Ace Indian shuttler Saina Nehwal rallied from a game down to get the better of German rival Juliane Schenk in a high quality Indian Badminton League (IBL) women's singles clash to help Hyderabad Hotshots take a handy 2-0 lead over Pune Pistons here on Monday.
Egged on by the partisan crowd chanting Saina Saina, the Indian world no. 4 downed world no 3 Schenk 17-21 21-19 11-6 in 59 minutes, after her teammate Ajay Jayram had shocked Vietnam's Tien Minh Nguyen in the first men's singles match 21-19 21-8 in just 40 minutes at the NSCI Stadium here.
The Saina-Schenk clash had the trappings of a very good match between two of the world's top women shuttlers and they enthralled the crowd, with both players striving their best especially in the second game that stretched to 27 minutes.
Saina started on the wrong note against Schenk, against whom she has an 8-4 win-loss record at the international level, by making a numer of unforced errors in the opening game which she lost quite tamely after bridging a big gap.
Saina trailed 5-7 and then 7-14 but the Indian narrowed the gap by sending the German rival to the base with quick flicks and then winning the point with drop or smash winners.
The Indian ace narrowed the lead to 16-17 before her rival hit a purple patch in time and ran away with the opening game in 19 minutes when Saina hit the bird wide.
In the second game, Saina tightened up her game but her rival level-pegged till 6 before the Indian upped the tempo and led 11-8.
Schenk caught up at 14 and then even led by one point before Saina caught her at 16.
It became 18-all and then 19-all before Saina went up to game point with a flat smash winner and then drew level with her rival by winning the last point when Shenk's attempted drop sailed wide of the sideline.
Having the momentum, Saina jumped to a 4-1 lead in the decider and led 7-5 at the break in the final game after a series of long and exciting rallies.
She held her nerve while Schenk committed errors and clinched the tie when the German hit long. This was the German's first loss in three games in the IBL while Saina has won all her three matches thus far.
Earlier, Jayaram, ranked 24th in the world, was the more aggressive player against world no 5 Nguyen and dominated the Vietnamese shuttler near the net as well as away from it, especially in the second game in which the Indian was clearly the better player.
The first game was a closely-fought affair with the 25-year-old Jayram, who has a 1-2 record against his Vietnamese rival in international matches, holding a one or 2 point advantage almost right through the game.
Nguyen caught up with his Indian rival on three occasions at 6, 11 and 18 and even took the lead once at 12-11 before Jayaram snatched back the initiative.
Playing some excellent net drops and flat drives, Jayaram upped the tempo after leading 14-13 at the second break. Two shots over the baseline put the Vietnamese down 14-16 and then Jayaram came up with a jump smash to lead 17-14.
Nguyen caught up at 18 but another judgment error helped Jayaram lead 19-18. A flick to the base got Jayaram to game point, which was saved by the Vietnamese before the Indian sewed up the game with an instinctive drop off a smash.
Jayaram, who had lost to Nguyen in June last year at the Singapore Open in straight games, quickly jumped to a 4-1 lead in the second game and never relinquished the early advantage as he completely overshadowed his rival.
The Indian used his smash to very good effect in this game, by sending them quite wide of his rival's racquet. On a roll, Jayaram gathered points quickly to lead 14-6 at the next break and the match was as good as over.
A smash followed by a superbly executed drop got Jayaram to his first match point at 20-8 and a leap smash winner gave the Indian the match and a 1-0 lead to Hotshots.