Hyderabad Hotshots stormed into the final of the Indian Badminton League with an emphatic 3-0 win over Pune Pistons in the first semifinal at the Gachibowli Indoor Stadium here on Wednesday.
After a high quality display from Ajay Jayaram and Saina Nehwal, that gave it a 2-0 lead, the crowd favourite wrapped up the issue when the men’s doubles pair of Goh V Shem and Wah Lim Khim won against Joachim Fischer Nielsen and Sanave Thomas.
In the first match, the 25-year-old Jayaram came up with a stunning display to beat the world No. 5 Tien Minh Nguyen and record his second straight win over the Vietnamese at this year’s IBL.
For all those who watched a not-so-fit Ajay surrender meekly to Banga Beats’ Jan O Jorgensen in the last league match on Tuesday, the Indian looked totally different on Wednesday evening to the delight of a lustily cheering crowd.
The scores were tied quite often before Ajay broke away, after 15-all, with a high quality game. A few tips from the coach and legendary Taufik Hidayat during the break seemed to have a desired effect on him as he soon set up for those big smashes and excelled in net-play.
To the dismay of Pistons’ camp, Nguyen’s returns were often erratic, not really finding the right length, and this compounded his misery. No doubt, there were a couple of line calls which upset him but it was obvious that he was up against a player who looked completely in command in the crucial stages of the contest.
“It was not a miracle overnight. I was injured but a rest and a change in strategy helped me,” remarked Ajay later.
Then, it was the turn of Hotshots’ icon player Nehwal to get the better of World No. 3 Juliane Schenk and maintain her unbeaten run in the league.
It was controlled aggression and cross-court mastery from the Indian who also showed near-perfect precision in the first game to leave the shuttles going out at the baseline.
The 30-year-old German, who struggled in the first game, was more charged up in the second and showed great fitness levels. The two were engaged the longest rally in the Hyderabad-leg of the IBL matches and it was Schenk who clinched that point when her opponent misjudged the flight of the shuttle which actually landed close to the baseline.
Soon, Schenk regained her wonted form with some deceptive stroke-play which often caught Saina on the wrong foot quite. A lucky net point at 19-all saw Schenk inch closer and she did not waste the chance to wrap up the game with a powerful forehand smash which Saina failed to return.
In the decider, the scores were tied four-all before Saina essayed a cross-court smash and followed it up with an attacking stroke into Schenk’s body to take a 8-6 lead.
After some great net-play, some negative points from the Indian saw Schenk narrow down the lead to 10-8. Responding to a huge roar of applause in anticipation, Saina essayed a jump smash which brooked no return and signalled her sixth straight win in this IBL.
“I lost my focus in the second game and was unable to retrieve the few shots. Schenk also changed her shots a little which became dangerous.
“But, I just thought about winning for a few seconds and got myself back into action to win the match,” Saina explained later.
“Honestly, we did not expect a 3-0 win,” she said with a big smile.
The results: First semifinal: Hyderabad Hotshots bt Pune Pistons 3-0 (Ajay Jayaram bt Tien Minh Nguyen 21-17, 21-11; Saina Nehwal bt Juliane Schenk 21-10, 19-21, 11-8; Goh V. Shem & Wah Lim Khim bt Joachim Fischer Nielsen & Sanave Thomas 16-21, 21-14, 11-7).