AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2017 R32 – Southpaws steal Sydney hearts

Lin Dan and Lee Hyun Il schooled their less experienced opponents in two of the keenly watched first round men’s singles matches at the Australian Badminton Open. By Aaron Wong, […]

Lin Dan and Lee Hyun Il schooled their less experienced opponents in two of the keenly watched first round men’s singles matches at the Australian Badminton Open.

By Aaron Wong, Badzine Correspondent live in Sydney.  Photos: Badmintonphoto (live)

Two fabled lefthanders left audiences happier.  The general public and youths who’d only heard stories from their parents were drawn to goggle at the greatest-of-all-time while badminton geeks saw their Korean hero add a third musketeer to his collection of Danes slain over the past year in another stranger-than-fiction escape.

Bookends of wisdom

Solid of build and skill, Lee Dong Keun (pictured below) was the perfect foil for Lin Dan’s famous repertoire of left-handed loveliness on centre court.  Sydney audiences huddled for the midday match.  It was a live lesson in the technique that changed the course of badminton and one that Sydney-siders wouldn’t have known they’d ever witness again as Lin withdrew last year and could conveniently have retired after Rio.

Lin Dan (pictured above) comfortably dispatched the Korean seven years his junior, 21-14, 21-12, and revealed it isn’t a given.  He still teaches himself new things and has to exercise the knowledge.

“It’s very important to adjust quickly in men’s singles these days,” said Lin Dan after his match.  “I believe it’s this ability which offers the greatest advantage.  I know.  I lost in the first round last week to Wang Tzu Wei.”

My Danish education

At 37, Lee Hyun Il (pictured below) is Korea’s second highest ranked men’s singles player and momentarily in 2016 sat atop his countrymen in the rankings.  It was their first meeting and there was a 17-year gap exact to the month between him and European Championship silver medallist Anders Antonsen.

The pattern of Danish opponents accelerating past Lee near the finish line of the first game continued.  Two things came into play after they swapped sides.  Antonsen hadn’t found his second wind in the two-minute break after stepping harder on the pedal and Lee shifted up a gear towards the next interval while trusting that his original choice of shots were effective as well as the right ones all along.

The second half of the second game came easily to the veteran Korean and the rubber game was back on equal terms.  Even though the umpire was watchful and overturned one line call in favour of each player, Lee had an extra one go against him.  All this happening after the last interval and the pleading involved was enough to distract the Korean, who had been keeping a slight buffer up until 15-15.

Lee reeled off four errors as a result of broken focus rather than nerves.  Up 19-15, Anders Antonsen (pictured below) was also trying to steel himself in the usual way he had  been all along, thoroughly aware that the normal calibre and accuracy of his opponent in all but the recent minutes was demanding the fullest of his abilities with at best 50% success.

Then the stupendous happened.  Lee recouped normal composure as the better player and Antonsen’s own normal couldn’t prevent the Korean from reeling off six straight points to take the match, 19-21, 21-10, 21-19.

“I imagine playing like I had before it happened.  I told myself to control and to be calm until the finish line,” Lee remarked about the last-minute emergency.

Twice denied an Olympic bronze medal, Lee remains one of the most beloved former world #1s, apart from Lin Dan and he spoke appreciatively about fame: “Yes, I am aware there are a lot of badminton fans watching my matches.  Wherever I play around the world journalists always ask me this question.”

And on all things future related such as plans, what engages his mind, Lee added: “Age is not a problem.  It is just a number.  I make the game, joyfulness and a can-do spirit my focus.

“I was happy to hear the news of Son Wan Ho becoming world #1 in the last month.  Although I do worry about the future of Korean badminton as the current performances are sluggish.

“Actually, I see competing against the current top Danish players (the victories over top 5 players Jan Jorgensen and Viktor Axelsen in the past six months) as an education of what’s great in contemporary European badminton style and took useful tips from the experience.”

Lee Hyun Il’s survival is an illustrated bookend of the prowess Lin Dan spoke of.  Because of the 21-point rally scoring system in badminton, the complete player needs to suddenly be able to summon adjustment at the last minute, that’s if you have it in you to begin with of course.  It’s a deeper take on an old adage: start strong, finish strong.

India underestimated

The Indians who have not won a Superseries before fell by the wayside but their punches still left an imprint in the mettle of their seeded opponents.

World #1 Son Wan Ho admitted initially imagining the tussle against comeback kid Kashyap Parupalli might be easier and went on to say, “I didn’t expect the match would be so close.  I had to work harder at the beginning and then everything turned out fine.  Getting and staying focused was troublesome too.”

Seventh seeded Angus Ng Ka Long of Hong Kong described his interrogation of an Indian Superseries finalist as a first round:  “It was difficult at first as I didn’t know the technique of Ajay Jayaram (pictured).  Australia has a high standard of sporting facilities.  The lighting and space is perfect for badminton.”

Taiwan tackled

Taiwan’s top two men kept the scores close and occasionally led around the games’ half way mark but never dropped their frowns.

Early on, Japan’s world #36 Kanta Tsuneyama caused Wang Tzu Wei’s footwork to seldom be in balance when their rallies turned pacey or began extending out.  It was Tsuneyama’s first win in four encounters as he took it 23-21, 21-19.

Similarly, Huang Yuxiang (pictured) upset the Taiwanese sixth seed by avenging their only previous meeting, 17-21, 21-18, 21-18, and then revealed, “Every time I led in each game, Chou caught up.  It affected my spirit and it’s hard to deal with in the middle of a match.”

Huang’s exterior, however, exuded no hints of turmoil whereas Chou Tien Chen looked frequently bothered by his opponent’s muscular yet formulaic returns in contrast with his own hot and cold standard.

Huang’s expression and strokes maintained an unyielding character whether gaining ground or being beaten by outright winners and he echoed Ng Ka Long’s opinion: “This hall is suitable for performing to one’s full potential.”

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Aaron Wong

About Aaron Wong

Aaron Wong only ever coveted badminton's coolest shot - a reverse backhand clear. He is renowned for two other things: 1) Writing tournament previews that adjust the focus between the panorama of the sport's progress, down to the microscopic level of explaining the striking characteristics of players; 2) Dozing off during men's doubles at the London Olympic Games. Contact him at: aaron @