AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2015 SF – Festival of finesse

Wang Shixian again won a battle of finesse and consistency with Bae Yeon Ju while Hong Kong’s Lee/Chau finally outwitted Ahmad/Natsir to make the Star Australian Open their first Superseries […]

Wang Shixian again won a battle of finesse and consistency with Bae Yeon Ju while Hong Kong’s Lee/Chau finally outwitted Ahmad/Natsir to make the Star their first final.

By Aaron Wong, Badzine Correspondent live in Sydney.  Photos: Badmintonphoto (live)

Bae vs. Wang: 2 wins, 15 losses…plus 1

It seemed like Bae Yeon Ju’s day to catch up in her win-loss record of 2:15 with Wang Shixian (pictured), having won the last encounter a month ago in straight games.  If you’d been watching her all week you’d know her beautiful shot is the around-the-head cross-court stroke employed once having lured right-handers into an up-the-line overhead rally for a while.  That was the Korean’s winning opening chess move.

Each discipline has its own appeal and this Korean-Chinese encounter was perfect women’s singles entertainment because they are both finesse players capable of delivering shuttles with lovely angles and regularly playing tight to the net too.  Their mutual respect for each other’s abilities was evident in how both felt the need to go for extra tightness on net play and making unforced errors when a normal shot would have done the job.

For the first game and a half,  Bae Yeon Ju (pictured) played with the kind of flow that has eluded Wang all week.  But Wang, like all the Chinese, has the aptitude of tailgating and never giving up.  An opponent really has to win all the points off Wang to win it and the Korean was doing that and knew she had to the majority of the time.  Wang, buoyed by the luck of the net cord at 19-19 which served up game point, seized it on the first time of asking over a disbelieving Bae, who’d worked diligently to stay ahead for 19 points.

The match was much closer than the eventual score suggests, 21-19, 21-16.  Bae bounced back to the same high quality she had in the first game until Wang again clawed back to lead at the next interval through sheer persistence.  After this juncture, Bae continued to have long range stamina but, once at a loss as to what more she could possibly do, found that Wang’s speedier movement around the court and signature forehand cross court drop-shot now became a problem.

Wang complained about the line calls as the hardest part of the match: “Scheduling my match on court 2 where there is no Hawk Eye system is downright unfair to team China.”

Priorities of the high chair

Wang’s remark, though specific to this match, hints at a larger issue.  One wonders whether umpires lately have too much to manage such as reading aloud scripts for particular occasions or paying attention to the computer scoring screen because they have displayed default reflex reluctance in practically all cases this week of overruling line judge calls.

In addition, like parents of small children, umpires have used their authority to abruptly halt players pleading their cases and not observably trying to distinguish genuine pleas.  Something is preventing umpires from having enough attention span to watch the lines too rather than relinquishing a hundred percent of such jurisdiction to a line judge.

Indeed, one job during umpiring is to enforce the rules of badminton but ought independent assessment on the lines be equally consuming?  We see the former judgments all the time and the latter ones rarely if at all.

This week a men’s singles player immediately signalled for a Hawk Eye challenge but the umpire had not looked up in his direction until the player walked up close.  By that time, the umpire invoked the rule that a call needs to be made straight away and insisted it was too late, much to the exasperation of the athlete and incredulity of the entire stadium.  Do such incidents in fact make these high-tech times seem far too reminiscent of the lousy old days when umpires couldn’t overrule line judges?

Time to find a hotel

The pair du jour from Hong Kong, Chau Hoi Wah / Lee Chun Hei, met the yet-to-be-really-tested 2013 World Champions Liliyana Natsir / Tontowi Ahmad (pictured) of Indonesia for a very exciting match on paper which lived up to expectations.

Where hand skill qualities are on par, the difference comes down to two things: the coordination of the partnership on the day and who can get into the match first.  Chau/Lee (pictured bottom) warmed to the task within the first five points as they have all week and the Indonesians had insufficient time to turn matters around in the first but they did so in the second.

Indonesia secured the second game partly because the Hong Kong pair’s rhythm had cooled by several degrees and also because, as Chau explains, “They have the technique to make us do short, sharp changes of directions.  It was more complicated and difficult to handle than yesterday’s [against the Danes].  That one was simpler because we were mainly expecting power shots.”

In the decider between two fully alert pairs, Natsir, who normally does the steering, was finding herself increasingly in jeopardy at the end of a extended rallies and guilty of not foreseeing the next shot coming.  Her cross net shot, whose reply she should have covered, went unread and unattended or during defending while completely ready she’d miss noticing the advancing opponent to cut off the next shuttle.  Natsir’s adversaries were one step ahead of what stroke she would play, thus leaving the Indonesians rudderless.

Hong Kong recorded their second victory in as many days against another world top 5 pair they’de never beaten until this week, 21-8, 9-21, 21-15.  “I enjoyed this match the most this week,” added Chau.

According to staff in the administration office, the Hong Kong pair surpassed their own Round of 16 target: “We have to change their flights and find another hotel booking for tonight for them again! Yesterday, I suggested they book two nights but they only agreed to one.”

Finals line-up
XD: Liu Cheng / Bao Yixin (CHN) [4] vs.  Lee Chun Hei / Chau Hoi Wah (HKG)
WD: Ma Jin / Tang Yuanting (CHN) [5] vs.  Tang Jinhua / Tian Qing (CHN) [6]
MS: Chen Long (CHN) [1] vs.  Viktor Axelsen (DEN)
WS: Carolina Marin (ESP) [3] vs.  Wang Shixian (CHN) [5]
MD: Lee Yong Dae / Yoo Yeon Seong (KOR) [1] vs.  Liu Cheng / Lu Kai (CHN)

Click here for complete semi-final results

Aaron Wong

About Aaron Wong

Aaron Wong only ever coveted badminton's coolest shot - a reverse backhand clear. He is renowned for two other things: 1) Writing tournament previews that adjust the focus between the panorama of the sport's progress, down to the microscopic level of explaining the striking characteristics of players; 2) Dozing off during men's doubles at the London Olympic Games. Contact him at: aaron @