Bengaluru Raptors continue their quest to become the first team at the Premier Badminton League (PBL) to win back-to-back titles as they edged Pune 7 Aces 4-3 in a thrilling second semi-final at the GMC Balayogi SATS Indoor Stadium in Hyderabad on February 8.
Bengaluru’s World Championships bronze medallist Sai Praneeth was upset by Pune’s World No. 73 Kazumasa Sakai but the defending champions rebounded with wins from Tai Tzu Ying, Brice Leverdez before the mixed doubles pair of Chan Peng Soon and Eom Hye Won sealed the tie for Bengaluru.
The Raptors will vie for the trophy against the North Eastern Warriors, who have made it to the final for the very first time.
With the two teams locked at 3-3, it all depended on the mixed doubles rubber to decide the outcome of the tie. Olympic silver medallist Soon and two-time World Championships medallist showed their fireworks in a fabulous 15-13, 15-10 victory over Pune’s Commonwealth Games gold medallists Chris and Gabrielle Adcock.
Earlier, World No. 2 Tai Tzu Ying was the heavy favourite coming into her women’s singles clash with Pune’s Rituparna Das. But the World No. 100, who had upset the 14th ranked Beiwen Zhang earlier in the season, gave a good account of herself in her first-ever meeting with the former World No. 1.
Banking on her deception, Das built a 7-5 advantage over the Raptors ace, who, however, did not waste time in levelling the score at 10-10 before going on to take the game 15-12.
Das did not let that bother her and remained on par with her formidable opponent until 12-12 in the second game. Tai’s spectacular net game made all the difference as the Chinese Taipei ace wrapped it up 15-12, 15-12.
Sai Praneeth had lost his solitary meeting on the BWF World Tour to Sakai and it looked to be heading the same way when he relinquished an 11-8 advantage as the Japanese started injecting more pace and power into his shots. The Pune shuttler displayed tremendous resilience and courage under pressure to take seven points in a row and sneak out the first game 15-11 in a remarkable turnaround.
His net rushes put the World No. 11 in a spot of both as the lower-ranked shuttler inched ahead to 8-4 in the second game and kept that momentum going to lead 11-8. Sai showed his intent of coming back when he started finding the lines and closed the gap to just one point at 10-11. The India No. 1 saved a match point with a smash but Sakai held off the surging Sai to complete the big upset.
In the other men’s singles match of the day, World No. 131 Mithun Manjunath of Pune put up a gallant effort against World No. 39 Brice Leverdez in their first-ever encounter. Leverdez pulled through ultimately 15-14, 9-15, 15-6 but not before surviving a scare from the rising star who came to the PBL riding on the confidence of winning a Senior Ranking Tournament in Bangalore.
Manjunath’s smashes did the talking for half of the first game with him building an 8-6 lead before Leverdez rebounded. Manjunath saved a game point in a tense ending to the game only to see the Raptors ace take it 15-14.
An error-prone Leverdez totally lost his way in the second game as he kept dumping his smashes into the net but was able to find his firepower once the match moved into the decider. Although Manjunath remained on his heels, the former World No. 19 slowly separated himself from his young opponent to go up to 8-5. In his haste to get quick points, Manjunath kept mishitting. The Frenchman’s stubborn defense also did not help the youngster to make any comeback into the match as he raced away to 12-6 before Leverdez notched up his 4th win on the trot.
Earlier, Pune began the tie with a solid display in their Trump match. World champion Hendra Setiawan and World No. 10 Chirag Shetty’s sizzling partnership has been the backbone of the Aces’ success this season and they put up yet another brilliant show of power and precision to beat Bengaluru’s Arun George and Rian Agung Saputro 15-12, 15-10. It was the sixth victory for the pair in seven appearances for Pune this season.