Having had to endure a narrow defeat twice in the final of the Premier Badminton League, the Mumbai Rockets will be hoping that this is finally the year they turn things around.
The two-time runners-up could not have made a better choice when they retained Sameer Verma as their leading men’s singles player. The 24-year-old just finished his best-ever season that saw him win the Swiss Open, the Hyderabad Open and the Syed Modi International, ultimately qualifying for the BWF World Tour Finals for the very first time in his career.
At the prestigious season-ender, the World No. 14 gave an even better account of himself. He refused to wallow in disappointment after starting with a one-sided defeat, and instead went on to book a berth in the semi-finals, where he lost from being match point up.
All season Verma has been India’s most consistent men’s singles player, and the Mumbai franchise will be hoping he can replicate his BWF heroics at the PBL too.
For support, Verma also has the World No. 19 Anders Antonsen in the squad, as the No. 2 men’s singles player. The rising Dane has been a former World No. 12, and recently made the semi-finals at the Denmark Open.
The doubles challenge will be spearheaded by the former World No. 1 Lee Yong Dae, who is also the captain of the team. One of the biggest legends of the game, the Korean’s resume is embellished with an Olympic gold, a World Championships silver, an Asian Games gold and the World No. 1 ranking, among several other accomplishments.
The 30-year-old has already been a part of this pan-Indian league in an earlier edition, and knows what it takes to perform under pressure in the unique format. The former numero uno player came out of retirement to play on the BWF World Tour this year, and even grabbed a couple of titles with Kim Gi Jung, who also belongs to the Rockets’ squad.
With the two doubles specialists knowing each other fully well, their chemistry and understanding should do wonders for the team.
Indonesia’s Pia Zebadiah Bernadeth will also be coming back to the PBL after several earlier stints. Despite her retirement a couple of years ago, Zebadiah has been playing intermittently on the circuit this year, and her efforts were rewarded with an International Series-level title. Her patience, guidance and expertise can also help bring the best out of India’s promising World No. 43 mixed doubles shuttler Kuhoo Garg.
Needless to say, Zebadiah will try to ensure that her team gets the vital mixed doubles point every tie, and stay in the hunt as long as possible.
Women’s singles is perhaps the only department where the Rockets have a few concerns. The players in this slot pale slightly in comparison to the other sections, which are relatively more potent.
World No. 107 Anura Prabhudesai and World No. 201 Shreyanshi Pradeshi are the only women’s singles specialists in the squad. Even though the opportunity to take up such a big responsibility will give the youngsters some much-needed exposure, it might not help the team’s cause
Squad: Sameer Verma (men’s singles), Anders Antonsen (men’s singles), Pratul Joshi (men’s singles), Anura Prabhudesai (women’s singles), Shreyanshi Pardeshi (women’s singles), Lee Yong Dae (doubles), Kim Gi Jung (doubles), Manu Attri (doubles), Kuhoo Garg (doubles), Pia Zebadiah Bernadeth (doubles)