The Ahmedabad Smash Masters made a roaring debut at the Premier Badminton League in the last season and even looked like one of the strongest contenders for the title until their run ended in the semi-finals.
A year on, they are back with more vigor and hunger. Roping in the former world champion Viktor Axelsen could help them make up for the mistakes they made towards the end of the league last season. The former World No. 1 led the Bengaluru Blasters to the final in the previous edition, where his team was narrowly edged out by the Hyderabad Hunters.
This would be the first time in three years that the Danish superstar would be seen donning the jersey of a team other than the Bengaluru franchise. It could be a wise move on the part of the Smash Masters as Axelsen is very much acquainted with the pressure of performing in the hectic PBL.
However, expectations should still be kept low as the Dane is coming to this tournament right after recovering from an ankle injury. He hasn’t played in more than two months and might need a couple of matches to overcome the rustiness.
Should Axelsen need a break in between, Malaysia’s World No. 23 Daren Liew, a handy player himself, would be ready to take care of the proceedings. Also in the squad is India’s former national champion Sourabh Verma.
The World No. 54 made a good comeback from a series of injuries this year by winning the Russian Open and the Dutch Open. He is looking confident on the court after a long time and thus might have to pad up for the Smash Masters in a few matches.
Scottish Open champion Kirsty Gilmour is the leading women’s singles exponent in this team. The World No. 28 has shone previously in the PBL and would be keen to do well once more.
India has two of its biggest doubles stars in the squad as both Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Sikki Reddy belong to the Smash Masters.
Satwik, in partnership with Chirag Shetty, had his career-best season in men’s doubles, winning the Hyderabad Open and reaching a couple of semi-finals at the Super 500 level or more. He is now perched at a career-high No. 16 spot in the latest world rankings.
Besides, he is also an excellent mixed doubles player himself. Alongside Ashwini Ponnappa, the youngster made it to the quarter-finals of the World Championships. Mixed doubles World No. 24 Lee Chun Hei Reginald too is another great addition to the team and should look to spearhead the challenge in that discipline.
Commonwealth Games bronze medal-winning doubles expert Sikki Reddy has been one-half of India’s No. 1 mixed doubles pair for a long time until being recently overtaken by Satwik and Ashwini. The veteran campaigner would definitely look to make a difference for the Ahmedabad franchise.
Kidambi Srikanth’s elder brother, Kidambi Nandagopal is an efficient men’s doubles player and is currently ranked 80th. Having him makes the squad even sharper, for a combination of Nandagopal and Satwik could prove to be lethal for other teams.
Squad: Viktor Axelsen (men’s singles), Daren Liew (men’s singles), Sourabh Verma (men’s singles), Kirsty Gilmour (women’s singles), Vaishnavi Bhale (women’s singles), Satwiksairaj Rankireddy (doubles), Sikki Reddy (doubles), Anoushka Parikh (doubles), Lee Chun Hei Reginald (doubles), Kidambi Nandagopal (doubles)