ASIAN CHAMPS 2007 – Untitled title

In an extraordinary atmosphere in Johor Bahru, the third round gave some chills to the spectators, as well as to our Badzine correspondent, with extremely tight matches… by J Lin […]

ImageIn an extraordinary atmosphere in Johor Bahru, the third round gave some chills to the spectators, as well as to our Badzine correspondent, with extremely tight matches…

by J Lin reporting live from Bandaraya Stadium, Johor Bahru. Photos: Badmintonphoto.com (archives)

This is for real. There is no title for today’s cover story for the 2007 Yonex-Sunrise Badminton Asian Continental Championship. Last evening at the men’s singles round of 16 is one of those evenings where you can’t really get your head around precisely what happened. The non-stop dramatic twists in three of the men’s singles matches occurring all at once made the occasion into what I can only describe as a journalistic nightmare.

Comebacks do journalists no favour when deadlines are so tight. Usually by the 2nd or 3rd set, whichever is the last, journalists would have had enough of an impression to churn out 75% of their stories. Comebacks are OK if only one player is staging it but when both players are competing to stage it, the storyline becomes a blur and that was what happened to three of the men’s singles matches last night.

Excuse me, is this round 16?

First up, we have 9/16 seed Simon Santoso braving 2nd seed Chen Hong who shredded his ‘retired’ tag and traveled to Johor Bahru as an “individual enterprise” in his very own words. (Not so individual actually, considering he is here with his Taiwanese wife and player, Ku Pei-Ting.)

ImageWorld number 5 Chen Hong (pictured above) went on court with an air of confidence and got down to work promptly. Like a true veteran, he mercilessly finished off world number 27 Simon Santoso in the first set leaving him with a single digit score of 8.

Anyone who has seen Indonesia’s Santoso – who will be turning 22 this July – in action before tonight’s match would know that he was definitely worth more than that. It did appear that Santoso had given Chen too much respect in the first set.

True enough, Santoso (right) was the first to stage a comeback finishing Chen with a commendable score line of 21-12. It sure looked like Santoso had been given the right advice by his coach at the end of the first set.

But if you are to think that the speedy Santoso, who was outrunning Chen for most of the set, has found the winning formula to dispose off the coachless Chen, paradoxically, that’s when the drama begins.

The tiebreaker was the beginning of my nightmare for this story. Both Chen and Santoso returned to the court after the 2-minute break as if they were two new individuals flashing out skills that were non-existent in the earlier sets. The wicked 25-23 final score line that ended in Chen’s favour would testify to that.
Anyone who had stumbled into the hall at that juncture would have thought it was a final match as both Chen and Santoso played with the heroic heart of a finalist. For that matter, when the game ended at 25-23 in Chen’s favour, he fell onto his knees with both arms raised and gave that victorious roar of a champion.

Happening concurrently on the other side of the hall were two matches that involved the fates of two Malaysians, which took the passionate crowd on an emotional rollercoaster ride.

ImageYousuke’s second strike

Japan’s hidden gems are, ironically, enjoying their outing at this year’s championship more than the Japanese household names, many whom have fallen victims to underdogs.

In the women’s singles, the 182nd-ranked qualifier Fujii Mizuki took revenge for her senior Mori Kaori by taking down Malaysia’s Lydia Cheah, who had overcome Mori in the first round. Meanwhile, in the men’s singles, Nakanishi Yousuke is having a good time unseeding the big names.

Ranked 51st and unseeded himself, Yousuke (pictured) trounced both Korea’s Park Sung Hwan (5/8 seed) and Malaysia’s Lee Tsuen Seng (9/16 seed) in two three-set thrillers to book himself a quarter-final spot on Friday night.

The round-of-16 match between Yousuke and Lee was a nail-biting performance by two players in terrific tip-top form. Two sides of the same coin, Yousuke was very, very sharp while Lee was very, very smart.

