Monday, March 9, 2009

High five for China - Richard Eaton

by Richard Eaton

China became the first nation ever to win all five titles in the open era at the All-England championships when Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng wrapped up the the men's doubles 21-17, 21-15 against Korea's Han Sang Hoon and Hwang Ji Man.

China had won all five in a world championship before, but that was in Beijing back in 1987, and this, in European conditions, was a far tougher task. It was also the first clean sweep in the open or amateur eras since 1948.

The success which really made it possible was that of Wang Yihan, the young unseeded player from Shanghai, who beat Tine Rasmussen, the top-seeded titleholder from Denmark who won the women's singles at only the second attempt, 21-19, 21-23, 21-11.

But the success which attracted the most attention was the repeat of the Olympic men's singles final, in which Lin Dan again beat Lee Chong Wei, the world number one from Malaysia, in straight games, though this was a closer match than the one at the Games.

The Chinese star beat the ambitious, hard-working Malaysian 21-19, 21-12, after beginning rather patchily, then grabbing his first important chance, and accelerating away impressively towards the end.

Asked how or why he won, Lin said: ”It wasn't tactical or anything – we are both good players. It was more psychological. I was focussed and calm. I think I played quite well. There were a couple of times in the first set where I didn't handle the situation the best I could and let him have an advantage. But I kept my form and managed to play well.”

Lin was also concerned to promote the right image of himself. “The fact that I have an outgoing personality might be seen as a bad thing, that I am a rebel. But I am anxious to show that I am quite a good person and for people to understand me better.”

However, for a while in the first game Lin faltered unexpectedly. From leads of 8-2, 10-6, and 16-12 he began to make errors, not all of them forced, allowing Lee to nudge his way up to 19-17.

Lee often lifted or pushed the shuttle to the backhand side of Lin, but with mixed success, and when it really mattered Lin sprang back to his best form again. A flat cross court was too difficult for Lee to contain, and the Malaysian put an overhead drop into the net to let Lin back in at 18-19, and thereafter the Chinese left-hander won three points quickly.

When he reached game point at 20-19, the rally was over in a flash, Lin serving accurately and following it up with a smash which got through immediately. That increased the pressure on the Olympic silver medallist, who had been only too aware he had lost eight of their nine previous meetings, and his expression and body language increasingly hinted at tension.

And from 14-12 Lin went through to the finish in one magnificent run of seven points. At the end, while shaking hands acorss the net, he pushed his face close to Lee's to show his comradeship, but when he really wanted to win Lin showed another side of himself – explosive, dynamic, and very professional.

Wang's win was victory for a good temperament, a good all-round game, and fresher, lighter movement. She was unable to convert a match point at 21-20 in the second game, which created a few alarms as Rasmussen had saved two against another Chinese player Jian Yanjiao the previous day.

But Rasmussen, whose preparation had been affected by a heel injury, only had the energy left to hang on, and against a player of the 21-year-old Wang's great potential, that was never likely to be enough.

“I didn't have any pressure,” said Wang, who had looked relaxed most of the time except the end of the second game. “I just really tried to play what I know – and it's nice to be able to do it that way.

“We both played well in the first two games, but in the third I think I was physically stronger and fitter.”

Asked if she thought about the title before the end of the match, Wang said no, but that she had imagined it before the match. “I did it secretly,” she said. “I imagined what I would do and what expression I would have! But when it came to the match I just focussed.”

Rasmussen said: "I started playing again - after a heel injury - only three days before the tournament, so I am very satisfied with reaching the final. Of course when you get there you always want more.

"I could feel it wasn't going in the right direction, even when I was winning, because the matches were going on too long. But before the tournament I would have guessed I would fallen over on the court.

"But I have to be pleased with what I did. I could easily have been out in the semi-finals," she added, referring to her saving two match points against Jian Yanjiao.

Earlier He Hanbin and Yu Yang had won the mixed doubles, and Zhang Yawen and Zhao Tingting the women's doubles.

Afterwards China's head coach, Li Yongbo, said: "We didn't think about winning all five titles. We mustn't think about outside factors, or we can't play the way we have."

Asked if China's controversial decision to skip the Super Series finals in Malaysia in December had been justified by this performance, Li answered, laughing: "Do you think we made the wrong choice?"

And asked if China would compete in the next Super Series event, Li replied: "It depends on each team and each circumstance. We have to look at what is best for each player. We didn't think the decision was controversial."