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Pune Pistons edge out Delhi Smashers 3-2 in IBL opener

Doubles specialist Ashwini Ponnappa guided Pune Pistons to a thrilling 3-2 victory over hosts Krrish Delhi Smashers in the opening match of the USD one million Indian Badminton League (IBL) which kicked off with a short but colourful opening ceremony at New Delhi’s Siri Fort Sports Complex.

The match of the day was the clash between doubles partners Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa with the tie level at two-all. Smashers' icon player Jwala and Kien Kiet Koo lost to Pistons' icon Ashwini and Joachim Fischer Nielsen 21-16, 16-21, 11-3 in mixed doubles.

The hosts bagged two points for their two wins.

Sai Praneeth
India's Sai Praneeth of Delhi Smashers returns a shot against Taiwan's Nyugen Tien Minh of Pune Pistons during an Indian Badminton League (IBL) match at the Siri Fort Sports Complex in New Delhi on Wednesday. Pic/AFP

Jwala and Koo led most of the first game and almost had it in their kitty at 19-16. But Ashwini and her World No.4 mixed doubles partner won the next five points to surprise the hosts.

The host team were again leading in the second game (14-8) and extended their lead to 20-14. The visiting pair saved two gamepoints but Jwala and Koo won the game to push the match into the 11-point decider.

Some exquisite smashes by Nielsen and touch play by Ashwini at the net enabled them to racing away to matchpoint (10-3) and won the game, match and tie in no time.

After a vibrant half-an-hour opening ceremony, India rising shuttler B Sai Praneeth and World number seven Tien Ming Nguyen from Vietnam set the ball rolling for the competition as they clashed in the men's singles match.

Gaint-killer Praneeth earned first blood for Delhi as he notched up a stunning 21-16 21-20 victory over Tien Minh but the hosts lost the lead when Pune's Julaine Schenk of Germany notched up an easy 21-15 21-6 over Nichaon Jindapon of Thailand in the second game and brought back the Pistons at 1-1.

However, as expected world number two Malaysian combo of Kien Keat Koo and Boon Heong Tan gave Delhi Smashers the lead once again when they sent packing the Indian pair of Rupesh Kumar and Sanave Thomas 21-13 21-16 in the men's doubles match.

World number 36 Sourabh Verma then eked out a thrilling 21-16 19-21 11-5 victory over H S Prannoy, ranked 46, in the second men's singles to brought Pune Pistons back into the hunt, making it 2-2.

Juliane Schenk
Germany's Juliane Schenk of Pune Pistons returns a shot against Thailand's Nichaon Jindapon of Delhi Smashers during an Indian Badminton League (IBL) match at the Siri Fort Sports Complex in New Delhi on Wednesday. Pic/AFP 

With the help of this victory, Pune notched up a 3-2 win over Delhi and grabbed crucial four points (3 + one bonus point) and Delhi had to settle with two points.

Earlier, Praneeth lived up to his reputation of a gaint-slayer as he dished out an attacking game to unsettle Tien Minh, who won the bronze at the recently-concluded world championship in China.

It was a brilliant display of defence and attack as Praneeth kept changing the pace of the game and was, infact, leading in most part of the opening game. Tien Minh clawed back at 13-13 but Praneeth moved ahead at 18-15 with the help of his calculated pushes and some impeccable returns and soon pocketed the first game.

The world no. 37 Indian, who had spoilt Taufik Hidayat's farewell at the Indonesia Open and stunned then world number six Hu Yun of Hong Kong in Singapore Open, showed good temperament and adjusted to the new scoring quickly.

In the second game, the Indian was lagging 10-14 but he didn't lose his composure and soon caught up with the Vietnamese at 18-18. He then went on to reach the match point at 20-19 but he slipped while returning a shot on the forecourt to see the match level par at 20-20.

However, he didn't let the opportunity slip away and clinched the next point to race away with the match. 

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