Sindhu's clash with Saina key for IBL final
Hyderabad Hotshots and Awadhe Warriors have reached the final of the world's most expensive badminton tournament with an identical 3-2 win-loss record in the league.
The Hotshots topped the standings while their Lucknow counterparts were a point behind in second position.
Exactly a fortnight back the two teams met in the first week of the tournament in Delhi and Saina-led Hotshots beat the Warriors 3-2 -- with the World No.4 herself winning the key match against a keyed-up Sindhu in straight games.
The Warriors lost their opening two ties but recovered well to win the remaining matches thanks to Sindhu's outstanding performance against two top overseas stars and their excellent doubles teams. Their men's singles players K. Srikanth and R.M.V. Gurusaidutt were at their best while overpowering Mumbai Masters 3-2 in the semifinal.
The Warriors' turnaround began here when they outplayed Krrish Delhi Smashers 4-1 and they never looked back since.
The World No.10 Hyderabadi lost her first two IBL women's singles matches to Saina and Carolina Marin of the Banga Beats. But the teenager has regained her touch by beating top class opponents like Juliane Schenk and Tine Baun.
Awadhe's trump card has been 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medallist Markis Kido. The Indonesian has joined hands with 2012 London Olympics silver medallist Mathias Boe to turn their combine into a feared one.
Also, Warriors' last three victories have been decided in the final mixed doubles rubber where Kido has formed a superb partnership with his sister Pia Bernadeth, together ranked World No.9, and have won all the three clashes.
For the Hyderabad-based team, Saina has justified her second highest IBL bid of $120,000 by winning and maintaining a 100 percent win record in the event.
In men's singles, Ajay Jayaram and Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk have done reasonably well by pulling off upset wins. However, it will be interesting to see if the Hotshots have reserved the best for the final.
Former Olympic and World Champion Taufik Hidayat has played only one match in the tournament, which he lost. The world knows that the Indonesian great is a moody player and, if in his elements, he can beat the best in the world.
Hyderabad's men's doubles Malaysian duo of Goh V. Shem and Lim Khim Wah have also been in great form, though they lost to Boe and Kido in New Delhi.
The Hotshots could surprise anyone with their mixed doubles Saturday evening as they did in Hyderabad in the semifinal Wednesday. Instead of regulars Pradnya Gadre-Tarun Kona, Saina was paired with Goh to take on the strong combine of Joachim Fischer Nielsen and Ashwini Ponnappa.
However, the tie ended with the third match and a chance to see Saina in mixed doubles action was missed. But which pair will be able to face the heat of the Indonesian siblings Kido-Pia?
Road to the finals:
Hotshots: beat Awadhe Warriors 3-2; lost to Krrish Delhi Smashers 2-3; beat Pune Pistons 4-1; beat Mumbai Masters 3-2; lost to Banga Beats 2-3; and in semifinals beat Pune Pistons 3-0.
Warriors: lost to Hotshots 2-3; lost to Banga Beats 1-4; beat Krrish Delhi Smashers 4-1; beat Mumbai Masters 3-2; beat Pune Pistons 3-2; and in semifinals beat Mumbai Masters 3-2.