The Baddies were back, and so were India’s biggest badminton fans

The fourth season of the Premier Badminton League kicked off on Saturday in Mumbai, with last season’s champions the Hyderabad Hunters taking on Pune 7 Aces, the PBL’s newest team, in the season opener.

Hyderabad, the defending PBL champions, won handily, 6 to -1, but the fans took no heed of the lopsided nature of the contest.

Right from the off, the NSCI Dome was filled with noise and tension as Pune’s Lakshya Sen and the Hunters’ Mark Caljouw kicked off the season, two of badminton’s rising stars taking centre stage.

As the home favourite, Sen got plenty of backing, and the Pune fans were made sure they were heard - a recurring theme for the night.

That trend continued, even as Sen lost the opener. The men’s doubles match generated plenty of oohs and aahs, as the fans appreciated the hard-fought tie between 7 Aces’ pairing of Mathias Boe and Chirag Shetty, and Hyderabad’s Bodin Isara and Kim Sa-rang - again won by the Hunters.

There were plenty of people chanting “Go Brice” as Pune’s Brice Leverdez faced Lee Hyun-il, though not enough to take him to victory over the Hunters star.

But though there was plenty of exciting action on show, everyone was waiting for the big match: Carolina Marin vs PV Sindhu.

This was a grudge match between two close friends and rivals. Sindhu has suffered heart-breaking losses to Marin, in the 2016 Olympics gold medal match, and again this year at the 2018 World Championship finals, and on Saturday she was out for revenge.

One fan said of Sindhu, “Marin has a psychological edge over her. She always gets to the big games, then loses.”

Well, fresh off her first BWF title win in 13 months, the Hyderabad Hunters’ ace shuttler proved that notion wrong, beating Marin in a close encounter that was the most gripping match of the day.

But though she won, Sindhu didn’t have it all her way in Mumbai. The crowd was equally loud with its support for Pune 7 Aces’ star player, with shouts of “Come on Caro” and “Come on Marin” as frequent as chants for Sindhu. Marin may have broken Indian fans’ hearts before, but she still soaks up the applause from her fans here.

The drums boomed louder for Marin as well. And as one of the drummers said, “We’ll play the drums for whoever they ask us to play for”. Clearly the Pune fans made sure they were heard more often.

Sadly, this wasn’t to be their night. Even the final match of the day, the mixed doubles tie between 7 Aces duo Vladimir Ivanov and Line Kjaersfeldt and Hyderabad’s all-South Korean pairing of Kim Sa-rang and Eom Hye-won went the way of the defending champions.

Perhaps Pune will need the drums and the chants to be even louder next time.