Again, the same two nations contested each other on finals day of badminton in the individual competition at the Australian Youth Olympic Festival as they had in the team event. China featured across the board but didn’t win all, as Australian tennis legend turned politican John Alexander watched on.
Badzine Correspondent Aaron Wong reports live from Sydney. Photos by Kevin Chan.
Doubles: Prophecy & Creativity
The match of the day wasn’t the marquee event of boys’ singles. When half the crowd sang out “zhong(1) guo(2) dui(4)” (meaning Team China in mandarin), the other half seized the opportunity to heckle “Boleh!” (literally meaning “can” in bahasa) and laughter ensued.
Prophetically, the Malaysian girls of Chinese extraction prevailed over the mainland Chinese in straight games 24-22, 21-15. Some mainlanders in the stands were rooting for the Malaysians because the majority would normally presume the Chinese women will ultimately triumph given their country’s glorious Olympic and World Championships pedigree in this discipline.
Learning from the example of Korea’s famous 2010 Uber Cup victory, Malaysians Chow Mei Kuan / Lee Meng Yean (pictured, far left) lived up to their top seed billing by keeping the shuttle in flight for the longest time. Their creative cross-court defence prevented the Chinese girls from doing the classic 1-2 of banging down a smash from the bigger girl helming the rear court (just like their more famous international compatriots Wang Xiaoli or Ge Fei) only to be followed by thumping of the loose return by a mixed doubles specialist at the net (a la Olympic gold medallists Zhao Yunlei or Gao Ling).
The Malaysians’ total focus was vital because the power coming off the racquets of the Chinese was continuously a genuine threat. Conversely, as the second game began to feel like the score was marching inexorably towards 21 for the other side, the Chinese cause for concern, and their diminished focus as a result, hastened their downfall. The slighter Chinese player, Huang, in trying to return the favour by moving the Malaysians around using wide angle lifts, overcooked the execution of her stroke and the Malaysians finally earned a couple of cheap points to add to their hard-fought bounty.
The coach of Malaysia’s juniors and former world number #1 Wong Pei Tty knows full well, being of small stature herself, “We can’t compete directly with power players. We have to compete using all the other factors.”
The boys’ doubles match was a messy affair, trigger-happy on the Malaysian side and experimental on the Chinese. It took 3 games instead of 2 this time for Pei Tianyi / Zhang Ningyi (pictured respectively) to snuff out the aspirations of Tai An Khang / Tan Wee Gieen 18-21, 21-16, 21-12. Each gentleman is skillful in his own right but discounting national association intervention, it looks doubtful they will stay partners in the long run.
China were guaranteed of the mixed doubles gold in an all-Chinese affair, with only the first game containing intensity as all four players knew they would be contesting level doubles later on against Malaysia.
Boys’ singles: The benefit of walking in someone else’s shoes
China’s Xue Song (pictured right) was visibly the happiest winner on finals day, 21-17, 21-18. He was incredibly athletic and punished lifts with thunderous smashes which initially startled and then continued to haunt the Malaysian Soong Joo Ven. Xue sometimes jump smashed up to four times consecutively and as heavily as a doubles player.
The immensely watchable Soong found himself in the same situation he had placed his Australian opponent in the previous day, being seriously outplayed and desperate to change something to turn the tide and giving frequent glances to his coach’s corner. It was impossible to win carrying on playing the same way, his usual way.
The Malaysian didn’t solve the problem enough times but he remained close in the score as he trialed taking advantage of the net area earlier and addressing the shuttle above the tape using a pan grip thereby causing uncertainty for the feet of the Chinese player.
One day Xue Song will be in this position of heavy pressure when he meets someone with a heftier smash than his own. It is unclear from today’s performance whether he has another dimension to his game but Soong clearly does have a plan B, though he lacked sufficient time to practice and refine the new tactics in the space of today’s match.
In the bronze medal playoff, Great Britain’s Alex Lane changed ends ahead in the rubber game and led 15-13 but for a reason only known to him, one of his strengths, concentration, eluded him when he most needed it. All week, Lane proved himself as a smart player and despite losing today, he also displayed evidence of being a fighter. After 65 minutes – the longest match of the day – Lu Chia-Hung of Chinese Taipei denied Great Britain a second medal.
Girls’ singles: Comfortable wins
It was one-way traffic for China’s Qin Jinjing (pictured) in the girls’ singles final, which was far less interesting for spectators than her semi-final tussle against the Taiwanese. Qin continually pushed and lifted cross-court shots out of reach of top seed Lim Yin Fun (pictured).
Malaysian ladies have a history of eventually coming undone when challenged in the court coverage stakes almost certainly due to their smaller, sometimes stout, physiques in combination with their style of play. Malaysia has not been known for its formidability in women’s badminton except for the flickering brilliance of Wong Mew Choo, who won the China Open, and Wong Pei Tty / Chin Eei Hui assuming the women’s doubles top spot briefly circa 2008. It remains either a challenge or a low priority for Malaysia with women’s singles chronically the rawest of their aptitudes amongst the five badminton categories.
Lin Ying-Chun of Chinese Taipei comfortably claimed bronze and to her credit, again played her match without the aid of a coach sitting behind.
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