Hyderabad: Exciting contests are on the cards as the last leg of the Premier Badminton League (PBL) begins at Hyderabad on Wednesday.
All four teams featuring in the last leg are in contention for the top four slots.
Delhi Dashers and North Eastern Warriors (both 11 points), who are placed sixth and seventh in the eight-team table, have as much a chance as the top two teams currently leading the standings, Bengaluru Blasters and Hyderabad Hunters.
Table-toppers Bengaluru Blasters (15 points) and Hyderabad Hunters (14 points), who play the last match of the league before the semis, cannot breathe easy either as the other teams can overhaul their tally and displace them from the top.
Each team can rake up a maximum of six points if they win all their five duels (four points each from four wins and two points from the Trump match).
The only advantage for Bengaluru and Hyderabad before they clash on Thursday is that they would clearly know how many points they need, to maintain their status at the top and make the semi-final cut.
In contrast, Saina Nehwal's Awadhe Warriors and PV Sindhu's Chennai Smashers, who are in the mid-table with 12 points each, have finished their league engagements.
Bengaluru's star and world No 1 Viktor Axelsen expressed confidence that his team can make it to the semi-finals.
"We are thankful for where we are, hopefully we can make it to the semis and then will take it from there. But we have to believe that we can win and can make it to the semis," said Axelsen, who has won all his men's singles matches for Bengaluru this season.
"I have been playing matches where the points have been really important; two Trump matches where if you know you lose, it can really be a tough time for the team. But it's has been quite successful so far and we have managed to play well so far," he said.
The 24-year-old Axelsen feels the intensity of competition in PBL will help players to do well in international tournaments.
"The fact that we are playing a 15 points makes it all too intense, so it's good match practice.
"It also gives you a tense feeling like you will have when you get into any other tournament," he added.
Hyderabad Hunters' coach Fernando Rives felt that the competition is evenly poised.
"This year all teams are very even, any team can win it. Look at us, at one time we were at the bottom of the table and how we have are now in the top two... the competition is really, really strong and that is a great thing about PBL," Rives said.
The Delhi Dashers and North Eastern Warriors, who play their last league match on Wednesday, said they are ready for the battle.
"It is a crucial match for us. We didn't have a great start but we have had some good performances and results in some of the matches, no doubt tomorrow's match is very crucial for our existence in the League and we will be going our best shot," said Ashwini Ponnappa, Delhi's doubles star.
Warriors' Ajay Jayaram was equally confident of his team's chances.
"With not great starts to begin with but winning the last tie in Chennai is surely something which was much needed.
"Tomorrow's match is crucial for both the teams and we will not be leaving any scope and going all out," Jayaram said.
Delhi Dashers take on North Eastern Warriors on 10 January, while Hyderabad Hunters clash with Bengaluru Blasters on 11 January.
The semi-finals would be held on 12 and 13 January, and the final on 14 January.
Updated Date: Jan 10, 2018 14:20 PM