ASIAN CHAMPS 2007 – A Tale of Two Courts

Playing on adjacent courts are two players donning Malaysian jerseys of different designs: one is a familiar figure in Malaysia badminton scene, Wong Mew Choo, while the other is a […]

ImagePlaying on adjacent courts are two players donning Malaysian jerseys of different designs: one is a familiar figure in Malaysia badminton scene, Wong Mew Choo, while the other is a relatively fresh face: 18-year-old Lydia Cheah, in search of her big break.

by J Lin reporting live from Bandaraya Stadium, Johor Bahru

It was quite a sight having a flock of frantic fans swarming to this side of the hall at the announcer’s cue of the commencement of the match between Malaysia’s golden girl Wong Mew Choo (picured) and Indonesia’s Fransisca Ratnasari. Little would the spectators have expected to be treated to two equally mouth-watering matches played side by side.

Though Wong’s current world ranking of 11th is a distance ahead of Fransisca’s 67th, Wong revealed before the match that this would “not [be] an easy match.” Memories of the 2005 Manila SEA Games where she conceded her 2003 SEA Games crown to Fransisca must still have been fresh. Even though Wong had her revenge at the 2006 World Championships in Spain, surely both needed to be at their best to win yesterday morning’s match.

Wong is playing on home soil after all, which was supposed to give her an edge but it was Fransisca who stole the limelight in the first set. Fransisca showed the Johor Bahru crowd that she knew her opponent not just by name. Winning a series of long rallies along with consistent attacks on Wong’s backhand, Fransisca wrapped up the first set with a convincing score of 21-13.

Cheah’s Courageous Comeback

As all eyes were glued to the Wong-Fransisca battle, many Malaysian fans were oblivious to the fact that the neighbouring court was about to register one of the most startling upsets in this year’s Championship by Kuala Lumpur’s Lydia Cheah.

Exuding confidence on the other side of her court was 3rd seed and last year’s finalist Mori Kaori and all Cheah, who is ranked 173rd in the world, had at the start of the game was a distinct and desirable height advantage and a dose of courage.

ImageStanding about 1.77m tall, Cheah towers head and shoulders above Mori by and she made full use of that. With a height advantage, it usually follows that a player will have better and quicker court coverage. This, together with Cheah’s wicked placements, definitely brought out the mighty mouse in Mori whose resilient spirit had her sprinting and scrambling for every shot.

It was in this fashion that, even as Cheah took the first set at a hard-fought 21-19, the world number 12 left the relatively raw Malaysian clueless in the second set, winning it in an empathetic 21-8.

Cheah went into the third and deciding set playing like it was the game of her life, though the truth is that she had nothing to lose. Mori was the first to reach 11 points but with the score at 11-10, it was still anyone’s game.

Mori (pictured) was caught a few times too many by Cheah’s smashes to the back court and this had the effect of enabling Cheah to overtake Mori and eventually to extend her lead to 20-16 and take the set and match at 21-17 to the delight of the Malaysian fans.

W(r)ong Way

Perhaps inspired by Cheah’s performance in the neighbouring court or perhaps just having a passionate Malaysian crowd literally behind her, Wong definitely went into the second set all fired up.

Adopting a more aggressive approach this time, Wong collected a string of points from Fransisca’s inability to respond to her attacks. Fransisca was also giving away precious points from unforced errors and altogether, this allowed Wong to seal the second set at 21-17.

The third set was a simple affair of how Wong had everything right and Fransisca had everything wrong. Wong raced to take the lead at 11-5 as Fransisca maintained her long rally strategy until then; hence there was little wonder why the latter was running on her reserves and could only afford a half-hearted return into the net that saw Wong wrap up the game at 21-7.

Overall, it was a fruitful outing for the Malaysian girls on the second day of the 2007 BAC Championship. Sutheaswari Mudukasan and Anita Raj Kaur, the only two casualties in the Malaysian women’s camp, lost to the 4th and 2nd seeds respectively – China’s Jiang Yan Jiao and Lu Lan.  It is worth mentioning that the Malaysian girls did not go down without a fight.

Earlier, Malaysia’s number two, Julia Wong, extended her hopes of a quarter-final berth in this tournament by beating Indonesia’s ace Maria Kristin Yulianti 17-21, 21-14, 21-14. Wong was previously defeated by Yulianti on two occasions – at the finals of the satellite tournaments in Singapore and Surabaya – and she was determined not to receive a third strike this time and she didn’t.

It seems, then, that things are finally looking up in the Malaysian women’s camp. Since the 1960s and 70s heydays of Rosalind Singha Ang and Sylvia Ng, Malaysia has been rather quiet in the women’s singles category.

Indonesia, on the other hand, was producing champions like Susi Susanti, Mia Audina and Yuliana Santoso in the 1990s, yet are struggling to have any of their ladies make it through to the next round in the women’s singles category in this tournament.

Perhaps, then, beyond a tale of two courts, it is the tale of two countries but that shall be another story for another time.

Full results HERE

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About Jan Lin