TUC 2010 Semifinals – Malaysia, why so serious?

For all that talk of hosts Malaysia reliving the 1992 Thomas Cup miracle, Malaysia is now stuck with a moment they’d love to forget. If the 3-0 score line suggests […]

For all that talk of hosts Malaysia reliving the 1992 Thomas Cup miracle, Malaysia is now stuck with a moment they’d love to forget. If the 3-0 score line suggests Malaysia found China too hot to handle, then the 6-0 straight sets defeats with an average of 12.25 points per set reveals a mental meltdown.

By Jan Lin and Selina Ng, reporting ‘live’ in Kuala Lumpur. Photos: Badmintonphoto (live)

It was the same story repeated three times this evening.

Not only did Malaysia’s men’s singles Lee Chong Wei and men’s doubles pair of Koo Kien Keat / Tan Boon Heong do little justice to their respective world number one statuses, they had their home ground advantage rendered insignificant.

The story line is quite simple: The cool, calm and collected Chinese invaded their enemy’s soil and raised their game beyond belief. The Malaysians’ body language and facial expressions gave away the millions of worries invading their own minds.

It looked like a painful moment of truth for Malaysia’s golden boy Lee Chong Wei: After two years, the distance between Lin Dan (pictured top left) and himself hasn’t been bridged despite the fact that the Chinese has significantly cut back on competing in the international circuit while the Malaysian has been unbeatable in the Super Series this year and even scooped his first All England title.

The 21-17, 21-8 score-line bears resemblance to the 2008 Olympic Games final between the duo, which Lin Dan won in scores of 21-12, 21-8.

Revealing that it was a mental battle that he lost, Chong Wei said: “When I went onto the court, I wanted to win the first point for Malaysia so badly. In the first game, when nothing worked for me, I lost my confidence. Then, I made many mistakes and didn’t play my usual game. The crowd pressure is not an excuse for my defeat, I just lost to myself.”

In terms of technique, Chong Wei does believe that he has caught up with the Olympic champion but of course winning a match of this stature requires more than just a high level of technique. As it was at the Thomas Cup finals, it boiled down to the hosts being mentally overwhelmed.

Chong Wei shared: “Each time a shot came at me, I thought too much and had no idea where I should place my shot. My strategy simply couldn’t work today. The occasion plays a big part but I do think that the disparity between our individual skills and techniques has narrowed.”

Lin Dan was quite a changed man on court. The level of intensity he used to carry has reduced – but not his focus and desire to do China proud. Lin Dan even flaunted some dance moves after grabbing the winning point as a reminder that winning should not come at the expense of having fun.

“I played very well today because I am aware of the importance of the first point,” said Lin Dan. “Malaysia also wanted Chong Wei to take the first point but I think his pressure was greater than mine today because he’s playing at home, and, the fact that Malaysia have not won the Cup for many years.”

When asked if taking off his shirt was his usual style of celebrating a win, Lin said cheekily: “I took off my shirt as well when I won during the 2006 Thomas Cup, this time, I’m very happy to beat Chong Wei on his home ground, and I also wanted to compare my muscles between then and now!”

Like Chong Wei, Koo / Tan were so stiff in executing their moves that many would have forgotten that the Malaysians have a mean age of only 24 years between them.

Defeated in scores of 15-21, 10-21 in just 36 minutes, Koo / Tan’s usual youthful exuberance were nowhere to be seen. Instead, it was China’s Cai / Fu who had abandoned their usual stern self – perhaps encouraged by Lin Dan’s candid celebration, which spoke to them the importance of enjoying the game.

“There was no pressure on myself today,” said Koo Kien Keat (pictured right). “But our opponents were faster and their shots were of higher quality today. I couldn’t steady myself when returning their shots, so I made more mistakes today. They have been able to keep their game at a high level despite Cai Yun’s age, but I don’t think we are on a decline either as there are many factors influencing each game we play.”

30-year-old Cai Yun dismissed rumours of his retirement and, like Lin Dan, stressed the importance of enjoying the game at this point of their careers.

Cai said: “Playing badminton is an enjoyment to me now. I’m thirty, I do believe that our career will come to an end eventually but I would like to end my career with Haifeng. I also hope that my career will end at the Olympics.  Meanwhile, we will cherish all that comes our way.”

Finally, with the theme song of “Mission Impossible” accompanying Wong Choong Hann’s entrance, it was apparent that any expectation of a miracle was unrealistic. Wong lost 16-21, 7-21 to Chen Jin.

“This is definitely my last Thomas Cup,” said Choong Hann (pictured left). “We seriously need to add depth to our squad, especially in the singles department.”

It is a charge that Malaysia’s head coach Rashid Sidek can’t deny.  Rashid said: “We lost to a better team. China deserved to win. We thought that our preparations were solid, but they beat us to it.”

“The Chinese don’t seem to show their true colours at the international tournaments: today’s Lin Dan is not the same Lin Dan as was at All England. We are now pressed to develop and raise the quality of the young players in our squad,” concluded Rashid.

China’s marshal, head coach Li Yongbo, shared their side of the story, he said: “We have a lot for respect Malaysia and Malaysia played well, especially for Wong Choong Hann to be playing at his age. We won because we are the better team.”

“Anyone who plays against China will feel the pressure, however, we had just as much pressure imposed on us by the home crowd,” Li Yongbo added, “but we respect the home crowd’s presence as we understand they are here to cheer for their national team.”

Further demystifying China’s key to success, Li Yongbo said: “We just had to prepare to the best of our ability, and in every aspect, to cope with the pressure here, which we did today. Everyone should regard badminton as an enjoyment and the nation should not be too critical of a competition’s outcome.”

Malaysia, hear hear.

Badzine is reporting ‘live’ at the 2010 Thomas and Uber Cup Finals in Kuala Lumpur! Check back for our daily news updates and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.To enjoy our live PHOTO GALLERY, CLICK HERE.

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About Jan Lin