THE PUNJAB MARSHALLS withstood the Raipur Rangers’ storm successfully to progress into the finals of the second edition of the Champions Tennis League (CTL) at the Balbir Juneja Stadium in Raipur.
The visitors came into this match unbeaten in the tournament and with a collective team effort defeated the home team in a close tie (20-18).
Early on, the Marshalls raced to a two sets to nothing lead and had already secured their place in the finals (Punjab winning more games than Raipur in the league stages) after the end of the fourth set.
First up, legends Greg Rusedski and Thomas Muster started proceedings and after a few early games, the Brit managed to break the Spaniard’s serve. Punjab’s captain served well, kept chipping and charging and mixed up the pattern of play to upset his compatriot’s rhythm.
In the end, Rusedski broke Muster for the second time in the set and grabbed the opening set 5-2.
As we mentioned in our match prediction, Alize Cornet and Elina Svitolina engaged in some intense baseline rallies. Both women found going tough on their service and looked keen on breaking each other.
However, the Ukrainian spotted the opportunity midway through the set and sneaked ahead. Cornet did show signs of fighting back, but Svitolina held her nerve and serve to win the set 5-3. After two sets the score read Punjab: 10 and Raipur: 5
The Rangers were now in danger of exiting the tournament and needed a desperate effort from their mixed doubles pairing of Cornet/Bautista Agut. And, the duo responded by breaking Svitolina/Marcos Baghdatis in the very first game.
Agut, kept coming out with some incredible angles and winners to further extend the lead. Cornet too held her ground and handled the duty at the net quite well.
In the end, relentless pressure from Cornet/Agut, coupled with some help from Svitolina/Baghdatis, brought the Rangers back into the mix. Now, Raipur was almost even-stevens with Punjab at 10-11.
The men’s doubles was arguably the best set of the evening with all four players serving and returning well. From huge serves, delicate volleys, clean backhand/forehand winners to execution of strategy, everything was almost done with utmost ease.
With nothing separating the two teams in the middle of the set, India’s Saketh Myneni came up with some stunning returns to break his compatriot Ramanathan’s serve in the seventh game. At the closing stages of the set, Baghdatis too, produced a few gems to nail the set 5-3.
Now, Punjab was leading 16-13 and mathematically had booked their place in the finals.
For the fifth and final set of the tie, Baghdatis’ participation was a matter of concern for the visitors. The Cypriot complained of feeling sick on the court, but showed great commitment in playing his singles set against Agut. Clearly, Baghdatis’ sickness was restricting his movement and Punjab’s (MVP) lost the set 3-5.
That said, Baghdatis sensed the moment and quickly held his serve in over-time and put an end to a pretty successful campaign of the Raipur Rangers. The Punjab Marshalls move to Hyderabad and will await their final opponents.