Doubles specialist Ashwini Ponnappa guided Pune Pistons to a thrilling 3-2 victory against hosts Delhi Smashers in the opening match of the USD one million Indian Badminton League (IBL) which kicked off with a short but colourful opening ceremony at the Siri Fort Sports Complex in New Delhi on Wednesday. (Highlights from Day 1 of IBL)
After a vibrant half-an-hour opening ceremony, India rising shuttler B Sai Praneeth and World number seven Tien Ming Nguyen from Vietnam set the ball rolling for the competition as they clashed in the men's singles match. Gaint-killer Praneeth earned the first blood for Delhi as he notched up a stunning 21-16 21-20 victory over Tien Minh but the hosts lost the lead when Pune's Juliane Schenk of Germany notched up an easy 21-15 21-6 over Nichaon Jindapon of Thailand in the second game and brought back the Pistons at 1-1.
However, as expected world number two Malaysian combo of Kien Keat Koo and Boon Heong Tan gave Delhi Smashers the lead once again when they sent packing the Indian pair of Rupesh Kumar and Sanave Thomas 21-13 21-16 in the men's doubles match.
World number 36 Sourabh Verma then eked out a thrilling 21-16 19-21 11-5 victory over HS Prannoy, ranked 46, in the second men's singles to brought Pune Pistons back into the hunt, making it 2-2.
In the decider, former women doubles combination of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa, who won India's second bronze in 2011 World Championship, then took the court but as rivals, representing their respective franchises Delhi and Pune.
It turned out to be an exciting clash but it was Ashwini and Joachim Fischer Nielsen who held their nerves to surpass Jwala and Kien Keat Koo 21-19 16-21 11-3 in a hard-fought battle for supremacy.
With the help of this victory, Pune notched up a 3-2 win over Delhi and grabbed crucial four points (3 one bonus point) and Delhi had to settle with two points.
Earlier, Praneeth lived up to his reputation of a gaint-slayer as he dished out an attacking game to unsettle Tien Minh, who won the bronze at the recently-concluded world championship in China. It was a brilliant display of defence and attack as Praneeth kept changing the pace of the game and was, infact, leading in most part of the opening game.
Tien Minh clawed back at 13-13 but Praneeth moved ahead at 18-15 with the help of his calculated pushes and some impeccable returns and soon pocketed the first game.
The world no. 37 Indian, who had spoilt Taufik Hidayat's farewell at the Indonesia Open and stunned then world number six Hu Yun of Hong Kong in Singapore Open, showed good temperament and adjusted to the new scoring quickly.
In the second game, the Indian was lagging 10-14 but he didn't lose his composure and soon caught up with the Vietnamese at 18-18. He then went on to reach the match point at 20-19 but he slipped while returning a shot on the forecourt to see the match level par at 20-20. However, he didn't let the opportunity slip away and clinched the next point to race away with the match.
Earlier, the million dollar Indian Badminton League kicked off with a glittering opening ceremony. It was a colourful show of laser lights, acrobatics and Bollywood songs and dance as the half-an hour opening ceremony started the proceedings at the Siri Fort Sports complex here.
Flags of different franchises were carried by women inside big bubbles and acrobatics were performed by artists who used big size circles and cubes to showcase their skills, enthralling the sparse crowd.
The stage was next taken by Neeti Mohan, who sang 'jiyare jiyare' from the movie 'Jab Tak Hai Jaan'. Earlier, six players, including Saina Nehwal, Jwala Gutta and Parupalli Kashyap, took the oath, before Badminton Association of India (BAI) president, Akhilesh Das Gupta announced the tournament open.
After the match, Saurabh Verma said, "Me and Prannoy are good friends and play against each other at the academy. I am happy for my team and like to thank the crowd here." Tan Boon Hoeng said, "Its never as easy as it looks.
There are a couple of good smashers in Pune Pistons team and you have to be really careful while playing against them." His partner, Koo Kien Keat added, "I never played this kind of format in my career so I am really looking forward to give my best."
"I am happy with the way I played and quite enjoyed the crowd. It was a bit of upset in the beginning for our team today but possibly that just goes to proof that it happens in a lot of matches but the competition was good. I think I am one of the more experienced players in the world and I feel good about sharing my experience with others."