PBL: Srikanth, Ponnappa win but Bengaluru Top Guns narrowly lose first encounter to Hyderabad Hunters

Srikanth Kidambi Bengaluru top gunsMumbai: In their opening encounter of the Premier Badminton League, Bengaluru Top Guns lost 2-3 to Hyderabad Hunters despite captain Kidambi Srikanth and Ashwini Ponnappa winning their respective matches, at the NSCI, Mumbai on Sunday.

The match began with Chinese Suo Di taking charge from the word 'go', getting the better of Supanida Katethong in the Women's Singles tie. Suo Di, who looked eager to prove her mettle as she started the tie for the team, hitting a massive serve of 290kmph, extending an early 8-point lead. Not to be bogged down by losing the first game 8-15, Katethong came back strongly. After being tied at 10 points, both the teams took the match to a close finish as Suo Di snatched a 4-point victory and the match with a score of 11-15, giving Bengaluru a 1-0 lead.

Hyderabad Hunters decided to select the next match as their 'Trump Match' as Danish-Indonesian pair Carsten Morgensen and Markis Kido took on Top Guns' Malayasian mavericks Hoon Thien How and Khim Wah Lim in the Mens' Doubles category. Playing against the 4th world ranked doubles pair, the Top Guns put up a stellar performance as they matched their opponents shot for shot even taking the first game 15-13. The second game was won 15-9 by the Hunters despite a spectacular rally of attacking display by the Top Guns. The Malaysian pair ran their opponents close in the decider game, even coming back to level it 14-14 but in the end, Hyderabad took the match in an enthralling fashion winning the decider game 15-14 and lead the tie 2-1 with the bonus point from winning their Trump Match.

In the first Men's Singles match, the Top Guns' Sameer Verma decided to take on Hyderabad's Parupali Kashyap for the second 'Trump Match' of the evening. Coming back from a long injury break Kashyap lived up to his reputation winning the first game 15-14. Keeping true to the trend of the evening so far, the Top Guns started to stage a comeback yet again as Sameer Verma led the game 3-7 at the change of ends. However some tactical errors towards the end saw Kashyap taking the game 15-13, winning the match in the end. This meant that Bengaluru were awarded a negative point for losing the 'Trump Match', ensuring that Hyderabad take a 3-0 lead and get their first win of the tournament.

Coach Arvind Bhat remained positive despite the opening loss of the tournament. "We do not consider this a loss at all. If you look at each individual performance, all our players played well. While the result does say that we lost, it will get better from here onwards. These performances will boost the confidence of our players and motivate them to perform better."

With the next match being played for pride, Bengaluru Top Guns' Ashwini Ponappa and Joachim Nielsen Fischer got off to a flying start against Jwala Gutta and Markis Kido, making it 11-7. With a powerful stroke by Ashwini that saw Kido falter, the team won the first game 15-13. The second game was the same story as Ashwini stole the show and got better out of the Gutta-Kido pair with 15-13 as well.

Ashwini herself echoed the coach's thoughts of putting up a better show in the next encounter. "I loved how we began today (Suo Di winning) and we could have played better today but we will definitely come back stronger in the next match. Playing with Fischer is always such a pleasure and having won both sets against Jwala and Kido who are really challenging opponents makes this win really special. Yes we lost our opening encounter but this is just the beginning for us Top Guns."

As one of the most anticipated contests of the tournament began between Lee Chong Wei and Kidambi Srikanth, it was a tale of evenly matched players. At the break, Srikanth led 8-7 with him establishing a sliver of dominance over the Malaysian. A flurry of attacking shots later, Srikanth closed out the first game 15-12 despite Lee attempting a comeback from 14-9 to 14-12. The second game saw Lee race to a 6-3 lead with a rally that saw both players being pushed to their limits in both attack and defence. The World No.1 proved too good for Srikanth as his smashes were on point, coming back to win the second game 15-6. The deciding game began tentatively with Srikanth forcing Lee to make a couple of surprising errors to lead 5-2 at the change of ends. From then on, Lee was pushed onto the back foot with Srikanth aggressive in his smashes and shot placement. In the end, the young Indian won the deciding game 15-7 with a last ditch team challenge showing Srikanth's final winner was valid, earning Srikanth his first win ever over Lee.

Srikanth was ecstatic after his thumping win over the World no.1, his first against the Malaysian ever. "I am very happy that my new year has begun with a win against Lee Chong Wei. I enjoyed playing every smash shot and having all my strategies working out perfectly. As the captain, I wish we could have won but what counts is the great performance by the Top Guns today. Ashwini especially was phenomenal and everyone else put their best stroke forward. The fact that the team didn't lose heart even after losing the match is my biggest takeaway as a captain."

The Bengaluru Top Guns will now play Mumbai Rockets on 5th January 2016.