The Taufik vs. Chong Wei showdown was supposed to be the match of the night at the 2007 BAC championship quarterfinals, but it was not quite so. Despite being taken to three sets by China’s Gong Weijie in the round of 16 the previous night, Taufik showed how he is in untameable form as he removed first seed Lee Chong Wei in just two sets while his fellow semi-finalists could only go through in three.
by J Lin reporting live from Bandaraya Stadium, Johor Bahru
Of the men’s singles semi-finalists fresh from last night’s quarterfinals, Indonesia’s Taufik Hidayat (pictured) remains the least damaged. A combination of judgment errors and the lack of finesse had world number 4 Lee Chong Wei uncharacteristically outclassed by Taufik, who is seeded 5/8 in this tournament.
Taufik’s world ranking of 18th might appear less than glamourous but this is the consequence of his recent ‘selective’ nature in sending his rsvp to any tournaments. Luckily for the Johor Bahruians, he chose to rsvp for this championship in a last minute bid to collect valuable ranking points for the World Championships in August.
Despite winning the toss, Taufik was barely awake when he took his first serve and allowed Chong Wei to race to a 4-0 lead. But once he came around, hardly anything Chong Wei did was good enough to undo Taufik’s talent. In fact, a handful of Chong Wei’s points were chalked up from Taufik’s occasional mis-anticipations.
Taufik is a player who is capable of relying on his instincts to play his game. Instincts, in sport, would be synonymous with having the X-factor. They set a player apart by his innate ability to accurately anticipate and read his/her opponent’s every move. It is one of those things that can’t be taught or trained, yet is an essential component in the DNA of a true champion, of which Taufik is one.
As the match progressed, it appeared that the shuttlecock had ears to listen to Taufik’s every command as Chong Wei struggled to gain control. Taufik recovered from the unsightly 0-4 lag to take a halftime 11-8 lead and later the set at 21-17.
Chong Wei (pictured) went into the second set with a better understanding of what needed to be done to thwart Taufik’s dominance. It really is about thinking outside of the box at the right time. For instance, at the crucial 10-10 score line, Chong Wei sprang a surprise crosscourt net shot that had Taufik dumbstruck but set the stadium into roars.
But Chong Wei’s bag of tricks was a limited enterprise. Taufik received further assistance from Chong Wei’s continual misjudgment of Taufik’s lobs and punches, permitting the shuttle to go pass him with the assumption that they’d be called out by the line judges. Yet, more often than not, the shuttle landed at least 20cm within the perimeter of the singles court.
And even as Chong Wei succumbed 17-21 to Taufik in the 2nd set and lost his 2006 reign at the championship, there was still reason for the crowd to cheer on.
After a stunning display against Boonsak Ponsana the night before, Malaysia’s Yeoh Kay Bin continued his heroic pursuit of a medal in the men’s singles event.
In a heart-thumping 3-setter match with fellow 9/16 seed Chan Yan Kit of Hong Kong, Yeoh once again rose to the occasion. This time, Yeoh definitely came back from the dead – going down 13-21 in the first set - to utterly annihilate Chan in the 2nd and 3rd at 21-9 and 21-14.
Ironically, while all of the crowd’s attention was initially fixated on the one court that showcased poster boy Lee Chong Wei, in the end, the Johor Bahru crowd had only Yeoh to thank for seizing the sizzling semi-final spot against China’s semi-retired Chen Hong. In the spirit of both patriotism and of good badminton, it is definitely a match worth returning for!
Yousuke Yielded, Shoji Stunned
Nakanishi Yousuke, the unseeded Japanese who defied two seeds in the earlier rounds, was so near and yet so far in his strike for a third. Yousuke’s outing at this year’s championship taught everyone that big names are really no big deal.
After disposing of Korea’s new number one (following the departure of Lee Hyun-il from the national squad) Park Sung Hwan and Malaysia’s number four Lee Tsuen Seng, Yousuke looked set to give Chen Hong a run for his money.
Even though Yousuke was thrashed by Chen in the 2003 Malaysia Open, from the start to the end of the match, Yousuke was bursting with confidence. In what was nearly a repeat of his dramatic round-of-16 match against Simon Santoso, Chen showed his tendency to loosen his bolts in the 2nd set while his opponent takes his game to a new level.
Up until the halfway mark in the rubber set, at which Yousuke held the lead, not much separated both players. Just as Santoso had the previous night, Yousuke started to freeze up after the halfway mark while the veteran within Chen revealed himself and he unleashed his hot shots.
Perhaps less experienced than Santoso, Yousuke did not have the know-how to pull a rollercoaster comeback against Chen, who appeared the more intimidating party as he closed in for victory. Chen took the third set 21-16, thus surviving yet another scare.
Yousuke’s compatriot and world number 16 Sato Shoji fell to a fired-up Anup Sridhar (photo) who is India’s next big thing in badminton. Talent aside, with the perfect physique of a singles player and his strong sense of self-belief and determination, Anup is a complete package of a world-class singles player.
Anup’s playing style has, perhaps with maturity, tamed a lot over the years. Occasionally though, one can still witness his cheeky trickery, which might actually come in handy as he faces Taufik in a splendid semi-final showdown today.
The two Weis might not have tamed Taufik but Anup, who is as fine a player as Gong Wei Jie and Lee Chong Wei are, should remember that it doesn’t mean there is no way.
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