The resilient Yousuke won the match at 21-18, 17-21, 23-21 in 65 minutes, the longest match of the night. Even if the result was to the disappointment of the Malaysian crowd, the match itself had the crowd going berserk with bolehs!

Yousuke will face Chen Hong in the quarter-finals 24 hours later and he is definitely eyeing a third strike at the seeds.

Another Malaysian survives!

Earlier in the day in the round of 32, local favourites Wong Choon Hann, Roslin Hashim and Hafiz Hashim were respectively silenced by Simon Santoso, Shon Seung Mo and China’s rookie Lu Qi Cheng. But Yeoh Kay Bin (9/16 seed) was determined not to join the camaraderie of casualties.

Yeoh faced a tricky task against Thailand’s treasured talent and world number ten Boonsak Ponsana, a player who belongs in a league of his own. Notwithstanding patriotism in the name of ‘Malaysia Boleh!’, Boonsak is often a crowd favourite especially in the Asian circuit.

ImageLong rallies were the essence of this match with Boonsak preferring to move Yeoh around instead of going for the quick kill whenever the chance arose. His lack of attacks is a common source of frustration to his opponents. However, his lack of consistency tonight was a greater enemy to himself than to Yeoh, who took the first set stylishly.

Losing the opening set 24-22 would be the epitome of discouragement but Boonsak is not one who gives up just like that. His fourth-place feat in the 2004 Athens Olympics would serve to remind badminton faithfuls.

Yeoh must have caught the inconsistency bug from Boonsak straight after taking the 1st set to give away the 2nd set at 13-21. But as quickly as the 2nd set went, Yeoh regained composure and tightened his play in the tiebreaker and was the one who arrived at the half-way 11 mark and snatched the control seat.

At this point in play, it is fashionable for Boonsak to begin unleashing his attacking prowess. In a blink of an eye, his game plan took on a deliberate change. Peppered with neat net shots and clever net play, Boonsak was like a crafty master who repeatedly sets himself up for the kill and successfully closed in to level up at 11-11.

Boonsak appeared to be in total control of the match until he arrived at game point but his unwonted carelessness became a self-constructed stumbling block in his path to a victory that was within reach. Meanwhile, Yeoh was digging deep to re-find the consistency and confidence that was to give him the needed boost to play catch-up.

In a cool and composed manner vis-à-vis Boonsak’s rashness, Yeoh turned the match around to his favour and stole the game from Boonsak’s hands at a cruel 23-21 final score. With that, Yeoh booked his quarter-final berth joining Malaysian star Lee Chong Wei, who had disposed of Ng Wei in an earlier match with ease.

To be absolutely honest, I had originally entitled today’s story ‘Chong Wei stands strong while fellow Malaysians massacred’ and had compiled a storyline of a different focus that would have seen Lee Chong Wei taking centre stage (yes, again).

And I was already preparing to push the ‘send’ button on my email server once Boonsak completed the final massacre but, when that didn’t happen and with the accumulation of disarming dramas, I was simply thrown off my seat.

So my original title was haplessly rendered inappropriate by Yeoh’s twist of brilliance. Yet, that together with the amount of writing and re-writing are nothing compared to the atmosphere at Bandaraya Stadium this evening, which I’m still taking in. Up until this evening, the men’s singles category had been an ordinary and rather predictable affair but not anymore.

Just as I’m still trying to squeeze some creative juices for a title that would fully encapsulate today’s atmospheric story, it would be equally difficult to put a likely name to the men’s singles title at the 2007 BAC championship.

Full Results HERE

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Ticket Price: Quarter Finals on 13th April – RM 20; Semi Finals on 14th April – RM 20; Finals – 15th April – RM 30; Season Ticket: RM 70 Students aged below 17 years old will be entitled to 50% of all ticket prices, except for season tickets. For more information, visit http://www.bwfsuperseries.com/bac/index.htm.

About Jan Lin