Ahmedabad Smash Masters became the first side to officially book a place in the semifinal of PBL as they hammered Mumbai Rockets 5-0. Ahmedabad's impeccable evening where they could have finished with a perfect score was halted by Dae and Tan in the last game of the tie beating Nandagopal/Reginald.
L.Y. Dae/ G. Stoeva vs L.C. Him/ Juhl
With Ahmedabad’s knockout progression at stake, the Smash Masters needed a winning start to their crucial tie on Tuesday and the mixed doubles duo of Him and Juhl provided exactly that. The pair hadn’t played many games together prior to this but were found quite at sync as they easily dominate Mumbai’s Dae/ Stoeva, who struggled to cope with Ahmedabad’s imposing play, as Ahmedabad went into the break 8-3. Smash Masters’ dominance continued after the break with Him and Juhl targeting the less experienced Stoeva repeatedly, who failed to return most of the smashes. Ahmedabad were 13-4 even before Mumbai could realize and though the Rockets won six consecutive points to make it 13-10, courtesy of Dae’s master-class, Ahmedabad won the first game quite comfortably with the scoreboard reading 15-11. The second game wasn’t any different with Ahmedabad winning four straight points before Mumbai could get a breakthrough. Smash Masters’ mixed doubles duo was showing an uncharacteristically strong defence as they went into the break 8-4. Ahmedabad had sniffed an easy victory by now and Stoeva’s struggle to keep up with the game’s pace made it all the simpler for them. They won the game 15-7 giving Ahmedabad the early lead in the all-important tie.
S.W.Ho vs H.S. Prannoy
After his 10-game winning streak finally came to an end against Tanongsak in the last game where he lost by the skin of his teeth, Prannoy had a tricky task against World No. 5 Son Wan Ho. After the South Korean went ahead in the first game with three straight points, Prannoy did brilliantly to catch up with Mumbai’s marquee player to level points at 5-5, 6-6 and 7-7 before taking a one-point lead going into the break. The game remained as close as possible with both the players outdoing each other with Prannoy exhibiting breathtaking close court reactions and Ho showing spectacular deception. However, Prannoy’s looked in complete control of his game and won the game 15-12. Prannoy had known by now that Ho would make him sweat profusely for each and every point and the second game reflected exactly that. The Korean went into the break leading 8-7 as the game remained extremely competitive with none leaving breathing space for the other. However, Prannoy made a superb comeback after the break to level things at 11-11 from being 8-11 down, before the Indian ace went on to dominate the rest of the game and eventually win it 15-12.
B. Zhang vs T.T. Ying
Tai had a similar challenge like that of Prannoy during the third match of the day, who had to recover from her unexpected loss to PV Sindhu in the last game. However, Zhang could hardly challenge the Taiwanese and most of her points came from Tai’s occasional unforced errors with Ahmedabad going into the break leading 8-6. Tai continued her momentum post the break as she raced to lead 12-8 with Zhang unable to cope with the Chinese Taipei star's impeccable placement. By the end of the first game, the Chinese looked out of ideas as well as steam as Tai won it 15-9 without breaking any sweat. If Tai was brilliant in the first game she turned exceptional in the second, as her Zhang looked no match for her subtle placements. Though the Rockets’ star clawed her way into the game to level things at 6-6, she was too error-prone to capitalize on it as Tai led 8-6 on the break. It was an easy road for the Taiwanese from there as Zhang kept overheating her shots in an attempt to try very hard. Tai, however, remained unfazed by them even when Zhang closed the gap to 11-13 as she went on to snatch the game 15-12 and take a commanding 3-0 lead.
S. Verma vs S. Verma
This was the first time in this PBL edition that both the sides had pinned their trump hopes on the same game, which had essentially kept the tie alive for Mumbai even after trailing 3-0. The match between the Verma brothers, Sameer and Sourabh, remained closely competitive with the score getting levelled at 3-3, 4-4 and 5-5 before Sameer drew the first blood going into the break with an 8-5 lead. Sourabh showed some resistance after the break but Sameer still held a lead of 11-9. However, the Smash Masters star made another brilliant comeback, akin to the last game, as he closed the margin at 11-12 and 12-13, before levelling things at 14-14 and eventually winning the game. Sourabh looked way more confident now and his movements to close in on his opponents during the rallies, showed it. Before Sameer could realize, the Smash Masters were leading 8-4 at the break. His composed defence to Sameer’s smashes showed his control on the game and he was quite visibly enjoying his buildup play. The frustration was clearly taking its toll on Sameer who was faltering in his shot selection and execution. Within moments, Sourabh was leading 13-9 with the tie and a place in the knockouts well in sight. Sourabh got the match point at the end of a 28-shot rally as Sameer hit the net, which had pretty much summarized his evening. Sourabh sealed the game 15-11.
L.H Dae/ B.H. Tan vs L.C.H. Reginald/ Nandagopal
With the game nothing more than a lost cause now, it was the perfect chance for Dae to bow out of the tournament on a winning note. While an inexperienced Stoeva limited most of his movements in the first game of the mixed doubles, he looked a different man in the last. After a domineering start by Nandagopal and Reginald, the Mumbai duo came back into the game to lead 6-4. However, things were just not going for Mumbai today as they levelled things at 7-7 before going into the break with the lead. The competition remained close after the break with the score-line reading 10-10 when Mumbai got five consecutive points, which included unforced errors by both Nandagopal and Reginald, as Rockets registered their first win of the evening. The second game saw Dae/Tan further imposing their offensive play upon the Ahmedabad duo, who struggled to get their shots right as Mumbai led into the break 8-3. Ahmedabad’s men’s duo hasn’t had a positive campaign in the tournament so far, and they attempted a late comeback after the break by levelling things at 9-9 with six straight points. But, the experience of Dae and Tan was too much for them to handle as they raced away with the game 15-12, with a victory that the duo rightly deserved.
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