Mumbai: Hyderabad Hotshots, spearheaded by Indian badminton icon Saina Nehwal, brought down the high flying, unbeaten Pune Pistons in impressive style with a comprehensive 4-1 victory in the Indian Badminton League at the NSCI courts here on Monday night.
The thumping victory also powered the Hotshots to the top of the league table with 11 points to their credit while leaving Pistons in second place with 9.
Saina provided the early spark to the Hotshots campaign against the league toppers by clinching the high quality women's singles clash against her long-time German rival Juliane Schenk in a battle between two of the world's top five players.
Egged on by the partisan crowd chanting "Saina Saina", the Indian world no 4 downed world no 3 Schenk 17-21 21-19 11-6 in 59 minutes after her compatriot and teammate Ajay Jayram shocked Vietnamese rival Tien Minh Nguyen, world no 5, 21-19 21-8 in the opening men's singles encounter in just 40 minutes.
Later, the Malaysian world no 2 pair of V Shem Goh and Wah Lim Khah subdued the challenge of India's seasoned pair Sanave Thomas and Rupesh Kumar 21-19 and 21-16 to give the Hotshots a winning lead in the best of five clash, their second victory in three ties, thus ensuring the Pistons' first defeat in as many encounters.
Thailand's S Tanongsak, a semi finalist at the All-England made it 4-0 for the Hotshots with a straight-game victory over Pistons' Saurabh Varma. The left hander won 21-19 21-18 in the second men's singles match.
Pistons got a consolation victory as well as one point from the tie when their mixed doubles combination of Joaquim Fischer Nielsen and Ashwini Ponnappa downed Hotshots' pair of V Shem Goh and Pradnya Gadre 21-11 21-14.
The match of the evening was the high-octane one between Saina and Schenk that the Indian won after a grim struggle to take her superior win-loss record against the German to 9-4.
The clash had all the trappings of a very good match between two of the world's top women shuttlers and enthralled the crowd, both players striving their best especially in the second game that stretched to 27 minutes.
Saina started on the wrong note against Schenk against whom she has an 8-4 win-loss record at the international level, by making a number of unforced errors in the opening game which she lost quite tamely after bridging a big gap.
Saina trailed 5-7 and then 7-14 and egged on by the partisan crowd, the Indian ace narrowed the leeway by sending the German rival to the base with quick flicks and then winning the point with drop or smash winners.
The Indian ace narrowed the lead to 16-17 before her rival hit a purple patch in time and ran away with the opening game in 19 minutes when Saina hit the bird wide.
Saina, who had by now tightened up her game, and her rival level-pegged till 6 in the second before the Indian, who went into the match with a 8-4 win-loss record against the German, upped the tempo and led 11-8.
Schenk caught up at 14 and then even led by one point before Saina caught her at 16.
It became 18-all and then 19-all before Saina went up to game point with a flat smash winner and then drew level with her rival by winning the last point when Schenk's attempted drop sailed wide of the sideline.
Having the momentum, Saina jumped to a 4-1 lead in the decider and led 7-5 at the break in the final game after a series of long and exciting rallies. But she held her nerve while Schenk committed errors and clinched the tie when the German hit long.
This was the German's first loss in three games in the IBL while Saina has won all her three matches thus far.
"We have always had some great matches and today too it was a very good contest. She played very well," said Saina.
Earlier, Jayram, ranked 24th in the world, was the more aggressive player against world no 5 Nguyen and dominated the Vietnamese shuttler near the net as well as away from it, especially in the second game in which the Indian was clearly the better player.
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