Two weeks of gruelling clashes later, the inaugural edition of the Indian Badminton League will culminate at the National Sports Club of India’s, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium tonight.
But interestingly, the atmosphere at the stadium on the eve of the all-important clash was rather relaxed. Although the tournament’s organisers were showing some signs of urgency in their attempt to get the venue ready for the gala, the two teams in contention, Hyderabad Hotshots and Awadhe Warriors barely displayed any signs of anxiety.
There was laughter and cheerful banter all around with the Hotshots training for about two hours followed by the Warriors, who reached the city only yesterday morning after their semi-finals against Mumbai Masters in Bangalore.
Quite expectedly, the two leading ladies in either camp — Hyderabad’s Saina Nehwal and Awadhe’s PV Sindhu — were the centre of attraction once again and the big question doing the rounds was whether the challenger, Sindhu, will be able to avenge her defeat against her more illustrious opponent tonight. Earlier in the league, Nehwal had beaten the lanky Sindhu — her maiden win over the 18-year-old in their only competitive meeting thus far. There was a huge build-up before that clash.
This time too the speculation about this clash is intense, but national coach Pullela, who mentors both players at the academy in Hyderabad, refused to stick his neck out in trying to guess tonight’s winner.
“All I will say is that it’s going to be a close contest. It’s going to be a battle of nerves, but I would not like to predict the winner,” the All-England champion said with a broad smile. Nevertheless, Gopichand, who has played an important role in the evolution of the league, felt that there’s still some time before Sindhu can catch up with Saina.
“Saina has been in the Top 5 of the world rankings for more than four years now, while Sindhu has just broken into the Top 10. We will have to wait and see what happens. But I predict a long rivalry between the two players in the coming years,” added Gopichand.
The Saina-Sindhu clash apart, there is very little to separate the two teams in the crucial clash. While the Hotshots finished at the top of the league table before overpowering Pune Pistons in the semis on Wednesday, Awadhe rallied from an indifferent start to finish behind Hyderabad in the table tally. They beat Mumbai Masters 3-2 in the semi-finals, so they will not be short on confidence. More importantly, they downed a team consisting of the likes of Lee Chong Wei and Tine Baun on two straight occasions and that could just add zing to their shot at glory. While Hyderabad will bank on Ajay Jayaram to give them the edge in one of the men’s singles, the Warriors will be keen to match fire with fire through K Srikanth. The duo have evolved magnificently in the competition and it should be worthwhile to see them slug it out.