Ahmedabad Smash Masters entered the knockout stages of their maiden PBL campaign after a holistic display by the side saw every player performing brilliantly as they won four of the five matches. Though their flawless evening ended with the men’s doubles defeat, the tie was already decided by then.
L.Y. Dae/ G. Stoeva vs L.C. Him/ Juhl
Kamilla Rytter Juhl had paired up with Law Cheuk Him only once on the previous four occasions this season that ended up in a 2-1 defeat against Awadhe Warriors’ mixed duo Man/Pedersen. Hence, pairing the duo yet again in a do-or-die match was a risky call by Ahmedabad. However, the match became easier once
Son Wan Ho vs HS Prannoy
It was perhaps the most crucial match of the tie, one that could have gone either way. Mumbai’s marquee player, Ho, despite having reached the World No.1 position last season, has had a disastrous run in this season of PBL, winning only a single game from five matches (including yesterday). But Prannoy had a lot to prove after Tanongsak brought an end to his winning streak last match. Prannoy didn’t have a comfortable start against Ho, whose smashes were well out of Prannoy’s reach.
However, being the best Indian shuttler of the tournament for the two seasons, Prannoy had to come up with something different and fast. The Ahmedabad man started to keep the shuttle away from the South Korean’s favorable smashing height and mixed them up with drop shots and of the forecourt placements. Ho was forced to come out of his comfort zone and not only did Prannoy start to dominate the game, but Ho was also seen committing errors. However, Ho’s brilliant
Beiwen Zhang vs Tai Tzu Ying
Despite the match-up looking quite intense on paper, Zhang has actually been a reflection of herself in the PBL this season. She came into the tie, winning only three of the 11 games she had played in the previous four matches and was looking increasingly subservient to the all-conquering Tai. The pressure had clearly gotten the better of the Chinese shuttler that was seen in over-hitting the shots. She was trying very hard and consequently ended up giving away a number of points. It was helping Tai all the more, who hardly had to sweat to earn points as Zhang’s smashes went all haywire.
To compound further misery, the Taiwanese’s attempt to make her opponent chase the shuttle all across the court also bore fruit. After Tai won the first game 15-9, Zhang was found attempting to place her soft cross-court shots in the forecourt, the technique that gave PV Sindhu success in the last game. However, the Chinese Taipei ace was ready for it this time and despite making few errors, she didn’t let Zhang impose the game upon her before edging her out closely in 15-12.
Sourabh Verma vs Sameer Verma
Quite surprisingly, the fourth match between the Verma brothers turned out to be the most important match in the tie. With both the sides going with their trump card for the same match, the tie was more than alive even after Mumbai were 3-0 down. With both the players knowing each other’s style well, the match was bound to be a close one and the first game reflected it with both the players outdoing each other. Though Sameer led at the break, an error-prone Sourabh rectified his lengths just at the right time. And after the Masters’ trump man leveled things at 13-13 ending an enthralling 19-shot rally, he was convinced of a win.
The second game continued to see such rallies but both gave away points cheaply, keeping the score margin as small as possible. And as was the case with Brice Leverdez in the last match, Sourabh kept growing as the match progressed and soon his smashes were not so easily returned by Sameer anymore. Sourabh looked uncharacteristically calm in his defense as Sameer’s smashes ended up being futile. His confidence was showing as he emerged victorious at the end of a 28-shot rally to get the match point, which ended Sameer’s potential comeback into the match.
L.H Dae/ B.H. Tan vs L.C.H. Reginald/ Nandagopal
The tie was already settled and the fate already decided when Ahmedabad’s men’s duo came into the court to play the game, which was a mere formality now. Dae had was alongside Tan now, who unlike Stoeva, looked more stable and confident. It was also a chance for Mumbai to bow out on a positive note as their hard-fought season was coming to an end. As the game started, Mumbai Rockets looked in complete control whose staunch
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