ASIAN CHAMPS 2007 – Kooling The Hot Shots

The 2007 BAC Championship concluded with several hot shots being cooled: 3/4 seed Jiang Yan Jiao’s bravo upset of 2nd seed Lu Lan in the women’s singles event, Taufik depleting […]

ImageThe 2007 BAC Championship concluded with several hot shots being cooled: 3/4 seed Jiang Yan Jiao’s bravo upset of 2nd seed Lu Lan in the women’s singles event, Taufik depleting Chen Hong’s reserves in straight sets, as well as Lee Wan Wah/Choong Tan Fook’s demolition of Koo Kien Keat/Tan Boon Heong that will probably get tongues wagging for the next few days to say the least.

by J Lin reporting live from Bandaraya Stadium, Johor Bahru

Actually, if you are to google ‘hot shots badminton’, chances are you will be returned results of articles on Malaysia’s world number 10 men’s doubles pair Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong whose partnership of barely 6 months have already swiftly snatched up 3 out of the 4 Super Series titles this year.

It is no wonder, ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the Johor Bahru crowd at this year’s finals had surrendered their sleep-in Sunday to have their attendance marked for the final match of Koo/Tan. It didn’t matter that the new sensations were up against (and eventually came under the sword of) fellow Malaysians Lee Wan Wah and Choong Tan Fook who are a decade more mature than the prodigies.

With a mean age of only 21 between these two aesthetically pleasing young men – who are also capable of producing an equally aesthetically pleasing badminton game – and especially with their fine recent Super Series run, the crowd’s money was on the relatively novice Koo/Tan.

But still, veterans Lee/Choong are the defending champions in this event so it may or may not have come as a surprise that the world number 7 Lee/Choong held on to their title and had Koo/Tan (quite literally) floored.

The 32-year-old Lee said in a pre-match interview, “We are the defending champions and this will be the driving force for us in our bid to retain the title. There is nothing to lose.”

True to their word, right from the first set, the self-professed “old men” demonstrated to the crowd that they may be old, but that they are definitely not yet out of steam. Unleashing a superb offensive game, they smashed their way to take the set at 21-14.

Koo/Tan, however, quickly put on their creative caps and employed a new strategy in the 2nd set. Perhaps something primed Koo to remember that he is after all a wicked master at the net.  For that matter, he is one of the best architects at the net in the men’s doubles pool of recent years.

Koo was fast and furious as he approached the net, forcing Lee/Choong to slide into a defensive mode that was simply not good enough for Tan’s razor-sharp smashes, which are absolutely lethal. In this fashion, Koo/Tan secured the second set at a remarkable 21-11 scoreline.

Such a complementary combination is why the Koo/Tan partnership is so deadly. For as long as they continue to bring out the best in each other, they will remain a vicious threat to many men’s doubles pairs. However, the glitch in this harmony was seen in the semi-finals the day before when Koo struggled to find his usual magic touch in his netplay and Tan’s play was affected.

In essence, Tan’s brilliance can only be unleashed if Koo’s extraordinary way with the net successfully sets his partner up for that superb smash. It becomes a chain reaction of some sort and was seen again in today’s tiebreaker.

Tan was reduced to a less than inspiring figure when Koo’s netplay was rendered ineffective by their opponents. Lee/Choong came into the tiebreaker responding to Koo/Tan’s new game plan with an identical game plan by playing at the pace of Koo/Tan and they made a wise decision to take on Koo at the net.

Lee/Choong was greatly assisted by Koo’s less than sophisticated netplay this afternoon. As a result, Koo was caught feeding into the net or was forced to lift the shuttle to Lee/Choong. The veterans were hence invited to a smashing good time that had Koo/Tan going down at an empathetic 21-12 in the final set and missing out on their first Asian Championship crown.

With that, Koo might yet again come under media and public scrutiny for his performance (or the lack thereof). He was reprimanded by his displeased coach, Rexy Mainaky, for “playing to the gallery” in the semi-finals, which would have cost them their finals spot had their opponents not been so overwhelmed by intimidation that they bequeathed many points from unforced errors and misjudgments.

“This should not happen in a game, [Kien Keat] should stay focused”, said Rexy, a former men’s doubles Olympic champion. Today, Koo paid the price and lost the title.

Another brillant and talented player, Taufik Hidayat, turned the odds in his favour and secured his third Asian Championship crown with his defeat of Chen Hong.

Final results :

MS : Taufik Hidayat (INA) beat Chen Hong (CHN) : 21/18 – 21/19
WS : Jiang Yanjiao (CHN) beat Lu Lan (CHN) : 25/23 – 23/21
MD : Lee Wan Wah / Choong Tan Fook (MAS) beat Koo Kien Keat/Tan Boon Heong (MAS) : 21/14 – 11/21 – 21/12
WD : Yang Wei/Zhao Tingting (CHN) beat Cheng Shu / Zhao Yunlei (CHN) : 21/10 – 21/11
XD : He Hanbin / Yu Yang (CHN) beat Xu Chen / Zhao Tingting (CHN) : 22/20 – 21/15

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