The build-up to their clash was noisy. But alas, it turned out to be a dull affair.
An encounter between two Hyderabadis, the most prolific trainees of the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy, was a no-contest. And for the second time in the IBL, Saina Nehwal tamed her younger, lower-ranked friend PV Sindhu 21-15 21-7.
The one-sided match helped the Hyderabad Hotshots draw level after K Srikanth stunned the higher-ranked Saesomboonsuk Tanongsak 21-12 21-20 to give the Awadhe Warriors a 1-0 lead in the grand final.
Nehwal maintained her 100 per cent win record in the tournament, ending it the way she began against Sindhu, winning in straight games.
She could not have asked for a near-perfect tournament. Supposedly out of form going into the league, Nehwal won each of her seven matches, losing just three games, and proving that she is still the best.
Ranked No. 4 in the world, Nehwal was the crowd favourite against her 10th-ranked opponent. Not many non-cricketers are worshipped in this fashion.
There were only a few fans rooting for the 18-year-old Sindhu. But she had no answer to Nehwal’s smashes. She was found wanting in retrieving the senior pro’s attacking strokes. In her anxiety to place the shuttle out of Nehwal’s reach, be it through smashes or at the net, Sindhu was not up to the mark. It either went long or wide, or it landed in her court.
Earlier, the way the first men’s singles began, it seemed that the quiet and shy Srikanth, another of Gopichand’s trainees, would be outsmashed by the left-handed Tanongsak.
The 22-year-old Tanongsak, ranked 19 in the world, won three of his first four points by virtue of his powerful smashes. But Srikanth came back into the game with a brilliant display of both attacking shots and attractive net play, forcing the Thai into committing errors.
The 20-year-old Srikanth could soon be a force to reckon with. Riding high on the confidence he drew from stretching World No. 1 Lee Chong Wei, Srikanth enjoyed a slender lead when the players went into the 90-second break. He then raced away with the first game, taking in 21-12.
The second game saw Tanongsak stage a fightback. Trailing 8-14, he made it 17-17. What’s more, he even led 19-18 — for the first time in the match — when Srikanth’s return found the net. However, Srikanth maintained his cool to seal the deal, winning 21-20.
Results: Hyderabad Hotshots vs Awadhe Warriors 2-1 (MS: S Tanongsak lost to K Srikanth 12-21 20-21; WS: S Nehwal bt PV Sindhu 21-15 21-7; MD: VS Goh/ KW Lim bt M Kido/ M Boe 21-14 13-21 11-4)