Friday, August 25, 2017
TEXT BY GAYLE ALLEYNE | BADMINTONPHOTO AND SHI TANG
Riding their fortune, Lee Chun Hei and Chau Hoi Wah strode into the Mixed Doubles semi-finals today at the TOTAL BWF World Championships 2017 – capturing Hong Kong’s first doubles medal at a World Championships.
Headlining a string of quarter-final upsets, the pair savoured a memorable, first-ever triumph over No.2 seeds, Lu Kai and Huang Yaqiong, at Emirates Arena shortly after Men’s Singles top seed Son Wan Ho upstaged the highly-fancied Kidambi Srikanth of India.
About an hour later, 19-year-old Chen Yufei continued her eyebrow-raising heroics, calmly dispatching Ratchanok Intanon in three games on centre court to ensure a medal in her World Championships debut.
However, it was the steely performance of Lee and Chau (featured image) which stole the show as they withstood another of the trademark comebacks for which Lu and Huang have become famed. Left-handed Chau matched the usually-clinical Huang at net while Lee contributed his fair share of points to the 21-13 17-21 21-15 success with big hitting from the back blended with perceptive interceptions and follow-ups.
In the wake of the finest moment of their professional careers, the No.10 seeds said their priority was to give their optimal performance.
“We have lost some tough matches in three games to the Chinese. We prepared well in terms of serving and receiving and in our defence for today’s match.
“We didn’t think about getting a medal but we are very happy to get it,” said Chau; her partner adding that he was “surprised” by the result given their previous defeats.
Meanwhile, Son stunned Kidambi (21-14 21-18) who was considered one of the main challengers to two-time defending Men’s Singles champion Chen Long. The Indian hopeful did himself no favours by constantly flirting with the lines in the second game – and constantly missing. His error-strewn display left him with a mountain to climb as Son, putting in a steady day’s work, sped to a 16-5 lead and, in the end, he needed every bit of it.
The Korean’s nerves were given a severe workover as his rival clawed to within a point at 19-18 before a few more errors – this time at net – sounded the death knell for the No.8 seed.
“I am really happy because, after many World Championships, this is my first semi-final. When Srikanth was coming back in the second game, I was very nervous but I told myself to remain calm and take it one point at a time,” said the world No.1 player who will be up against five-time winner Lin Dan of China in the semi-finals.
Kidambi lamented his below-par showing, noting that nothing he tried worked.
“He was in control of the match and I really didn’t get into it. I made too many mistakes,” rued the 24-year-old.
Ratchanok Intanon echoed similar sentiments in her Women’s Singles loss to Chinese youngster, Chen Yufei, who displayed a maturity beyond her age and experience to dispatch the talented Thai and 2013 World champion: 14-21 21-16 21-12.
“Chen started to read my game a lot better and I was taking shots in bad positions. I am a little disappointed that I didn’t reach the semi-finals.”
Chen, the reigning World Junior title-holder, was ecstatic to add the wily Intanon to her scalps a day after thwarting top seed, Akane Yamaguchi of Japan.
“I am thrilled to win two very tough matches in a row. I know I can compete with the best in the world. After losing the first game, mentally I was just trying to gain confidence and play my game,” she told media.
“I changed my strategy starting with the serve. I was putting myself under pressure when I was serving high because she is a good attacking player. When I switched to the short serve it helped a lot,” said Chen who faces Pusarla V Sindhu of India in the semi-finals.
Other matches had their fair share of drama also.
In Men’s Singles, Chou Tien Chen saved two match points to stretch No.3 seed, Viktor Axelsen, the distance. Chinese Taipei’s Chou led briefly, before a resolute Axelsen pulled away – 21-18 20-22 21-16 – to secure at least a bronze to the delight of Danish fans.
In Mixed Doubles, it took an effort of Olympic proportions by Rio 2016 champions – Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir – to stave off young Chinese duo, Wang Yilyu/Huang Dongping, especially after blowing a 9-2 advantage in the decider. The 19-21 21-15 21-18 victory earned the stellar Indonesians a fourth World Championships medal together.
Further fireworks ensued in a tension-filled Women’s Doubles clash as Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi saw a 15-2 advantage evaporate in the second game against Bao Yixin and Yu Xiaohan. The Japanese top seeds then lost five match points as their Chinese opponents levelled the match. The Rio 2016 gold medallists ultimately scraped through 21-13 25-27 21-19 in 84 minutes. They must beat China’s Chen Qingchen/Jia Yifan for a place in the final.
Meanwhile, Mohammad Ahsan gave himself a shot at retaining the Men’s Doubles crown which he won with Hendra Setiawan two years ago. The experienced Indonesian and Rian Agung Saputro prevailed against Korea’s Chung Eul Seok/Kim Dukyoung, 21-16 21-18.
“The main reason for our success is our communication and learning from our mistakes. It’s great to reach the semi-finals and we need to stay focused if we want to go further,” said Ahsan.