Indonesian badminton is back on the upswing after a prolonged period in the doldrums. Propelled by a fighting performance from their World No 13, Jonatan Christie, the Indonesians upstaged the Chinese by a 3-1 margin to bag the gold at the Asia Team Badminton Championships that concluded in the north-western Malaysian city of Alor Setar on Sunday.
China was forced to settle for second-best in the women’s section, as well, as Japan’s all-round strength proved too much for them to handle, and had them surrendering the title by a 0-3 scoreline. This result can be considered a huge setback for Chinese badminton, for their women’s team was at near-full strength, compared to the second-string side fielded by the world’s most populous nation in the men’s event.
The fate of the men’s final turned in the deciding game of the first tie of the evening, when 21-year-old Chinese spearhead (in the absence of Chen Long and Lin Dan), Shi Yuqi, twisted his body while attempting a return of a smash to the backhand side, when holding a potentially match-winning lead of 18-13 over Christie.
The Chinese player landed awkwardly, and lay sprawled and stunned for a few moments, giving the sparse crowd at the Sultan Abdul Halim Stadium the impression that he had done himself some harm. Although he eventually got up and continued without any visible sign of injury, his nerve was shot to bits, and he meekly surrendered the next eight points in an unbroken reel to his rampant Indonesian rival.
Christie’s gutsy 16-21, 21-17, 21-18 triumph was just the tonic his team needed to nail down the title. They had gone into the final with the knowledge that their two doubles pairs were almost certain of pulling off their respective matches, and that they needed just one win from their three singles to get across the finish line. Shi’s ‘nervous breakdown’ gave his opponent the opportunity of getting his foot into the door, and then throwing it wide open.
The value of Christie’s contribution to the Indonesian victory could be ascertained from the fact that his higher-ranked colleague, Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, winner of the recent Indonesian Masters, capitulated to Qiao Bin at 21-12, 11-21, 21-14 in the second singles. It was also generally felt that, had the tie gone into a fifth match, Firman Abdul Kholik, hero of the previous day’s semi-final win over South Korea, would have had his hands full trying to subdue Zhao Junpeng.
But Indonesia won the tie in four matches, with both their doubles delivering the goods. Mohammad Ahsan and Angga Pratama were a mite too good for He Jiting and Tan Qiang, winning at 21-19, 21-18; and Hendra Setiawan and Rian Agung Saputro had their bases covered when beating Han Chengkai and Zhou Haodong by a 21-14, 21-19 verdict.
There were scenes of palpable tension as the Chinese pair made up a 19-16 deficit in the second game to come desperately close to forcing a decider. But after Han’s cramped return off a hard push to the body by Setiawan crashed into the net at 19-20, the entire Indonesian squad charged onto the court and did the kind of victory dance they had not had occasion to do since the late-1970s and early-'80s when Rudy Hartono, Liem Swie King, Darmadi, Muljadi, Christian Hadinata, Ade Chandra, Tjun Tjun and Johannes Wahjudi had formed an unbeatable combination.
It must be mentioned here that this Asian Team championship was a sort of breakout event for the 20-year-old Christie, as he finished the tournament unbeaten in the half-dozen matches he was called upon to play for his country, a couple of times in preference to Ginting, ranked four places higher, at No 9 on the Badminton World Federation (BWF) computer.
In the course of the six-day tournament, Christie registered wins over Hussein Zayan Shaheed of the Maldives (at 21-3, 21-5), Ros Leonard Pedrosa of the Philippines (at 21-15, 21-13), Kidambi Srikanth of India (by an impressive 21-17, 21-17 scoreline), Kenta Nishimoto of Japan in the quarter-finals (at 21-11, 20-22, 21-13), Son Wan Ho of Korea in the semi-finals (at 21-18, 21-14) and Shi Yuqi (at 16-21, 21-17, 21-18) in the final. That list shows wins over three players ranked in the world’s top-10, all much higher than his No 13 position in the ratings.
If Christie was peerless among the men, that accolade was captured by Japanese world champion, Nozomi Okuhara, who also remained undefeated in the four matches she was called upon to play for her powerful team. Showing off the accuracy and unlimited stamina that had gained her the world championship crown at Glasgow in August last year, Okuhara wore down left-hander He Bingjiao by a 19-21, 21-16, 21-10 verdict in 66 minutes in the second singles of the Japan-China final.
Before that, the world’s second ranked player, Akane Yamaguchi, had similarly outlasted China’s top player, Chen Yufei, in the opening clash of the final, at 21-16, 12-21, 21-14 in a match lasting three minutes shy of the hour mark. There were few alarms for Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi, the world’s top-ranked women’s doubles pair, as they demolished the lukewarm challenge of Du Yue and Li Yinhui by a 21-13, 21-16 scoreline in a matter of 42 minutes.
It was a proud moment for 53-year-old coach Park Joo Bong, the former Korean international and doubles world and Olympic champion, who has been coaching the Japanese national team for several years, when he was invited by his team members to accept the glittering trophy for the Asia Team Championship win. It appeared a clear precursor of a similar scene that is likely to ensue on 27 May, the day of the Uber Cup finals summit clash in Bangkok.
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Updated Date: Feb 12, 2018 10:42:04 IST