CHINA RULES IN JAPAN

At the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, China retained the Thomas Cup for men for the second successive year and sixth time overall, while the country's women went even better, securing the Uber Cup for the fifth year in a row.

China's hegemony in world badminton extended by another year to take Japan by storm. Critics felt that the new 21-point system would check the Asian giant but at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, China retained the Thomas Cup for men for the second successive year and sixth time overall, while the women went even better, securing the Uber Cup for the fifth year in a row. China viewed the latest success with a great deal of caution; a reflection of how seriously the country is taking the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where expectations will be massive. "This is only the starting point, we still have many challenges to overcome," said Li Yongbo, the Chinese head coach. "Even if we earn over 100 championships, if we don't attain perfection at the Beijing Olympics, I'll be very regretful."

Nonetheless, the success in Japan was well deserved. Li attributed it to "cohesion" in the Chinese team and the superior scientific training and managing systems. In the first singles, a repeat of the 2004 Thomas Cup final, world number one Lin Dan beat Denmark's Peter Gade, to put the Chinese men on a roll. In the China Masters in March, Gade had beaten the top Chinese under the new 21-point system. The win in the first singles helped Lin, 22, to avenge that defeat and to believe that he has found the secret to beat the top-ranked European who is also the world number three. "I kept breaking his constant attacking game," said Lin about his strategy against the Dane.

Essentially, the championship was a test of wares of the Asians against the Europeans in both sections and China maintained the Asian supremacy. When Lin won in straight games not only did he make a big dent in the Danish armoury but virtually laid the path for the Chinese victory. "I tried my best but Lin played very sharp at the net," said Gade.

Inspired by Lin's grand show, the doubles pair of Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng defeated the World's top pair of Jens Eriksen and Martin Lundgaard Hansen in three games after dropping the first game. That proved a great bonus. The second singles was a repeat of the Jakarta final two years ago with World number six Bao Chunlai taking on Kenneth Jonassen. Bao, 23, ran away with the first game but flopped in the next before putting it across his 31-year-old opponent. This was Denmark's eighth entry in the final, five of which have ended in defeat. In the women's section, the world's top two players Zhang Ning and Xie Xingfeng led the Chinese charge. The country defeated Netherlands in the final to lift the Uber Cup.

Twelve years ago, Mia Audina, then a 14-year-old youngster, had defeated Zhang over three games and had brought the trophy to the Netherlands. But much has happened since. This time China was the overwhelming favourite; but Zhang barely managed to defeat Mia over three games in a match of ups and downs. Just as in the Olympic Games, where Zhang had beaten Mia in three games, the first match of this Uber Cup final brought to the fore the same kind of intense long rallies. In the second match, debutant Judith Meulendijks went down fighting against world champion Xie Xingfang. It was left to the young Jiang Yanjiao to seal the tie and she made it easy against Rachel Van Cutsen, one of the new comers from the Netherlands.

Like the Davis Cup, there is a preliminary phase in both sections. Ten teams qualified for the summit round in each section and the holder (China) and host (Japan) had automatic qualification. Until the quarterfinal stage, the matches were staged in Sendai, a city 350 kilometres from Tokyo, where the final phase was staged.

Expectedly, there were surprises before China beat Indonesia in the men's semifinal, with the former champion unable to provide resistance despite the presence of Olympic and World Champion Taufik Hidayat in the side. Gade inspired Denmark's win over Malaysia 3-2 in a five-hour thriller in the other semifinal. In the women's section, the Netherlands ended Chinese Taipei's run in the semifinal and China defeated Germany.

India's performance matched the nation's ambitions. National coach Vimal Kumar had said that if India reached the quarterfinal it would be a satisfactory campaign. And sure enough, the Indians — Chetan Anand, Anup Sridhar, Arvind Bhatt, Rupesh/ Diju and Thomas Kurien/Jaseel Ismail — were able to do that before being demolished by Denmark. The first hurdle was crossed when India went past the group stage, China and Germany being the other two teams in its group. India's win over Germany did the trick. Beating New Zealand 3-0 for a quarterfinal passage then was a class effort, thanks to Anup's big win over world number 33 John Moody. In the absence of Chetan, Arvind and Nikhil joined to ensure the win. Expectedly Denmark then routed India 3-0.

The results: Final: Thomas Cup: China bt. Denmark 3-0 (Lin Dan bt. Peter Gade 21-17, 21-19; Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng bt. Jens Eriksen and Martin Hansen 19-21, 21-11, 21-18; Bao Chunlai bt. Kenneth Jonassen 21-12, 12-21, 21-12); Uber Cup: China bt. Netherlands 3-0 (Zhang Ning bt. Mia Audina 21-18, 19-21, 21-18; Xie Xingfang bt. Judith Meulendijks 21-17, 21-18; Jiang Yanjiao bt. Rachel van Cutsen 21-9, 21-7).

Long and short of it

The International Badminton Federation (IBF) introduced the new 21-point scoring system, witnessed in this year's Thomas and Uber Cup, with the intention of shortening matches and boosting the sport's appeal. Earlier, a player could only score on serve but now points will be awarded to the winner of each rally. The second service in doubles has been scrapped and three-set matches will be won by the first to reach 21 points, instead of 15 for men and 11 for women. The belief is that the new system will speed up matches and make it more appealing to television viewers.

Senior players have, however, expressed reservations. Olympic and world champion Taufik Hidayat felt the new rules would make the sport "monotonous". Women's number one and Olympic champion Zhang Ning complained: "The duration of a match has become longer. Even if you have a weak opponent, it doesn't become shorter and you need more physical strength. I'm against it."

A Special Correspondent