai beat Vladimir Ivanov and Jwala Gutta 12-10, 11-5; Vincent Wong Wing Kee beat Son Wan Ho (trump) 11-8, 11-6)
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