Saturday, March 7, 2009

Chen clings to title amidst quarter-final drama - Richard Eaton

by Richard Eaton

Chen Jin clung to his All-England title by the width of a net tape, after a terrific recovery, and amidst a storm of booing during a controversial finish to his quarter-final in the All-England Open.

It looked as though his unseeded opponent, Sho Sasaki, had come back from a five-point final game deficit to 20-20 when he leapt forward and dismissed a tight net shot from Chen with a lunging kill.

But the third-seeded Chinese player stood and pointed, objecting that there had been a foul, and umpire Mike Wright of New Zealand, after an agonising pause, and a slow gesture, agreed, calling the match to Chen by 14-21, 21-13, 21-19.

Sasaki looked unable to believe it, dropping his racket, complaining, and going walkabout, while Chen shook hands with all the officials.

This brought noisy hoots from the crowd and for a while it looked as though a major incident might blow up, as Chen had completed his formalities and began to make his way towards his kitbag.

But at the last moment the Sasaki got over his frustration, completed his circles of frenzied walking, and shook hands with the champion, and the umpire.

"His racket definitely touched the net," said Chen. "Though it wasn't his fault. It was my game and I am happy to take the point. Just as long as I won it doesn't matter to me how it happens."

Earlier Chen had been in trouble when he went a game and 7-12 down, but suddenly he achieved a better mixture of defence and attack and began coaxing errors from the nimble, patient Sasaki.

Chen was later joined in the semi-finals by Taufik Hidayat, the former Olympic and world champion who reached the All-England final when he was only 17 but in ten years since has never won it.

The famous Indonesian was trailing by two points in both games against Peter Gade, the former world number one from Denmark, but raised his game brilliantly when it most mattered to secure a 21-17, 21-18 win.

"When he got back like that it made me feel a little insecure," admitted the 32-year-old Gade, who is uncertain whether or not he will make one more attempt to win back the title he took in 1999.

"Normally I would make him make some mistakes, but I made a few and I'm disappointed about that. It was like a game of chess out there and he made some good decisions and played very well today."

It was also a disappointment for Gade because he had won three of the last five Super Series tournaments. However he felt he is still playing well enough to have a chance of going on at least to next year's world championships in Paris.

This might enable Gade, a wine-tasting buff, to finish his career in one of his favourite cities, for he feels that going on to the London 2012 Games is probably beyond him.

Later one of his unseeded compatriots fared much better. Nanna Brosolat, who upset Pi Hongyan, the world number four from France, to reach the quarter-finals, followed it with another confident performance and a 21-16, 21-16 win over Wong Pei Xian of Malaysia.

Taufik now plays Lee Chong Wei, the world number one from Malaysia, who conceded only 18 points in beating Ville Kang of Finland, while Chen's title defence took him to a semi-final with Lin Dan, the Olympic champion.

Chen looked superb as he crushed Joachim Persson, the sixth-seeded Dane, and the only remaining European 21-13, 21-6, and afterwards said he would be happy to coach any European youngsters if they were to come to Beijing.

Two Danes and two Chinese, however, have reached the women's singles semi-finals, which may be more to the taste of a predominantly European crowd.

Titleholder, Tine Rasmussen let slip a frightening seven match points in a row from 20-9 in the final game but still beat Yip Pui Yin of Hongkong 21-17, 18-21, 21-16, thus earning a match with Jiang Yanjiao, a surprise survivor.

And in the other semi, Brosolat, who has progressed further than any previous women's singles qualifier, plays Wang Yihan, the rising young world number 17. Wang had already beaten one compatriot who is a former All-England champion, Zhou Mi, and now beat another, Xie Xingfang, 21-19, 21-13, in a rather bloodless encounter.

The biggest surprises in the doubles came in the mixed. First Nova Widianto and Lilyana Natsir, the world champions from Indonesia, lost 21-13, 21-23, 21-16 to their compatriot Flandy Limpele and his Russian partner Anastasia Russkikh; then the Olympic champions from Korea, Lee Yong Dae and Lee Hyo Jung, lost to Zheng Bo, the titleholder from China, and his new partner Ma Jin, 13-21, 21-18, 21-18.