ALL ENGLAND SF – Malaysian heirs on the big stage

Malaysia’s sensational new top 20 pair of Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik wowed the world with their tremendous win over the Asian Games silver medallists Fajar Alfian and Muhammad […]

Malaysia’s sensational new top 20 pair of Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik wowed the world with their tremendous win over the Asian Games silver medallists Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto, thus qualifying for their first final on their first try, while singles superstars and Viktor Axelsen are set to meet in the last final on Sunday in Birmingham.

By Tarek Hafi, Badzine Correspondent live in Birmingham.  Photos: Badmintonphoto (live)

Malaysia’s badminton heritage is once more coming out on the world stage, with their ultra talented youngsters Soh Wooi Yik and Aaron Chia (pictured top), who qualified for their first ever final at the All England on their very first try. The two players, physically and mentally wise, solidly confronted Indonesia’s Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto (pictured right) in a splendid encounter of three tight games 12-21, 22-20, 21-19.

Of course, we are very happy with this performance, We never expected to come this far,” commented Aaron Chia, obviously delighted but certainly exhausted from this achievement.

There has been a Malaysian shuttler on top of the men’s doubles podium 12 times since Ooi Teik Hock and Teoh Seng Khoon became the first Asians to title at the All England 70 years ago.  However, the last of the dozen was also a dozen years ago and when those 2007 winners Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong were runners-up 4 years later, they were the last Malaysian All England finalists in men’s doubles…until now.

Veterans, but still with many tricks to impress the world, Indonesia’s Hendra Setiawan and Mohammad Ahsan (pictured left) displayed some fantastic badminton during their semi-final against Japan’s third-seeded Keigo Sonoda and Takeshi Kamura. Extremely deceptive as always, the former World Champions managed to break the defence wall and prevent the Japanese players from succeeding with their usual fast-paced game.

We tried to focus a lot, and follow our strategy and thankfully we won,” commented Ahsan after their 21-19, 21-16 win.

Despite the celebration, the former Olympic champion Hendra Setiawan sustained a calf injury during the match.  He was visibly impaired from jumping and walking properly and the injury sent immediately to the medical room for treatment after the match, leaving Sunday’s men’s doubles final under a shadow of doubt.

Last two world #1s to meet

Men’s singles features a final everyone would want to watch. Viktor Axelsen (pictured right) and Kento Momota were meant since their junior days to be rivals.  On Sunday, they will meet in what will be the first ever All England final for both the former world #1 and his successor.

The tall Dane, who suffered the last few months with several injuries and asthma, seemed to have left those troubles in the past, as he beautifully got rid of world #2 Shi Yuqi in a thrilling three-game battle 22-20, 13-20, 21-9.

I think during the second game, I played okay, but Shi Yuqi played really well and made it tough for me so I just thought I should spare some energy for the third game, so overall I am very happy about this decision as it went really well,” analysed Viktor Axelsen.

It is a first for the Danish player in the final stage of the most prestigious tournament and he said of his upcoming final, “It feels awesome.  It’s a childhood dream coming true.  I am happy and proud, not only about my performance but with the fact that I am in the final.  I have been longing for that since a long time,” concluded Axelsen.

Current world #1 Kento Momota had it a bit easier during his match against Hong Kong’s Ng Ka Long (pictured), where he triumphed in straight games.  Despite, reigning the men’s singles world for several months, it is also his first time reaching the final in Birmingham. The Japanese jewel may hit big winning tomorrow, as this would make him the first Japanese men’s singles player to hold the All England trophy in the event’s 109-year history.

Mixed doubles repeat

In the mixed doubles semi-final, the first Japanese man ever to title at the All England, Yuta Watanabe, kept on wowing the badminton world, as did partner Arisa Higashino (pictured).  The duo romped through their match against Goh Soon Huat and Shevon Jemie Lai with their incredibly fast paced and aerial game.

The world number three showed no mercy towards the Malaysian underdogs, who nonetheless achieved their best result in Birmingham so far by reaching the final four.  It took only two games for the Japanese pair to secure a spot in their second final in a row in the prestigious All England tournament.

We do our best in every match, but this time we had the warm support from the stadium and of course try to embrace the history of this event and play our best game,” commented Yuta Watanabe.

Despite the loss, the Malaysian pair certainly appreciated this opportunity to elevate their game towards an assuredly great future: “We are very happy because we never expected to reach the semi-finals but we have made it there, and also thanks this game, despite the loss we gained some precious experience here,” said Goh Soon Huat (pictured left, with Shevon Jemie Lai) after the match. “It’s our first time meeting this pair so we were not very familiar with their style, speed and game but hopefully next time we meet them we’ll give a good fight.”

The final will in fact be a repeat of 2019, as world #1s Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong (pictured bottom) had to save 3 match points against 2016 winner Praveen Jordan and Melati Daeva Oktavianti, his partner since last year.  Huang won the title two years ago with Lu Kai but the All England remains the biggest title to elude Zheng Siwei so far.

Three-peat opportunity for Tai

Tai Tzu Ying, meanwhile, will try to become the first player since Xie Xingfang to take three times in a row, the women’s singles trophy.  In fact, if she can succeed, she will become only the seventh player in All England history.  The Taiwan player, had to bring the best out of Akane Yamaguchi (pictured), to earn her precious ticket to the final.

Tai will be joined by Chen Yufei (pictured right), who splendidly defeated the former champion, Nozomi Okuhara in straight games 21-17, 21-11.  China, of course, has a very strong tradition of women’s singles champions but nonetheless, Chen will attempt to become the first to wear her flag to the top of the podium since Wang Shixian won an all-Chinese final in 2014.

In women’s doubles, too, China will attempt to win back a title that they ruled for 20 years almost without interruption.  China’s last women’s doubles title was in 2015, and a Chinese pair was runner-up in 2016 but Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan will attempt to get the title this time.  They take on their successors as World Champions Mayu Matsumoto / Wakana Nagahara.  Like the men’s singles it will be the first All England final for both pairs.

Finals line up
WD:  Mayu Matsumoto / Wakana Nagahara (JPN) [3] vs. Chen Qingchen / Jia Yifan (CHN) [5]
WS:  Tai Tzu Ying (TPE) [1] vs. Chen Yufei (CHN) [3]
MD:  Mohammad Ahsan / Hendra Setiawan (INA) [6] vs. Aaron Chia / Soh Wooi Yik (MAS)
XD:  Zheng Siwei / Huang Yaqiong (CHN) [1] vs. Yuta Watanabe / Arisa Higashino (JPN) [3]
MS:  Kento Momota (JPN) [1] vs. Viktor Axelsen (DEN) [6]

Click here for complete semi-final results

About Tarek Hafi