Hyderabad Hunters proved that they are primed to defend the title they won last year when they took an unassailable lead of 4-(-1) over newcomers Pune 7 Aces even before PV Sindhu and Carolina Marin took the court for the marque encounter of the fourth season of Vodafone Premier Badminton League at the NSCI Dome on Saturday.
The Pune team sprung a surprise by fielding junior world championship bronze medallist Lakshya Sen for the opening men’s singles tie and the 18-year-old almost pulled off an upset against world number 35 Mark Caljouw.
The youngster was solid in defense and showcased some of his trick shots but it was Caljouw who had the last laugh as he bagged the first point for Hunters 10-15, 15-12, 15-14 on the decider point.
Sen kicked off the proceedings of the fourth season with a mixture of sliced drops and down the line smashes and followed them up with a quick tap on the net to win points in the opening game.
The Asian junior champion went into the mid-game interval of the first game leading 8-6 and though Caljouw tried to fight back with an aggressive game plan, the Indian was always in control and wrapped up the game 15-10.
In the second game, Sen opened up a 4-0 lead before Caljouw fought back with four straight points and then started to test the Indian’s patience by playing longer rallies. The ploy worked as he managed to win four of the next six points to open up an 8-6 lead at the midgame interval and it looked like the Dutchman would runaway with the second game when he opened up a 13-9 lead.
Lakshya, however, managed to close the gap to just one point before a slip between the rally cost him the point and Caljouw wrapped up the game on the first opportunity.
But the late fightback seemed to have rejuvenated Sen who raced to a 5-0 lead in the decider and changed ends with a five-point advantage at 8-3.
However, it was the experience of world number 35 Caljouw that mattered the most in the final analysis as he forced the youngster out of his comfort zone and pulled the match off on the decider point by suddenly changing the speed of the rally.
Pune 7 Aces then suffered a major reversal when they lost their trump match. Team skipper Mathais Boe and Chirag Shetty won the opening game but could not maintain the momentum and lost 13-15, 15-10, 15-10 against Kim Sa Rang and Bodin Isara.
Boe and Shetty played well in patches but Kim came up with some exceptional shots under pressure to turn the tables to reduce the Pune 7 Aces to -1 on the points table.
The experienced Lee Hyun Il wrapped up the tie for the Hunters when he defeated Brice Leverdez 15-14, 15-12 in a rather one-sided encounter.