After cheering for her Hyderabad Hotshots teammate Ajay Jayaram using hand-clappers till the second 90-second interval of the first game of the evening’s opening match, Saina Nehwal left her chair in the team’s dug-out to warm up for her match against Juliane Schenk.
At the end of her match, an hour-and-a-half later, hundreds of hands clapped for her as she gave Hyderabad Hotshots a 2-0 lead against Pune Pistons in the third leg of Indian Badminton League at NSCI here on Monday. Hyderabad’s men’s doubles pair of V Shem Goh and KW Lim ensured Pune could not come back with a 21-19 21-16 win over R Kumar and Sanave Thomas.
Saina, after losing the first game, regrouped in the next two to win the match 17-21 21-19 11-6 in 59 minutes. This came after Jayaram won his men’s singles match 21-19 21-8 against Tien Minh Nguyen to give Hyderabad the advantage.
Hyderabad’s fortunes depended heavily on Saina as they have a win and a loss from the previous two legs. On the other hand, Pune Pistons, with two wins, had to only carry on the momentum.
World No. 3 Schenk, one place above Saina in world rankings, gave Pune Pistons hope by winning the first game. Schenk had the upper-hand when it came to long rallies. Saina, anxious to finish off the rally, erred by finding the net.
However, Saina was on top in the second and third, smashing out of Schenk’s reach and also winning points at the net. It was the first time Saina was challenged in IBL.
“I love Schenk for the way she always gives me a good fight,” Saina said after the match. Saina has an 8-4 win-loss record over Schenk in international competitions. Both know each other’s game very well, their plusses and minuses.
While handing Schenk her first defeat of the IBL, Saina maintained her 100 per cent record in women’s singles, living up to her icon status. Except for a brief period on either side of the second break in the second game when she trailed Schenk, she was on top to maintain her lead. Saina was rarely tested in the decider, racing to 11-6 in just 13 minutes.
In the evening’s opening match, Chembur-bred Jayaram smashed his way to a 21-19 21-8 win in 40 minutes over higher-ranked Vietnamese Tien Minh Nguyen.
World No. 24 Jayaram was playing his second match of the IBL and thanked the crowd support for his first win in the league after having lost to K Srikanth of Awadhe Warriors and not featuring in the game against Krrish Delhi Smashers.
It was important for Hyderabad Hotshots to get off to a winning start and set the momentum for Saina to carry on in the second fixture. Jayaram, world No. 24, came from behind in the first set even as the 30-year-old Nguyen cashed in on the lapses on Jayaram’s part. However, in the second set, it was Jayaram all the way, giving enough reason for the home team to cheer about.