Wednesday, August 26, 2015
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO
If there was one standout fact in the recently-concluded TOTAL BWF World Championships, it was the diversity of nations that occupied the podium in all five disciplines.
Even in categories that were, until recently, effectively dominated by one nation, the 22nd edition of the World Championships showed the depth of the field has spread. In Women’s Singles, China failed to win a medal for the first time ever. Instead, the medallists (below) were a Spaniard (Carolina Marin; gold), an Indian (Saina Nehwal; silver), an Indonesian (Lindaweni Fanetri; bronze) and a Korean (Sung Ji Hyun; bronze). Interestingly, there was only one discipline (Mixed Doubles) in which a country got more than one medal.
Nehwal became the first Indian to reach the title round of the World Championships. Similarly, in Men’s Singles, Kento Momota too achieved a milestone, becoming the first Japanese player to medal in that category.
With players like Tai Tzu Ying (Chinese Taipei, Women’s Singles), Jacco Arends/Selena Piek (Netherlands, Mixed Doubles) and Marcus Ellis/Chris Langridge (England, Men’s Doubles) falling narrowly in the quarter-finals, indications are that more countries will stand a chance of success in future top-tier tournaments.
Set in the iconic Istora Senayan, the TOTAL BWF World Championships played all week in a festive atmosphere, with spectators turning out in colourful costumes and cheering for all players. Various food stalls, game kiosks and other attractions around the stadium enhanced the carnival atmosphere as promised by PBSI. Indonesia certainly won the hearts of all players at the championships.
Here is a recap of the momentous week:
With the exception perhaps of the final day, the rest of the tournament saw several unforeseen results. The combination of drift in the hall, loud-voiced fans and pressure of the occasion led to a number of pre-tournament contenders falling by the wayside. The earliest casualty was Men’s Singles No.6 seed Chou Tien Chen, who was beaten by rank outsider Zulfadli Zulkiffli (Malaysia; right) on the opening day. Women’s Doubles saw some big upsets, with top seeds Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi (Japan) beaten by young Malaysians Soong Fie Cho/Amelia Alicia Anscelly; No.6 seeds Ma Jin/Tang Yuanting (China) falling to Korea’s Go Ah Ra/Yoo Hae Won and second seeds Luo Ying/Luo Yu (China) to Japan’s Naoko Fukuman/Kurumi Yonao, all in the third round. Women’s Singles No.5 seed Ratchanok Intanon also fell in the third round to Indonesia’s Lindaweni Fanetri; the Thai’s retirement ended their match.
The most spectacular turnaround was authored by home hope Fanetri in the quarter-finals. Having outlasted Intanon in the third round – the 2013 World champion was stretchered off with cramps – Fanetri was six match points down in her next match against Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying. Thanks to her stubborn resistance and Tai’s jittery play, the Indonesian ran away with the next eight points and the decider, leaving her coaches teary-eyed and Tai utterly bewildered.
Eventual Women’s Singles champion Carolina Marin too showed nerves of steel as she climbed back from big deficits in her semi-finals and final. Another big turnaround was the Mixed Doubles semi-final between defending champions Zhang Nan/Zhao Yunlei and local heartthrobs Tontowi Ahmad/Liliyana Natsir. The Indonesians, riding on home support, had played near-perfect badminton and had two match points, but a blunder by Ahmad at net, with Zhang and Zhao at his mercy, caused a meltdown. The Indonesians lost their stomach for the fight, while the defending champions stepped on the gas and sped to victory.
When it got to the wire, the champions proved their class. Chen Long defended his title without the loss of a game. The closest he got to dropping one was in the quarter-final against Viktor Axelsen (above), but the Dane couldn’t capitalise on six game points. Carolina Marin had her anxious moments, but the Women’s Singles champion was able to dig deep when it mattered. Similarly, Zhao Yunlei/Tian Qing (below) fell behind in the Women’s Doubles final but stubbornly clung on until their opponents began to wilt. Zhang Nan/Zhao Yunlei took advantage of the one moment of luck that went their way in the Mixed Doubles semi-final and went on to retain the title, while Men’s Doubles golden guys, Mohammad Ahsan/Hendra Setiawan, struggled early on but hit peak form in the nick of time.
One match that showcased the best of World Championships action was the Men’s Doubles semi-final between Hiroyuki Endo/Kenichi Hayakawa (Japan; below) and Liu Xiaolong/Qiu Zihan (China). The latter had two match points in the second game, but the Japanese forced a decider. Endo and Hayakawa built a commanding 18-14 lead but Liu/Qiu refused to buckle and climbed level. Japan then fought hard to save two match points but it was third time lucky as the Chinese converted to reach the final: 21-16 21-23 22-20.
Another engrossing encounter was the Women’s Singles quarter-final between Wang Yihan (China) and Saina Nehwal (India). Wang has for long been Nehwal’s nemesis, and the Indian has never gotten past the last eight at the World Championships. In a duel full of long, exciting rallies, with each pushing the other to the limit, Nehwal displayed sterling qualities under pressure to emerge winner 21-15 19-21 21-19.
Indonesia could not have asked for a better finale to the event. Home favourites Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan (featured image) had displayed indifferent form throughout the week, but the pair sizzled in the semi-finals versus top seeds Lee Yong Dae/Yoo Yeon Seong (Korea), grabbing the match in straight games. They performed even better in the final, decimating Liu and Qiu with an example of nerveless badminton despite the intense pressure. The 21-17 21-14 result against the Chinese was the perfect crescendo for buoyant Indonesian spectators on the eve of the host nation’s 70th Independence Day!