In the first semi-final of the Indian Badminton League between the Hyderabad Hotshots and Pune Pistons, the home team proved too strong for the visitors.
The Saina Nehwal-led Hyderabad team ousted the Ashwini Ponappa-led Pune team 3-0 to reach the finals. The finals will be played on Saturday between the Hotshots and winners of the second semi-finals to be played tomorrow. The Awadhe Warriors and Mumbai Masters will go at each other’s throats for the right to challenge the Hotshots when they meet in Bengaluru on Thursday.
Ajay Jayaram gave the hotshots the ideal start when he scored a major upset over the world No.5 Tien Minh Nguyen in the first match of the semi-finals between Hotshots and Pistons. Playing in front of a near capacity home crowd at the indoor stadium in Hyderabad, Jayaram made a mockery of the rankings with a steady performance against his 30-year-old Vietnamese opponent.
The 25-year-old from Bengaluru was at his attacking best as he dealt a 21-17, 21-11 defeat to get the local team off to a great start. The opening game a was a tight duel till 15-15, when Ajay ran up a four point lead. Once he clinched the first game, Ajay was the dominant of the two players as he ran away to a comfortable win in the second game and the match.
Saina took the court accompanied by a mightily vociferous reception from the adoring Hyderabadi crowd. She lived up to her responsibility of leading the team with aplomb, defeating the German Juliane Schenk in a hard fought three game thriller that had the crowd cheering wildly for the local star.
In the end, it took a big effort from the 23-year-old as she staved off a stiff challenge from Schenk, winning 21-11, 19-21, 11-8 to give the Hotshots a two point lead.
The men’s doubles match that followed Saina-Schenk on court proved decisive as Goh Shem and Wah Lim Khim overcame a one game deficit to prevail 16-21, 21-14, 11-7, helping Hotshots to an unblemished passage to the final.