When the home team with Hyderabad’s darling Saina Nehwal is in focus, the cheers can be deafening, even though some seats were empty on Wednesday. The fans brought them all - drums, banners and plastic balloons to raise a din. After all, we are talking about the country’s badminton hub hosting the first semifinal of the Indian Badminton League.
There is a saying that rankings don’t always matter. There are certain days when everything goes right. Otherwise 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer wouldn’t have been shocked by Sergiy Stakhovsky in the second round of Wimbledon. And Wednesday was Ajay Jayaram’s day.
Passion for team
It was world No. 5 Tien Minh Nyugen against Jayaram, the world No. 24. But this is not your usual tournament, in the IBL everything is different — the rules, points system and the events. Passion for one’s team overrides everything else. And that reflected in Jayaram’s determination. Turning out for Hyderabad Hotshots against Pune Pistons in the opening match at the Gachibowli Stadium, the youngster outwitted his Vietnamese rival 21-17, 21-11 to give his team the lead. Jayaram’s head-to-head record against the 2013 World Championship bronze medallist in official matches is 1-2, but in the league, it was his second victory.
Songs and impromptu jigs ruled the breaks but once Saina arrived, the already boisterous crowd took their cheering a notch higher. There might have been initial butterflies, having scraped through in the previous match against Tai Ying Tzu of the Banga Beats. But when Juliane Schenk started with an unforced error, it set the tempo for Saina. It wasn’t a cakewalk, to the disappointment of her home fans. The German, the Pistons’ most expensive buy ($90,000), stamped her authority in the second game. But it again boiled down to the decider, where the 23-year-old Indian showed her grit.
Fitness gives Saina confidence. The past few months may have not gone the Olympic bronze medallist’s way due to injuries. Also PV Sindhu winning the one medal which still eludes her may have given rise to speculation about her game. But playing at home is always an advantage and Saina gave the fans what they had come for. Buoyed by the “Hotshots, Hotshots’ and ‘Saina, Saina’ chants, the world No. 4, defeated the No 3 ranked Schenk 21-10, 19-21, 11-8, sealing the deal with a superb smash.