Rising shuttler P V Sindhu stole the show with a hard-fought win over World No.3 Germany's Juliane Schenk as Awadhe Warriors sailed into the semi-finals of the inaugural Indian Badminton League with a clinical win over Pune Pistons in Hyderabad.
After Sindhu and K Srikanth won their respective women's and men's singles matches, it was Marcis Kido and Mathias Boe who outplayed Pune Pistons pair of Arun Vishnu and Sanave Thomas in men's doubles to give Warriors an unassailable 3-0 lead in their final league match at the GMC Balayogi Indoor Stadium.
Sindhu and Schenk engaged in an pulsating battle before the Hyderabadi-girl pulled off a sensational upset win in two tight games. A capacity, vociferous home crowd egged on the 18-year-old as she prevailed over her opponent 21-20, 21-20.
Schenk edged ahead in the first game with a 7-4 lead but Sindhu narrowed the gap to 7-6. The World Championships bronze-medallist Sindhu overtook Schenk for the first time as she took a two point lead at 9-7, having won five points on the trot after the break.
Schenk clawed her way back to 13-12 as the players went into the second break at 14-12. The seasoned German campaigner did not allow Sindhu to score easily as her powerful forehand shots kept the score even at 16-16. Both fought tooth and nail for every point as the game was evely poised at 18-18.
Schenk made a service error and gave an opening to Sindhu but she failed to make use of the opportunity as the fate of the two hung in the balance at 20-20. Schenk missed a backhand and the result went in favour of the Indian.
In the second game, Schenk gained an early lead at 3-1 but soon fell behind to 3-5. The German, however, responded strongly with her cross-court smashes to leave Sindhu trailing at 6-11. The gap grew to seven points as Schenk extended her lead to 16-9.
But Sindhu scripted a remarkable recovery to claw her way back into the game. At 19-17, Sindhu rode on her smashes and better placements to restore parity at 19-19.
At 20-20, it could be anybody's game but a smash beyond the reach of Schenk ended the nail-biting contest in favour of Sindhu.
"I have played against Schenk twice but this is the first time I won the game and am feeling really happy. Also I am thrilled and touched to see my college friends and teachers who have come here to support me," said Sindhu after her match.
In the men's singles, Srikanth, who recently won the prestigious Thailand Open, scored a well-deserved 21-18, 21-16 victory over Saurabh Verma.
Verma dominated the first game till it was 9-3 but Srikanth bounced back into the contention. He first reduced the gap to 14-12 and then put on display his trademark deft shots and cross-court winners to clinch the issue in his favour.
Srikanth dominated the second game establishing a lead of 9-3 and then swelled it to 14-3. Verma tried his best to make a comeback but it was too late for him as a gritty Srikanth went about his business with ease and comfortably secured with a match point with a cross-court push.
"I had a very good start and I think this was my kind of style. Shuttle speed was much better than Bangalore which helped me to win the game," said Srikanth.
In the men's doubles games that followed, Awadhe's pair of Kido and Boe defeated Pune's Vishnu and Thomas 21-15, 21-16.
Post their win, Boe said, "It was another day at office. I and Kido were leading by 4 or 5 points throughout the match today and had complete control on our game. Also there was no point when we were under pressure.
Image: PV Sindhu
Photograph: Indian Badminton League