Hyderabad Hotshots, spearheaded by Indian badminton icon Saina Nehwal, ended the winning run of Pune Pistons, scoring a comprehensive 4-1 victory in the Indian Badminton League, at the NSCI courts in Mumbai, on Monday night.
The thumping victory also powered Hotshots to the top of the league table with 11 points, while Pistons are in second place with nine.
Saina provided the early spark to Hotshots’ campaign against the league toppers by clinching a high quality women's singles clash against long-time German rival Juliane Schenk.
In a battle between two of the world's top five players, the Indian world No 4 beat the world’s third-ranked player 17-21, 21-19, 11-6 in 59 minutes after compatriot and teammate Ajay Jayram shocked Vietnamese opponent Tien Minh Nguyen, the world No 5, 21-19, 21-8 in 40 minutes, in the opening men's singles encounter.
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, winning 21-19, 21-16 to give Hotshots an unassailable lead in the best-of-five clash.
Their second victory in three outings handed Pistons their first defeat in as many encounters.
Thailand's Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk, a semi-finalist at the All-England made it 4-0 for the Hotshots with a straight-games victory over Pistons' Saurabh Varma.
The left-hander won the second men's singles match 21-19, 21-18.
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 in the day’s last fixture.
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.
She trailed 5-7 and then 7-14, but egged on by the partisan crowd narrowed the gap by sending the German to the base with quick flicks and then winning the point with drop or smash winners.
The Indian narrowed the lead to 16-17 before Schenk 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 Schenk level-pegged till 6 in the second before the Indian upped the tempo and led 11-8.
Schenk caught up at 14 and then even led by a 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 drew level 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 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, Jayaram, 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.
Image: Saina Nehwal
Photograph: Indian Badminton League