Lee Hyun Il kept his unbeaten run to seven wins, helping to keep Asia ahead of the Europe All Stars but Sonia Cheah came of age to stamp her mark in the international scene.
By Mior Muzaffar Mior Dahalan, Badzine Correspondent Live in Kuala Lumpur. Photos: Axiata Cup (live)
On the last day of the preliminary rounds of the 2013 Axiata Cup here in Kuala Lumpur, team Malaysia and the Asia All Stars squared off and lined up their best players available, but for different reasons. Having already qualified for the semi-final round, team Malaysia was trying to get as many points as possible to reach one of the top two positions in the round robin to avoid a semi-final showdown with Indonesia, who they expected to top the table. Meanwhile, in order for the Asia All Stars to clinch the last semi-final spot, they had to do almost as well against Malaysia as Europe did against Indonesia.
In the first match of the day, it was the highly anticipated match between Malaysian Sonia Cheah (pictured) and World #9 Tai Tzu Ying of Taiwan. Ranked only #46 in the world, Sonia Cheah has begun to look like Malaysia’s new badminton queen, as she surprised everyone with her stunning victory over Tai Tzu Ying with the score-line of 21-18, 19-21 and 22-20.
It was the first time the two players had played against each other and it was obvious from the start that both were playing cautiously but Sonia just had the edge in the first game, winning 21-18. In the second, Tai Tzu Ying started to show her real ability by coming back from 13-17 down to win.
In the third game, Tai Tzu Ying led 20-17 and was cruising to victory when Sonia started her mighty comeback and she snatched the next 5 points to win 22-20.
“I’m very proud to be able to beat a top 10 player for the first time in my career,” said Sonia afterwards. “I try to play my best and play my heart out.
“The reason I lost the second game was that sometimes I can be a bit impatient, and although same thing happened in the third game and left me trailing 17-20, I just told myself not to give up.
“I think I am ready for the semi-final if I am selected, If the coaches have faith in me, I have to believe in myself”. When asked whether Malaysia had found a replacement for their former badminton queen Wong Mew Choo in her, she replied “I think this tournament would be a good starting point for me further career and maybe I can try to be as good as Mew Choo.”
The second match was between world #14 Liew Daren and the evergreen former world #1 Lee Hyun Il (pictured above right). The first game was really close with both players displaying high quality badminton and it ended in a close 27-25 win to Daren.
In the second game Hyun Il upped the tempo of his game and won comfortably 21-13. In the third, Lee Hyun Il showed his experience when, though trailing 13-17, he managed to compose himself and win 21-19 to continue his impressive unbeaten run to 7 matches.
“After I lost the first game, it was physically and mentally difficult to keep going, but I’m glad I managed to win,” explained Lee Hyun Il after the match.
“I’m quite satisfied with my game, even though I lost, since I have just recovered from illness,” said Liew Daren.
“I think I took it easy when leading 11-9 in the second game when I should be tighter in my game.” As for his target for the upcoming Australian Open, Liew said, “My target is the quarter-final and we’ll see after that.”
The mixed doubles pitted world #5 Chan Peng Soon / Goh Liu Ying (pictured above left) of Malaysia against World #28 Ashwini Ponnappa / Tarun Kona of India playing for the Asia All Star team. With Ashwini Ponnappa being a Commonwealth Games champion and bronze medallist in the 2011 World Championship in the women’s doubles category, this Indian pair are certainly no pushovers and they really showed it when they surprised the higher-ranked Malaysians with a 21-17 win in the first game. However, the Malaysians regrouped and won the next two.
“We played badly and the opponents are good players,” admitted Goh Liu Ying after the match.
“I’m not feeling well and luckily my partner covered for me in this match,” explained Chan Peng Soon for his weak display in this match. On their preparations for the semi-final, Chan said, “We’ll study our opponents and see who we’ll face first. If we face Liliyana Natsir [with Tontowi Ahmad], we’ll be quite confident since that we beat them in our last meeting.”
The last match was a straightforward win for the Malaysian men’s doubles pair Tan Wee Kiong / Hoon Thien How (pictured above right) against the now internationally retired Chinese scratch pair Bao Chunlai / Zheng Bo with a 21-19, 21-10 win. But at the end, it didn’t matter to the Asia All Stars as team Europe had lost their match to Indonesia 1-3, leaving the Asians qualified for the semi-final with 2-point advantage.
Europe All Stars come up short
In fact, Sonia Cheah’s win against her Asia All Star counterpart Tai Tzu Ying gave Europe a golden opportunity, as they began their last team tie needing to get two more wins than Asia to qualify for the semi-finals. Ivan Sozonov and Vladimir Ivanov were tantalizingly close to upsetting Hendra Setiawan / Mohammad Ahsan (pictured above left) but the Malaysia Open champions finally snatched the 22-20, 21-19 victory.
Afterward, Spain’s Carolina Marin did save some face for Europe when she got the better of Bellaetrix Manuputy but by that time, Scott Evans had already been forced to retire from his match, after losing a heartbreaking 19-21 first game to Dionysius Hayom Rumbaka. Nathan Robertson and Jenny Wallwork pushed two-time All England champions Ahmad/Natsir in their second game but were unable to come up with another point for the visitors.
“I came here to enjoy myself and give my very best performance with a hope to win the tournament,” said Nathan Robertson after his match. “It is disappointing we have failed to reach the semi-finals.”
After all preliminary round matches ended, Indonesia took the top spot with 22 points, followed by Malaysia edging Thailand for the second spot by having won more games, although both teams scored 21 points, and the last spot goes to the Asia All Stars, who got 16 points. Indonesia and Malaysia automatically received top seeding for the semi-finals while the third and 4th placed teams will be drawn to determine who they will meet. The draw will be conducted on April 12th in Kuala Lumpur.
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