The city that made Xue Song the Sydney Youth Olympics boys’ singles champion back in January has become his happy hunting ground as he remains unstoppable, clearing the rounds of 32 and 16 at the 2013 Australian Badminton Open in straight games over both the fifteenth seed Kazumasa Sakai of Japan and then sixth seed Taufik Hidayat respectively.
By Aaron Wong, Badzine Correspondent, live from Syndey. Photo: ABO Media
Quality of timelessness
Xue Song, could be from any era. He also could be any age up to ten years older. It is hard to tell except by appearance how young he is.
His badminton prowess, as you would expect of a trained player from China, ticks the boxes for outstanding technique, untiring footwork, and ample power in the arms. Xue’s trademark is a sturdy put-away smash that he always seems able to unleash accurately in the direction he wants. It is a terrifying weapon on the junior stage because of the startling amount of power that belies his 5-foot-7-inch frame, whereas it proves reliably threatening from mid-court forwards on the adult circuit without appearing sensational. Think more Joko Suprianto than Dong Jiong. In other words, he gets the job done without getting messy.
Hurting the samurai
His second round match win over Kazumasa Sakai of Japan, 22-20, 21-12, hinted at the young man’s hidden depths. It was a slow start for the Chinese but not slow action. His opponent wasted no time displaying the experience of someone regularly used to playing on the international circuit. After being behind 5-11 at the first interval, the domination reversed even though it was not immediately obvious what had changed on court apart from the scoreboard raking up points for Xue.
The Chinese was methodically deconstructing the strategy and disenchanting his Japanese adversary. « I was too careful, too precise, too safe at first, » explained Xue. « Then my coach advised it was time to show some spirit and concentrate on feeling good instead of designing my shots. »
Once he put the textbook aside, so to speak, the rallies between the men continued but Xue’s shot-making, now freer through trusting his instincts and pre-match preparations, was sealing every gap on the court that Sakai had been probing. What Xue traced out was a successful reading of his opponent which eventually developed into a portrait of a crestfallen Japanese man.
It was a mature performance from the Chinese teenager to hold on to the momentum he had created all the way to the match’s conclusion. His war cries, you sensed, were less about winning than self-pride at maintaining belief in himself playing the right way.
« Yes, I did go into this match with a plan. I knew already that Japanese tend to like engaging in long, not so fast, rallies, » said Xue post-match. « I believe there is no specific one better style, whether the fast one Singaporeans and Thais prefer, or someone who searches the corners of the height and length of the court. You have to find the style that suits you and I have deliberately chosen the way that I play. I made sure I didn’t play into his ploy either.«
Views from the summit and valley
When asked about the contrast of being on top at the Sydney Youth Olympic Festival and coming into this tournament as the lowest rank in the team, Xue did not hesitate to state realistic expectations, « As a rule, I’ll always aim to be the top seed. That’s where I want to be. That said, you can only grab such opportunities as a result of hard work and how dedicated you are to training towards the goal. I believe in training very hard in order to grab the number one seed opportunity at a tournament or within my team, and when I do, I intend to protect that status as mine.«
His answers and the way he answered the questions demonstrated a timeless quality about this Chinese player. Peel away his unassuming exterior and he exudes soulfulness. Xue handled each question with a decent and full answer that revealed a Shaolin’esque mentality. His Day 2 victory began to make more sense. The change had sprung from within. He was more interested in getting it right and knowing he is right than the fleeting thrill of simply accumulating points here and there. Such is his depth of character.
Xue Song comes across as normal, not in the contemporary sense of expecting teenagers, to a certain degree, to be gum-chewing, iPod-absorbed, one-syllable-reply creatures that give other humans divided attention, but normal in the well-adjusted sense. Stop him and he’ll look at you proper and respond articulately. Further evidence is in his respectful posture when listening to his coach, or the unhurried decency to tell a team-mate when he goes off somewhere, or when a fan suddenly pulls him aside.
On Day 3, the 2013 Youth Olympic Festival champion beat the 2004 Athens Olympic champion. “Taufik played exactly as I expected him to per my preparations. He is not young anymore and I anticipated that he would choose not to move fast around the court. Even though I won the majority of the net encounters, it really is impossible to read what Taufik will do next when his racquet is already raised at net height or above. That’s still surprising and shows brilliance.”
Xue Song’s feelings about the triumph: « I’m elated to have played in a tournament someone so important in the history of badminton, that’s memorable and precious to me, as well as having won today on top of that. Oh, don’t be mistaken, it’s not something I could brag about to my future kids. It’s enough just for me to know and feel warm about it. »