North Eastern Warriors face Chennai Superstarz in the first semi-final on February 7 while Pune 7 Aces will meet the defending champions Bengaluru Raptors in the second semi-final on February 8 at the Star Sports Premier Badminton League at the GMC Balayogi Indoor Stadium in Hyderabad.
With Bengaluru Raptors demolishing the Awadhe Warriors 5-0 in the last league match today, they climbed to the top position after accumulating 22 points that helped them tie with North Eastern Warriors.
Chennai Superstarz too bagged 22 points but with three wins less than the North Eastern Warriors, they finished third. Pune 7 Aces took the fourth position with 20 points against their name.
Earlier on February 6, World No. 2 Tai Tzu Ying, Sai Praneeth and Brice Leverdez combined to take the Bengaluru Raptors into the semi-finals and help them stay on course for a successful defence of their title. The Raptors faced the Awadhe Warriors in a must-win tie with both the teams contending for the last semi-final spot to join the North Eastern Warriors, Chennai Superstarz and Pune 7 Aces.
With the Raptors being on the fourth spot in the league table and separated from the Awadhe team by three points, they needed to ensure that the Warriors don’t manage to get four points. Even though the Lucknow-based franchise began the highly-awaited tie with a win in men’s doubles, Brice Leverdez beat the Awadhe Trump Ajay Jayaram to turn the tie on its head and then Tai Tzu Ying fetched another vital point to take the Raptors into the last-four.
The face-off between the former World No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying and World No. 14 Beiwen Zhang was obviously the cynosure of all eyes. Zhang trails the Chinese Taipei ace 2-8 in their head-to-head record on the BWF World Tour but she put in a show on the court that oozed brilliance and determination.
Tai, of course, ran away to a 7-4 lead, stamping her authority in this clash. Zhang took her time but once she settled into the match, she gave the Bengaluru talisman quite a hard time. By elevating the shuttle height and by extending the rallies, she kept testing Tai’s defence. The American’s tactic rattled the Raptors shuttler and the two were soon tied at 10-10. With the two locked at 12-12, it needed Tai’s wizardry to eke out the first game 15-12.
The two orchestrated an enthralling second game with Zhang even inching ahead to take a 10-9 lead. Tai’s errors had helped Zhang come back into the game after the former built a 7-5 advantage. With both women displaying tons of courage and conviction, it was once again a 12-12 tie before the Bengaluru player used her deception to finish the 15-12, 15-12 victory.
Former India No. 1 Ajay Jayaram has a 2-0 head-to-head record over World No. 39 Brice Leverdez on the BWF World Tour with none of their matches going the distance. With such a phenomenal record over the Frenchman, Jayaram was given the responsibility of the Awadhe Trump. Jayaram was also coming off a win in his last match against Kazumasa Sakai when the Warriors took on Pune 7 Aces.
However, the Frenchman came prepared to tackle Jayaram. Using his exquisite placement, he kept the Indian moving to every corner of the court to draw errors from his racquet. The strategy worked as he managed to wrap up the opener without much hassle at 15-9.
Jayaram showed more firepower in the second game as he stormed back from 3-8 to trail Leverdez by just one point at 8-9. With chants of support for Bengaluru reverberating throughout the stadium, it did not take long for the former World No. 19 to stop the Jayaram surge and take the 15-9, 15-9 win against the Trump. This was Leverdez’s third consecutive win for the Raptors this season and is definitely a big reason for their turnaround after their initial struggles. The win cancelled out the Awadhe team’s advantage after they had won the men’s doubles match.
World Championships bronze medallist Sai Praneeth staved off a late surge from World No. 41 Wong Wing Ki Vincent of the Awadhe Warriors to secure a 15-11, 15-13 win which sealed the tie for the Raptors.
Earlier, the tie started with an absorbing men’s doubles match between Awadhe Warriors’ World No. 24 Ko Sung Hyun and Shin Baek Cheol and Bengaluru’s Arun George and Rian Agung Saputro. The Koreans were edged by the Raptors pair in a gritty first game but they found their rhythm and range in the next two games to register a 14-15, 15-7, 15-11 win.