Pune Pistons, thanks to the fantastic performance of their mixed doubles pair of Ashwini Ponnappa and Joachim Fischer Nielsen, are on a roll.
Not many had high expectations from the players the Pune franchise picked in the auction, but the strategy of buying a strong women’s singles player and a fast moving mixed doubles pair seems to have paid rich dividends for the Pistons, who were comfortably perched atop the standings as of Saturday.
Moreover, having defeated the Mumbai Masters despite the heroics of Vladmir Ivanov, Pistons start as favourites against the mighty Hyderabad Hotshots today.
The match of the day will undoubtedly be the women’s singles clash between India’s Saina Nehwal and World No 3 Juliane Schenk.
Nehwal, currently ranked 4th, enjoys an 8-4 head-to-head advantage over the 31-year-old German. However, it must be noted that the last time the two clashed, in this year’s Indonesia Open, it was the hardworking German veteran who came up trumps.
Schenk may not be a very graceful player on the court but she has a never-say-die attitude that she plays with and is known to chase down every shuttle. This will be a battle of wits — one which the Mumbai fans are bound to enjoy. Nehwal will have the ‘home’ advantage anywhere she plays in India — a factor that might help her edge out Schenk.
The Hotshots might also earn a point from their men’s doubles pairing of Shem Goh/Khim Wah Lim, the winners of the Malaysian Grand Prix this year. This young pair have it in them to beat India’s veterans Sanave Thomas/Rupesh Kumar.
The first men’s singles tie could see Hotshots’ Tanongsak face off against World No 7 Nguyen Tien Minh, who recently clinched bronze at the World Championships. Minh has the quality to win against anyone the Hotshots field against him.
In the second men’s singles tie, National Champion Sourabh Varma has the game, speed and determination to beat Ajay Jayaram, the second singles specialist in the Hotshots’ camp. One expects Hotshots to not risk taking a gamble on the recently-retired Taufik Hidayat, considering the pace of IBL.
In the mixed doubles match, which might decide the tie, as has been the norm so far in the IBL, it seems likely that Hotshots will go with Tarun Kona and Pradnya Gadre who seem to be no match for Ponnappa and Fischer, thus handing Pune a 3-2 win.
The writer is a former India player