Even before the disappointment of the late pull-out from the tie by Saina, which she announced by citing a foot injury sustained a few weeks ago, could sink in fully, the Warriors had lost the first three matches – including their trump match in men’s doubles – to squander any chances of a late victory charge.
Warriors won the inconsequential fourth match, when Thailand’s Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk defeated India’s H S Prannoy of Rockets in three games. The Rockets gained the first two points, as against the minus point docked on their rivals, when R M V Gurusaidutt won the first singles against B Sai Praneeth in three games, followed by their straight game win in the men’s doubles by Mathias Boe and Vladimir Ivanov over the Warriors pair of Cai Yun and Hendra Gunawan, nominated as the Lucknow franchise’s trump game.
Docked a minus point after suffering a loss in its nominated trump game, it was imperative for G Vrushali, who was fielded by the Warriors in place of Saina, to win her match against national women’s champion Ruthvika Gadde in a battle between two upcoming players from AP and keep the Lucknow team in the hunt. But Vrushali was beaten 13-15 10-15 by Gadde that sealed the Warriors’ fate in the tie with the last two matches remaining to be played at the NSCI Sardar Vallabhai Patel Stadium.
Later, Warriors’ world No. 33, Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk of Thailand upset the Rockets’ plan of gaining an extra point with a win in their trump game by beating India’s world No. 20, H S Prannoy 15-12 14-15 15-14, a result which made it 2-0 on points for Mumbai.
The last mixed doubles match was won by Awadhe Warriors when Bodin Issara and Christinna Pedersen defeated Mumbai’s Kamilla Juhl and Vladimir Ivanov 15-9 14-15 15-14 but it was too late by then.
Mumbai Rockets took a 1-0 lead when Gurusaidutt overcame a first game loss to put it across Praneeth in the battle between two trainees of the Pullela Gopichand Academy 14-15 15-10 15-8.
Guru, ranked 47th in the world, made a grand recovery in the first game after being 8-13 down to catch up at 14-all before hitting a backhand wide to drop the game.
That rally was the turnaround in the match as Guru, from then on, had an edge over his rival, who is the world no. 34, by playing a more attacking game. He led 8-3 in the second game before placing himself one point away from leveling the game scores with a smash and then finishing it off with another down the middle smash.
Guru was up 8-6 at the changeover in the deciding game and then picked up three points in a row to take a commanding 11-6 lead with a leaping smash.
Despite a brief fight back from Praneeth, Guru had things well in control, went up to match-point with a lucky net cord and then won the first point for his side when Praneeth buried his backhand into the net.
“It was a tough match as he won the first set. But I knew I had to come back and win the game for my team. This win will help us in the next four games and I am happy that I stood up to the expectations of my team. It’s a proud moment as the first game of PBL is in our kitty,” said Guru after his win.
Warriors’ gamble of nominating the men’s doubles match against a top European pair of Mumbai as their trump game backfired and cost them a negative point too.
Rockets’ duo of left-handed Mathias Boe of Denmark, ranked 4th in doubles in the world, and the tall Russian Vladimir Ivanov, ranked 11th in the world, dumped the Warriors’ Asian pair of Cai Yun of China (world no 27) and Indonesia’s Hendra Gunawan (ranked 35th) 15-11 15-11.
Boe’s low serve was difficult to counter for the Asian duo and his interceptions at the net coupled by the powerful smashes from the back by Ivanov were telling in effect.
Rockets led 8-6 before their rivals caught up at 10 and then Boe served well to get the Mumbai team to 14-10 and the first game point. Mumbai won after conceding one more point when Ivanov hit a winning return of serve.
Mumbai led 11-6 in the second before Yun and Gunawan staged a fight back to narrow it down to 9-11. But the host pair was always in control to lead 13-11 before two errors from the Warriors’ pair helped them clinch the game and the match.
In the women’s singles clash, Ruthvika led her rival 7-4 before allowing Vrushali to draw level and even lead 13-10.
But she struck a purple patch by winning the next five points for the game with her better court craft. She surged to game point with a net flick and then won it when Vrushali sent a return of serve over the base line.
Having got into the groove, it was not a surprise to see Ruthvika jump to a 13-6 lead before her rival took the next four points and raised visions of a fight back. But it was not to happen as the national champion wrapped up the game by taking the next two points easily.
“It was not an easy match. Though I won it convincingly but she gave a tough fight and made me earn my points. I enjoyed the game and I am happy we have won all three games till now. I hope we end the day by taking all games in our favour,” said Ruthvika after her match.
Mens singles: R M V Gurusaidutt (Mumbai Rockets) bt B Sai Praneeth (Awadhe Warriors) 14-15 15-10 15-8.
Men’s doubles (Trump for Warriors): Mathias Boe/Vladirmir Ivanov (MR) bt Cai Yun/Hendra Gunawan (AW) 15-11 15-11.
Women’s singles: Ruthvika Gudde (MR) bt G Vrushali (AW) 15-13 15-10.
Men’s singles: H S Prannoy (MR) lost to S Tanongsak (AW) 12-15 15-14 14-15.
Mixed doubles: V Ivanov/Kamilla Juhl (MR) lost to Bodin Issara/Christina Pedersen (AW) 9-15 15-14 14-15.