MALAYSIA MASTERS Finals – First ever title for Li/Zheng

The Malaysia Masters was not just the first Super 500, not just the first World Tour, but the first international title, period, for Li Wenmei and Zheng Yu, while 3 […]

The was not just the first , not just the first World Tour, but the first international title, period, for Li Wenmei and Zheng Yu, while 3 other finals simply followed on from last month.

By Don Hearn, Badzine correspondent live in Kuala Lumpur.  Photos: Mark Phelan / Badmintonphoto (live)

It didn’t qualify as much of an upset when world #10 Li Wenmei and Zheng Yu edged out #7 Du Yue and Li Yinhui for the women’s doubles title at the Malaysia Masters.  But that didn’t lessen the glee felt by the Chinese newcomers.  They were celebrating their first ever international title.

Zheng Yu was the oldest player on court in the women’s doubles final but she only began playing internationally in early 2018.  By that time, both of her younger opponents already had Grand Prix Gold finals and titles to their names, which they’d picked up in their teen years.  Li Wenmei was the youngest player among the 4 but she had not seen the same success that Du and Li had at that age.

On the other side of the court, you had Du Yue.  She was the only one of the 4 with a Super 500 title to her name, but she had won that in mixed doubles, back in 2018.  But she had come close with Li at Super 500 level and above and they had won some Super 300 titles.  Perhaps it’s too early to draw comparisons between Li Yinhui and, say, Hiroyuki Endo but this Malaysia Masters puts her runner-up count at 5 at Super 500 and above events.

But Zheng and Li by no means dominated the match.  In the first game, they surged at exactly the right time, to rebound from 16-19 down to win it 21-19.  The second game was more one-sided and then in the decider, it looked as if the beginners’ luck for the less experienced duo was finally running out, as they again found themselves trailing by 3 points at 14-17, with the end of the match looming large.

Again, though, Zheng and Li clawed their way back.  Zheng Yu tied it up on a desperation backhand drive defense and the hitherto rather subdued crowd really started to get into the action.  Du Yue ploughed a short Zheng Yu serve into the net to finally give the younger pair the lead at 19-18.  A couple of wild returns later and Li and Zheng had claimed their first international title.

“During the first game game we weren’t leading and until we finally got the lead, it felt like we were on a roller-coaster,” said Zheng Yu afterward.  “I’m very excited now and I want to thank my partner for always encouraging me because at times I was a bit tired and couldn’t focus on the game so I am thankful that she kept telling me not to give up.”

Li Wenmei, meanwhile, said she was so excited and happy that she could not even express her emotions.

“We didn’t think too much about the fact that we were playing our team-mates,” said Li.  “In doubles, we have a partner so if we have problems we have to encourage and cover for them.”

Asked if she thought their opponents would now be gearing up specifically to beat them, Zheng said, “When you are at a high level, players will always be watching you to get ready to play you.  But this was our goal, to improve to this level.”

Kang Kyung Jin, former Korean national team Head Coach, and women’s doubles coach in China since this past autumn, also made an appearance in the mixed zone after the players had claimed their medals.  He answered a few questions on what it has been like to step in and work with all these talented players.

“I think the skill level of the Chinese players is extremely high,” said Coach Kang Kyung Jin.  “From my point of view, the women’s doubles matches can be quite long -particularly when the Korean and Japanese pairs are involved, the matches can run to 90 minutes – so I’ve really tried to work on my players’ stamina.  I think that if they can run all the way to the end of a long match and they use the solid stroke skills they have then I think this can serve them well.

“The fundamentals are something that I try to stress.  Even though I said their skills are very good, they still have to work on the basics and that will help them to be more competitive in a match.  That’s what I believe and it’s what I try to impart to my players.”

Three go back-to-back after Guangzhou

Three of the finals on Sunday at Axiata Arena produced the same winners as did the last event of the 2019 season, the World Tour Finals in Guangzhou.  Mixed doubles and men’s singles went completely according to seeding and to head-to-head record. Zheng Siwei / Huang Yaqiong beat Wang Yilyu / Huang Dongping for the 12th time in 14 attempts and got the better of Viktor Axelsen for the 14th time.  Axelsen played very well in the opening game but he is still looking for his first win against Momota in nearly 6 years.

Chen Yufei, for her part, is on an incredible roll.  She has just taken her fourth straight title.  Not only that, but she won her 9th straight final.  In fact, she hasn’t lost a final since the 2018 China Open.

This is also the first time she has enjoyed back-to-back victories over world #2 Tai Tzu Ying.  And with the dominance she showed today against her toughest rival in the tour, it begs the question of who can stop the juggernaut that is Chen Yufei.

In the first game, Tai was having some trouble finding the lines, while Chen continually beat her with crisp, flat smashes down her backhand side.  Things only got worse for the top seed in the second game as she barely got into double figures.

“Today, I made a lot of mistakes because there was a lot of wind on the court and Chen Yufei is quite a stable player,” said Tai Tzu Ying after the match.  “Overall, I feel quite good but I hope that I can continue improving myself.”

“I was quite positive going into the match,” said Chen Yufei.  “My record against her was already 2-14 so even if I lose one more time, it doesn’t matter so there is no pressure.

“I think I was more patient in this match, particularly in the second game and that put a lot of pressure on Tai Tzu Ying, causing her to make mistakes,” Chen added.  “I think the conditions, regarding the wind in the hall, were better today than on previous days.

On the recent difference in success over her predecessor as world #1, Chen said, “I think my playing style is more mature than when I played her previously and also more consistent.”

Now most of the field is heading for Jakarta, if they haven’t already left, for the Indonesia Masters, which kicks off in a couple of days.

Final results
WS:  Chen Yufei (CHN) [2] beat Tai Tzu Ying (TPE) [1]  21-17, 21-10
WD:  Li Wenmei / Zheng Yu (CHN) beat Du Yue / Li Yinhui (CHN) [7]  21-19, 16-21, 21-19
MD:  Kim Gi Jung / Lee Yong Dae (KOR) beat Li Junhui / Liu Yuchen (CHN) [3]  21-14, 21-16
XD:  Zheng Siwei / Huang Yaqiong (CHN) [1] beat Wang Yilyu / Huang Dongping (CHN) [2]  21-19, 21-12
MS:  Kento Momota (JPN) [1] beat Viktor Axelsen (DEN) [5]  24-22, 21-11

Click here for complete results

Don Hearn

About Don Hearn

Don Hearn is an Editor and Correspondent who hails from a badminton-loving town in rural Canada. He joined the Badzine team in 2006 to provide coverage of the Korean badminton scene and is committed to helping Badzine to promote badminton to the place it deserves as a global sport. Contact him at: don @