Fourth edition of PBL starts on Saturday with 9 teams

Mumbai: The fourth season of Vodafone Premier Badminton League (PBL), beginning here on Saturday, promises to be a notch higher than the previous editions with the addition of Pune 7 Aces, making it a 9-team affair.

The upcoming edition will feature an impressive total of 90 players from 17 nations, that includes eight Olympic medallists and 8 players ranked in the top 10 vying for the top honours and the PBL trophy.

The 23-day extravaganza, which is organised by Sportzlive under the aegis of the Badminton Association of India will be held across five venues, with Ahmedabad and Pune hosting matches for the first time.

Speaking on the eve of the fourth season’s opener, BAI President Himanta Biswa Sarma said: “PBL has gotten bigger with every season and the growth in the fan following of the sport serves as a testament to it.

“With the objective to unearth and cultivate more talent, PBL has been really clinical in providing a platform to the youngsters and preparing them for the journey ahead. The league provides a unique opportunity, with some of the biggest names sharing the court with the youngsters, which in turn provides them with a steady learning curve,” he added.

Speaking on playing for the debut franchise Pune 7 Aces this season, 2018 World Champion Carolina Marin said: “I love coming to India and playing PBL. Two years of playing for Hyderabad has been very special and am looking forward to my journey with the Pune 7 Aces. As for the match against (P.V.) Sindhu, both of us will want to win our tie. My job is to play to the best of my ability and I will certainly give her no room.”

The 2016 Olympic champion had helped Hyderabad win the title last year and will have no qualms in competing against it this time.

And Sindhu will want to square off with Marin to renew the battle as the Indian would be keen to continue her sublime form after her recent title-winning performance in the World Tour Finals. The Hyderabad Hunters will certainly look up to Sindhu, who is on her homecoming advent, to help them defend their title in the new season. And a matchup between her and Marin will be the right fodder for the appetite of fans of both the players.

“Playing for my home team is special. We are the defending champions and I realize my responsibility to carry forward the winning habit,” said Sindhu.

The responsibility of Saina Nehwal will be even more as she will be leading a team comprising of promising youngsters from the North Eastern Warriors.

“This PBL, I am playing for a new team and looking forward to it. It’s a great opportunity for me to not only get associated with the Warriors but also connect with the fans from the North East. Also, this will be the first tournament after my marriage, hence it is special,” said the 2012 Olympic bronze medal winner.

The League will also have a strong Chinese flavour as three players from China along with a host of Indian juniors will be playing in the PBL for the first time.

The 23-day-long league will see nine teams — Delhi Dashers, Ahmedabad Smash Masters, Awadhe Warriors, Bengaluru Raptors, Mumbai Rockets, Hyderabad Hunters, Chennai Smashes, North Eastern Warriors and Pune 7 Aces — slugging it out for a prize purse of Rs 6 crore in five cities with the inaugural rounds being held in Mumbai, followed by Hyderabad, Pune, Ahmedabad and the semis and finals in Bengaluru.