China reigns supreme

China picked up four titles out of five. Not since 1987, when it bagged all the titles, has China's dominance been so overwhelming.

In keeping with the International Badminton Federation's motto of spreading the game, Spain was again allotted this year's IBF World Championship. The event was held at the Palaceo de Deportes de la Communidad, a multipurpose facility in Madrid. This was the second time that Spain hosted the event in five years.

China's domination continued at the championship. It picked up four titles out of five. Not since 1987, when it bagged all the titles, has China's dominance been so overwhelming.

China had won the men's doubles title for the first time in 17 years. It was also only the third time that China had clinched the doubles title after Tian Bingyi-Li Yongbo's back to back success in 1987 and 89 (the World Championship is now held annually).

The one title that eluded the country was the mixed doubles. To that extent, Europe salvaged some pride, as Nathan Robertson and Gail Emms beat compatriots Anthony Clark and Donna Kellogg to become the first English pair to win the world title since 1979.

The men's winner Lin Dan cornered glory without beating a single non-Chinese top competitor, thanks to the top seeded players Bao Chun-Lai and Chen Hong, who had done all the damage. Eventually, the number two seed Lin beat China's top seed Bao in three games for his first world title. Last year, he had reached the final but lost to Indonesia's Taufik Hidayat. This time Taufik, who is also the Olympic champion, faltered in the third round, beaten by Chen Hong of China.

Interestingly, the women's singles title went to Lin's girl friend and China's number three seed Xie Xingfang. Xie, in fact, was the defending champion. She beat compatriot and China's top seed Zhang Ning in 34 minutes. When Lin and Xie Xingfang won the All-England titles in January, they had a brief celebration in Birmingham. This time they had reason for something more romantic.

For Lin, who has been the world's best player for the past three years, the singles title was a deserving one. But his brilliance surfaced only in patches. Observers felt that there were moments in the final, against Bao, when he seemed casual. And there were also occasions when he played with such speed and burst that no defence could have withstood that.

Thus Bao, himself a player of sound defence and counter-attack, relented. Only in the earler rounds he had fine wins over Lee Chong Wei, the number one seed from Malaysia, and Lee Hyun-Il, the number five seed from Korea.

"I was very excited," said Lin later. "After losing to Taufik in the final last year I decided to work extra hard. I've kept up a high level all this year with the training I have done. But I'm not unhappy that I didn't meet Taufik face to face this time. I am just happy with the result."

Another Asian giant, Indonesia slipped and faded away. Only last year in Anaheim, Indonesia had produced winners in Taufik Hidayat (men's singles) and Nova Widianto and Lilyana Natsir (mixed doubles). This year, for the first time, none of its players made it even to the semi-finals. Equally frustrating was the experience of Malaysia, which in the past produced some top class players.

Much was expected of Lee Chong Wei, but he did not cross the quarterfinal.

If hosting the world meet in Anaheim in Los Angeles last year — to promote badminton in America — was a big success, then the same cannot be said of Spain, known for its craze for football.

Another sore point was the way matches were conducted. Bad line calls marred the competition and there were complaints galore even from China. The general feeling was that if Spain did not have enough qualified line judges then it could have sought the help of other countries. Still the presence of top stars like Peter Gade and Hafiz Hashim and some quality badminton ensured that all was not lost in Madrid.

THE RESULTS

Men: Lin Dan (Chn) bt Bao Chun-Lai (Chn) 18-21, 21-17, 21-12; Doubles: Fu Haifeng and Cai Yun (Chn) bt Anthony Clark and Robert Blair (Eng) 21-9, 21-13. Women: Xie Xingfang (Chn) bt Zhang Ning (Chn) 21-16, 21-14; Doubles: Gao Ling and Huang Sui (Chn) bt Zhang Yawen and Wei Yili (Chn) 23-21, 21-9. Mixed doubles: Nathan Robertson and Gail Emms (Eng) bt Anthony Clark and Donna Kellogg (Eng) 21-15, 21-12.

A Special Correspondent