Playing a final at ‘home’ is always an advantage. Having home support is a wonderful thing. When the India Open Super Series final took place last year, the Siri Fort Stadium was jam packed, fans jostling for space, just to see Saina Nehwal in action. And when the current world No 2 beat Thai Ratchanok Intanon, a former World Champion, for the title, fans went berserk.
Similarly, walking into the same stadium on Sunday, one was pleasantly surprised by the fans who came in large numbers to support the ‘home’ team in the Premier Badminton League final — the Delhi Acers.
They stood patiently in line till the doors opened. All of them went home happy as the Acers trumped Mumbai Rockets 4-3 to win the first edition of the PBL. Rajiv Ouseph played the hero’s role in the win as he took out RMV Gurusai Dutt in the Acers’ trump match.
The lure of Bollywood celebrities could be a factor for the large numbers who turned up but it was good to see so many Acers flags flying high in the indoor stadium as chants for the team’s most successful player, Tommy Sugiarto, was deafening when the Indonesian came on court. The current world No 11 has had an unbeaten run at the PBL winning all six of his matches. Sunday was no different.
After Rockets’ began the proceedings with a win, Kamilla Juhl and Vladimir Ivanov giving the visitors the first point as they beat Akshay Dewalkar and Gabrielle Adcock 15-6, 15-12; it was Sugiarto’s turn to restore parity. The 2014 World Championship bronze medallist lost the first game to Rockets’ HS Prannoy 13-15, but then, came back strong to level scores at 1-1. He just flattened Prannoy’s surge 15-9, 15-9, to get the job done. Fast, clinical and with quick reflexes, no wonder Lin Dan had trouble getting past Sugiarto’s challenge in the India Open quarters last year at the same venue.
But it was the thrilling men’s doubles which had everyone on the edge of their seats. Acers’ Malaysian duo Koo Keat Kien and Tan Boon Heong wasted three match points before prevailing as the combo of Mathias Boe and Ivanov erred at 14-14. The Malaysians could only sigh in relief as the scoreboard read 14-15, 15-10, 15-14 in Delhi’s favour to go up 2-1.
But, the relief was short-lived. Acers’ PC Thulasi tried her best but failed to clinch the tournament in her teams’ favour. She was outplayed by Han Li, the Chinese player who had beaten Nehwal in the semifinals, 15-12, 8-15, 8-15 allowing the visiting team to lead 3-2 as they had won their trump match.