Sindhu will need to better Saina in order to make the title clash interesting

The stage is set for the inaugural Vodafone-IBL final between Hyderabad Hotshots and Awadhe Warriors at the National Sports Club of India (NSCI) on Saturday.

While Hotshots trounced Pune Pistons 3-0 in the first semifinal, Warriors smartly harnessed their resources to eliminate Mumbai Masters 3-2 in the second.

This earned the Lucknow franchise another crack at Hotshots to which it had lost 2-3 in the league stage.

Warriors’ win came as dim news for fans here who had anticipated a Hotshots-Masters title match, but in the overall context of the $one million league, it must be stated with some conviction and pride that Indian badminton has grown by leaps and bounds.

After an action-packed fortnight, even the cynics will admit that the tournament has surpassed all expectations and won new admirers.

Proof of the overwhelming success of the league has been evident from the players’ observations, the large turnouts at the impressive venues in six cities and the response for the Shuttle Express School championship being run concurrently with the main tournament.

The gifted Hotshots and the persevering Warriors are deserving finalists. With Saina Nehwal and Thailand’s Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk undefeated in the tournament, Hotshots will start as favourites.

The experienced Saina and the fearless Tanongsak should not suffer from stage fright. Saina has won six matches and Tanongsak five (he did not have to play the second men’s singles against Pistons) and one would expect the in-form Thai player to begin proceedings.

Ajay Jayaram has figured in three opening singles matches, winning two, both coming against Pistons’ Vietnamese Tien Minh Nguyen.

Not impressive

Hotshots’ record in doubles (men’s and mixed) and second men’s singles is not as impressive. In the circumstances, Warriors will hope for a spectacular display from P.V. Sindhu, the rising star of Indian badminton, against Saina to unnerve Hotshots and look to capitalise in doubles.

K. Srikanth, who has won three matches (two in the opening singles against Sai Praneeth and Saurabh Verma and one against Jayaram playing the second singles), should have the edge over R.M.V. Gurusaidutt to play the first singles.

Warriors should have the upper hand in doubles with Markis Kido paired with Mathias Boe in men’s and with Pia Bernadet in mixed. But, for the tie to be taken to the fifth and deciding contest, Sindhu has to do the trick by getting the better of Saina.

Good news for Warriors

The good news for Warriors, though, is that Sindhu has the momentum after a difficult start.

She has won her last four matches, against Arundhati Pantawane, Tine Baun (twice) and Juliane Schenk.

Sindhu’s losses came against Saina and Spain’s Carolina Marin. If Sindhu prevails over Saina, it could make the final pulsating till the last stroke.

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