PBL 2020: On home court, Hyderabad Hunters' PV Sindhu's star shines brightly even in defeat to Tai Tzu Ying
On Friday, the PBL may have seen its biggest crowd of the season, as spectators were lured by the women’s singles match between Sindhu and Tai Tzu
The PBL this year has seen a sparse crowd in all the three cities it travelled to, Chennai, Lucknow and Hyderabad.
The match between PV Sindhu and Tai Tzu Ying was the most anticipated encounter of the 2020 edition of PBL.
Tai Tzu Ying beat PV Sindhu 11-15, 15-13, 15-9 to help Bengaluru Raptors beat Hyderabad Hunters 3-0 in the tie.
Hyderabad: An Innova painted in the garish yellow of Bengaluru Raptors stood in the parking lot of the GMC Balayogi Indoor Stadium.
The gaudy paint shone from a distance as people moved towards the car to collect their free Raptors jerseys. A lot of them wore the loose-fitting vest over their clothes before going on a selfie-spree, pledging their newfound allegiance to the Bengaluru team in the Premier Badminton League 2020 (PBL).
It seemed like a smart move by the organisers. Bengaluru Raptors would need some backing in the stands when going up against the home team, Hyderabad Hunters, who have enjoyed overwhelming support here because of their marquee player and India’s reigning world champion PV Sindhu.
The PBL this year has seen a sparse crowd in all the three cities it travelled to — Chennai, Lucknow and Hyderabad.
With foreign faces such as Spain’s Carolina Marin, also Indian players Kidambi Srikanth and Saina Nehwal choosing to miss the league in an Olympic year, the onus has been on World No 6 Sindhu and World No 2 Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei to work as crowd-pullers.
On Friday, the PBL may have seen its biggest crowd of the season, as spectators were lured by the women’s singles match between Sindhu and Tai Tzu.
Of the five matches in the tie between the Hunters and Raptors, the much-anticipated women's singles contest was to be the third of the day.
Even as the first match, the men’s doubles commenced at 7 pm, the spectators took some time to trickle in, strolling around the popcorn stand outside the entrance, also eyeing the shiny badminton gear displayed in the mobile Yonex store.
Inside the stadium, the galleries were lit in the neon red of Hyderabad Hunters.
People flocked about in search of their seats and the usually dulled ushers swung into action.
Crowd control had rarely been an issue during the Hyderabad leg but the stadium crew was vigilant on Friday.
Inside the arena, the stands were packed. The arc-lights shone brightly on the court where 6'5" Vladimir Ivanov of Hyderabad Hunters jumped to gain a few extra inches and pummel his opponents with a smash. The crowd lay absorbed by the exchange which followed.
On the other end of the court, Chan Peng Soon, one half of the Bengaluru Raptors’ men’s doubles pair fended the body blows with artsy defensive strokes.
The rallies were now being cheered by the rhythmic sounds of dhol and trumpets which came from the general stands. The DJ used music sparingly, lest they disturb the organically electric ambience brought on by this very cheery throng of fans.
— PBL India (@PBLIndiaLive) January 31, 2020
The Hyderabad Hunters men’s doubles pair of Vladimir Ivanov and Ben Lane lost the first match of the tie, in three games, to the Bengaluru pair of Chan Peng Soon and Rian Agung Saputro.
The home team further dug themselves into a hole as World No 28 Sourabh Verma lost his trump, the men’s singles match 2-1 against a lower-ranked opponent, Brice Leverdez of France.
Thus, the Hunters score read an embarrassing -1 as the team which loses its trump match loses a point from its score, besides the opponent gaining one.
With two matches done and the Raptors leading by 2 points to -1, the main event was laced with some context. Sindhu needed to beat Tai Tzu for her team to have any chance of winning the tie against Raptors.
As the emcee welcomed both the players, the crowd pitched in with a deafening roar. Most seemed to have forgotten Sindhu’s meek straight games loss to Canada’s Michelle Li, during the Hunters’ tie against North Eastern Warriors earlier in the week. They were appreciative of their homegrown champion and her struggles to live up to her billing in each match.
“That was a one-off thing,” said Senthil Ramachandran, a badminton enthusiast, who had seen Sindhu’s last match from the stands.
“That’s what happens when playing against top-level players as Li and Tai Tzu. You can’t predict much,” spoke Siya, Senthil’s wife, like the fan who understands the sport’s puzzling dynamics, where a day’s dismal loss might not have a bearing on future results.
Others were less optimistic.
After Sindhu lost three straight points at the outset to well-placed half smashes from Tai Tzu, some spectators cheered but with a tinge of worry, hoping that the match doesn’t turn out to be a bust.
Others were deliberating if it could turn out to be an encore of Sindhu’s previous outing.
However, it only took Sindhu’s first point off an error from Tai Tzu to get the crowd to erupt in unison. Before long, a smash came from Sindhu and it felt like the World No 6 had found her mojo.
Sindhu pressed the pedal thereafter, finding the space to smash for winners but also acing the net game with some unreturnable drop shots.
On the other end of the court, Tai Tzu was yet to come into her own, her trademark brand of deceptive stroke-play nowhere to be seen in the first game.
Sindhu benefited from the same, winning the first game 15-11 and inciting a resounding cheer from the crowd at the change of ends.
However, the second game onwards, Tai Tzu was at her fearsome best, employing her unique strengths — the disguised strokes and balletic footwork — to toy with the Indian on the court.
While Sindhu made light work of the overhead dollies, hitting the smash at will, Tai Tzu built up the rallies for a final flourish.
The Chinese Taipei shuttler was trailing 6-8 at the mid-game interval but enjoyed a run of six straight points thereafter, firmly stealing the initiative from Sindhu.
If her smashes weren't as speedy as Sindhu's, Tai Tzu made up for it by slotting them in the right areas. A down-the-line smash from the Raptors shuttler closed out the second game 15-13, thus forcing a decider.
Tai Tzu rode on her momentum in the third game and upped the ante considerably, rattling Sindhu with bodyline smashes, then rushing to the net to swat the shuttle for the winner on the follow-up stroke.
At the mid-game interval for the third game, Tai Tzu led Sindhu 8-4. The four-point cushion only spurred Tai Tzu to pull out the deceptive flourish. A fake turn of the arm and the smash made way for the drop, even as the crowd yelled "Attack!"
When faced with those tricky shots, Sindhu was often found trapped in the mid-court, left with no chance but to try for the next point. It wasn't to be though, as Tai Tzu closed out the match 11-15, 15-13, 15-9, with her team also taking an unassailable 3 points to -1 lead in the tie.
Just as Sindhu walked out of the court, hordes of spectators swiftly made their way out of the stadium. It wasn't the disappointment of Sindhu losing that had done it for them.
Rather, it was contentment, of having watched the Indian ply her trade against the world's best and going down fighting at that.
"In India, people follow a sport when there's a star athlete to be seen," opined Senthil before leaving the stadium with his wife.
On Friday, even in defeat, Sindhu's star shone brightly.
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