Mumbai Masters’ Lee Chong Wei and Hyderabad Hotshots’ Saina Nehwal won in contrasting fashion to set the tone for a heady clash between the top-notch teams in the Vodafone-IBL competition in the presence of a vociferous crowd at the Balewadi sports complex’s badminton facility here on Thursday.
While Saina made short work of P.C. Thulasi and scored her fourth straight win in the league, the Malaysian World No. 1 was made to sweat by a tenacious Ajay Jayaram in the first match of the evening.
But Chong Wei’s laborious win was the only bright spark for the Masters. Hotshots — flaunting their riches in the men’s doubles and second men’s singles category — exhibited tremendous resilience to get the better of their opponents in order retain the top position with 15 points and enter the semifinals in the $1 million tournament.
The momentous hour came when left hander S. Tanongsak pulverized the Masters’ Marc Zwiebler into submission in three games.
After Tanongsak hit the winning shot Saina led the Hotshots celebrations with gusto and style. . I came here for the junior world championship last time and got the same support from Pune. I am glad to once again make my fans in Pune happy,’’ said Saina.
Chong Wei attributed his sorry plight to a disconcerting high wind in the first two games, but eventually dictated terms in the third against a tired-looking Jayaram. Jayaram was the obvious choice to take the court for the Hotshots in the opening singles after his impressive win against the Pune Piston’s Vietnamese star Tien Minh Nyugen at the NSCI, Mumbai.
With Taufik Hidayak donning the coach’s role once again and passing on tips, Jayaram adhered to a game-plan of manipulating the shuttle at the net to win many points.
Chong Wei held his nerves at 19 all, pocketed the next two points and the first game, but the champion was outplayed in the second with Jayaram holding on to the advantage he held at the two mandatory intervals at 7-4 and 14-8.
In the third game, Chong Wei led 6-3 at the break and earned a hard fought victory at 11-5. In the fifth match, Vladimir Ivanov and Sikki Reddy won in straight games to put their team closer to a place in the semifinal. Mumbai Masters has 13 points from four matches.
The results: Hyderabad Hotshots bt Mumbai Masters 3-2 (Ajay Jayaram lost to Lee Chong Wei 19-21, 21-11, 5-11; Saina Nehwal bt P.C. Thulasi 21-7, 21-10; V. Shem Goh & Khim Wah Lim bt Sumeet Reddy & Manu Attri 11-21, 21-16, 11-9; S. Tanongsak bt Marc Zwiebler 21-19, 17-21, 11-6; Kona Tarun & Pradnya Gadre lost to Vladimir Ivanov & Sikki Reddy 21-18, 21-19).