Cai and Fu: China’s New Hope in Men’s Doubles

For more than 15 years, China has overpowered the world of badminton in most categories. However, one category was clearly lacking as there was no performance in the men’s doubles […]

ImageFor more than 15 years, China has overpowered the world of badminton in most categories. However, one category was clearly lacking as there was no performance in the men’s doubles events – until Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng came into the picture.

Story by Yan Yan Emilie Ding and Serla Ru

Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng may come from very different backgrounds, but together they pieced up hope and worked miracles for the Chinese men’s doubles squad.

Cai Yun, the Hyperactive

For Cai Yun, now 26, just to become badminton player has been a real struggle. He first started playing to avoid practising the accordion, which he hated so much. At that time, the 6-year-old Cai Yun, being a very active kid, could not stand to sit quietly and practise the instrument. Moreover, in school, he had always been exceptional in running. So his teacher, noticing his obvious talent, introduced him to the badminton teacher in school and helped persuaded Cai’s parents to let him practise badminton instead.

ImageHe then entered the Suzhou sports school. He then had to give up badminton due his mountainous pile of homework, but luckily, his supported him and finally he was able to join the Jiangsu provincial team in 1993 and became part of the second tier in the national squad in 1999. Little did he know that it was only the beginning of his hardest battle ever…

He first started training as a men’s singles player, but then had to switch to men’s doubles due to his heart problem. It was in 1997 when he began to realise he had a heart problem. While training, his heartbeat could shoot up until 200 beats per minute, followed by a headache, breathing difficulty and even immobility of his hands and legs. However, after resting for a few minutes, all the symptoms would disappear, so Cai Yun took them as mere “accidents” during training. Yet, the symptoms continued and were becoming more frequent – from once in half-a-year, to once in three months and finally once a month.

2001, through a medical check up, it was discovered that Cai Yun was born with an extra chamber in his heart and needed surgery. He first planned to pursue his higher study after the surgery, but the experts assured him that he could go back to badminton training. However, he had to switch to playing men’s doubles.

In person, Cai Yun is an extrovert and a rather talkative guy. His handsome face awards him many girl fans who often stretch themselves to get Cai Yun’s attention. Once in Korea, one girl broke into the players’ bus, gave Cai Yun a box of chocolates and cried on the spot.

Fu Haifeng – quickest man on earth

Fu Haifeng had a much smoother road to becoming a professional badminton player than Cai Yun. In 1994, 7-year-old Fu Haifeng enrolled Guangzhou’s sports school. The fact that entering a sports school would enable him to compete in a lot of competitions motivated him so much. In 1999, he joined the Guangdong Provincial team.

Just like Cai Yun, Fu Haifeng kicked off his professional badminton career as a men’s singles player. In 2002, he switched to playing men’s doubles. At that time Guangdong Provincial team needed a men’s doubles player for a national championship. After training for just a few months, Fu and his partner won the silver medal in the tournament. His performance caught Tang Xinfu’s eyes. In that very year, he joined the national team. He was only 18 at the time.

Fu was very excited when he found out he would be joining the national squad. His excitement, however, was quickly replaced by fear when he saw the condition of training in the team. He was nobody’s rival in the team, and his concept of playing doubles still needed to be carefully looked at. He had little self-confidence at all in the first few days of training.

ImageOff the court, Fu Haifeng is a shy and reserved person. He is also known as one of the most handsome players in the Chinese team, and everyone gave him a nickname “Ah Bao” which means “Treasure”. Fu admitted that he hated writing training diaries until he finally realized how useful they were after the World Championships. He said that because of the journal, he was able to make split-second decisions during the match.

Fu also has a great passion for computer games. He said that his greatest fear is to lose his computer. During the 2005 All England, he was caught playing computer games at midnight by his coach, who later confiscated his laptop.

Cai and Fu as a team

In December 2002, just one week before the , Tang Xin Fu decided to pair Cai Yun with Fu Haifeng. Cai Yun was still changing partners at that time while Fu Haifeng was still trying to find his way in the team. It proved to be a great pairing since Cai Yun has superb reflexes in front of the net while Fu Haifeng is great at attacking and smashing. After pairing up for merely one week, Fu and Cai went all the way to quarter-finals, something that Chinese men’s doubles had never achieved for a long time.

Cai/Fu started to grab the world’s attention when they made the semi-finals at the 2003 World Championships. They were finally stopped by the veteran pair Candra Wijaya and Sigit Budiarto after giving the spectators a splendid battle to watch. In 2004, Fu/Cai won their first title, the Swiss Open.

Their career has also been full of ups and downs. After winning the Swiss Open in 2004, Fu and Cai did not shine as brightly. They were eliminated in the first few rounds of tournaments. During the Thomas Cup final, they lost to Lars Paaske and Jonas Rasmussen from Denmark. Even though their loss did not prevent China from emerging as champion, it was still something bitter for them. In the Olympics, they were beaten in the quarter-finals by a Korean pair to whom they had never lost before.

In 2005, things started to look up for them. They won the first tournament of the year, the German Open and then followed up by winning the All England. Many people might think that they regarded their victory in All England 2005 as their greatest achievement so far. However, Cai Yun was of another opinion. “Maturity – that’s our greatest achievement.”

Fu Haifeng and Cai Yun are currently number 2 in the world according to IBF rankings dated August 31, 2006. (http://www.internationalbadminton.org/worldranking.asp). The most recent tournament they won is the Macao Open 2006 while the latest tournament they joined is the 2006, where they were semi-finalists.
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Quick Fact Box:

Name: Cai Yun
Birthday: January 19th, 1980
Birth place: Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, China
Height: 182 cm
Weight: 65 kg
Hand used: Right

Name: Fu Haifeng <
Birthday: August 23rd, 1983
Birth place: Jieyang, Guangdong Province, China
Height: 180 cm
Weight: 70 kg
Hand used: Left

Tip: Fastest smash in the planet

Best performances:
Thomas Cup 2006 winners (team)
Macau Open Championship 2006 winners
Chinese Taipei 2006 winners
Hong Kong Open 2005 winners
All England 2005 winners
German Open 2005 winners
Swiss Open 2004 winners

About Serla Rusli