Mumbai win opening tie against Awadhe Warriors after their star shutter Nehwal pulls out with ‘foot injury’

Many fans that turned up to watch the opening tie of the Premier Badminton League (PBL), including under-9 shuttler Raksha Kandasamy who travelled all the way from Navi Mumbai with her parents, wanted to catch a glimpse of World No. 2 Saina Nehwal in action.


However, much to the disbelief of those present at the NSCI here on Saturday, India’s best female shuttler pulled out of her team Awadhe Warriors’ opening tie against Mumbai Rockets due to “a serious foot injury”.

Left disappointed with Nehwal’s withdrawal, fans, however, had reasons to cheer as hosts Mumbai Rockets won the opening tie. Incidentally, both the ‘trump’ players lost for their respective sides on Saturday.

Nehwal said she has been suffering from a foot injury “for the last couple of weeks”.

“It is quite serious and I’m on the verge of recovery. This being the Olympic year, I wanted to be safer,” Saina told television commentator and former Olympian Aparna Popat before the start.

Nehwal had withdrawn from the Hong Kong Superseries in November a week after losing to Chin’a Li Xuerui in the China Open final due to pain in her right calf muscle. The 26-year-old, however, did play in the year-ending Dubai World Superseries Finals last month.

Nehwal was hopeful of playing for her team at some stage in this PBL, saying that she trained on Saturday for the first time in some weeks.

“I have four remaining matches in PBL. I hope to recover and play in the league. (It is strange) I will be cheering for Awadhe Warriors from the sidelines. It is the first time I will be sitting outside and watching someone play. But that happens,” she said.

Nehwal’s absence felt by Warriors
Nehwal’s withdrawal reflected majorly on Warriors, who lost the tie with two matches remaining. Reigning senior national women’s champion, 18-year-old Ruthvika Gadde handed the hosts the tie when she beat Nehwal’s replacement, upcoming 17-year-old from Telangana, G Vrushali 15-13 15-10.

To make matters worse for Warriors, their men’s doubles pair of Cai Yun and Hendra Gunawan lost their trump match.

The opening match of the league was between Indian compatriots B Sai Praneeth, ranked 34th, and RMV Gurusaidutt, ranked 47. Gurusaidutt covered the court better than his higher ranked opponent to give the Rockets a 1-0 lead, coming from a game down to win 14-15 15-10 15-8.

The hosts took a three-point advantage when higher-ranked Europeans Mathias Boe of Denmark and Vladimir Ivanov of Russia outplayed Warriors’ Asian duo of Yun from China and Gunawan of Indonesia 15-11 15-11 in the trump match. It was surprising that Warriors chose their men’s doubles as trump match against superior opponents, Boe, ranked fourth, and Ivanov, ranked 11th. By losing the game, Warriors went -1, while Rockets got a bonus point.

It was then Mumbai’s turn to nominate their trump, and it was World No. 20 HS Prannoy, who took on Thailand’s 33rd rank Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk. Prannoy lost the first game 12-15. But true to his higher ranking, he fought back hard in the second game. Facing match point at 12-14, Prannoy’s effective net play and smashes saw him win three straight points to force the match to the decider. The Indian was in a similar situation in the third game, facing match point at 12-14 when a backhand smash followed by a drop at the net saw him level at 14-14.

However, the Indian’s return outside the service line saw Saensomboonsuk win Warriors’ first point of the tournament.

After four matches, Rockets had a two-point advantage (2-0), which reduced to one after the Warriors clinched the mixed doubles tie.

Mumbai Rockets beat Awadhe Warriors 3-2 (MS: RMV Gurusaidutt bt B Sai Praneeth 14-15 15-10 15-8; MD: Mathias Boe/ Vladimir Ivanov bt Cai Yun/ Hendra Gunawan (TRUMP) 15-11 15-11; WS: Ruthvika Gadde bt G Vrushali 15-13 15-10; MS: HS Prannoy (TRUMP) lost to Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk 12-15 15-14 14-15; XD: V Ivanov/ Kamilla Juhl lost to Bodin Issara/ Christina Pedersen 9-15 15-14 14-15)
Net Points: Mumbai Rockets 2, Awadhe Warriors 1

Playing today:
Hyderabad Hunters vs Bengaluru Topguns (3 pm); Mumbai Rockets vs Chennai Smashers (7pm), Live on Star Sports 2 & 3