It is Chinese domination yet again

China, as usual, dominated the proceedings in the 13th World badminton championships which concluded at the magnificent National Indoor Arena in Birmingham.

PRAKASH PADUKONE

Xia Xuanze of China is jubilant after winning the men's singles final at the National Indoor Arena, Birmingham, England. — Pic. CLIVE MASON/GETTY IMAGES-

China, as usual, dominated the proceedings in the 13th World badminton championships which concluded at the magnificent National Indoor Arena in Birmingham. They added the men's singles title to their kitty in addition to the women's singles and women's doubles, losing the mixed doubles title in the bargain to the Koreans.

Hendrawan of Indonesia was the defending champion. He won the title in the Spain edition, where he had beaten Peter Gade of Denmark in the final. Indonesia was to lose out in the men's doubles as well, a title, which they had won in 2001, to return home empty, handed from Birmingham. There will be a dig debate in Indonesia regarding the reverses suffered by their shuttlers in Birmingham and there could even be a major shake up in the administration as well.

Denmark and Korea did reasonably well by winning one gold medal each that is men's doubles and mixed doubles respectively, whereas Malaysia had to remain content with the runner up prize in the men's singles. It may be recalled here that the Koreans were a bit unlucky as both their top doubles combinations, Ha Tae Kwon and Yoo Yong Sung, were forced to withdraw from the tournament due to injuries. Incidentally, both the Korean pairs were seeded No. 1 and No. 2 in these championships. But for the injury, they would have certainly laid a strong claim for the men's doubles title. Nevertheless, these things cannot be predicted and one has to take things as they come.

Zhang Ning of China proved too good in the women's singles. — Pic. CLIVE MASON/GETTY IMAGES-

The Indian performance was on expected lines and there was nothing much to rave about. Aparna Popat did well to reach the pre quarterfinals in the women's singles before going down in straight games to the ultimate winner Zhang Ning. In fact, Zhang Ning was in such terrific form throughout the tournament that she did not lose even a single game.

Men's singles players Nikhil Kanetkar and Abhinn Shyam Gupta were a trifle unlucky in the redraw, which took place due to an error in the IBF software while making the draws. While in the original draw both Nikhil and Abhinn Shyam had comparatively easy first round opponents, the revised version saw both of them pitted against more fancied players. Nikhil went down fighting in three games to the former World Champion Peter Rasmussen of Denmark whereas Taufik Hidayat, the third seed from Indonesia, proved too good for Abhinn and won in straight games. But, both the Indians gave a good account of them and played to their potential.

So was the case with two of our younger doubles combinations — Sanave Thomas and V. Diju in the men's doubles and Jwala and Shruti Kurien in the women's doubles. Both these combinations tried their best but lost to superior and more experienced opponents. I was, however, a little disappointed with the performance of Jaseel. P. Ismail and Jaison Xavier in the men's doubles and Trupti Murugunde in the women's singles. No doubt they also lost to better players but I thought they could have certainly put up a much better display. It was not the scores that I was disappointed with, but more with their approach and attitude on the court. In short, it was not the kind of performance one would expect from players playing in a World Championships.

Jonas Rasmussen and Lars Paaske of Denmark celebrate after winning the men's doubles title. — Pic. CLIVE MASON/GETTY IMAGES-

Continuing with the Indian performance, I feel we need to pay a little more attention to our doubles. After a long time we have a reasonably good pair in Diju and Sanave Thomas for men's doubles and Jwala & Shruti Kurien in women's doubles. Both these combinations are young and have a natural flair for doubles. They need to be nurtured and guided in the right direction. Ideally they should be sent out for a couple of months of training to the Far East or even Europe. They need to continuously play against tough opposition and do some specialised doubles drills. Only then will they have a chance of doing well at the international level. Not that they will be able to beat the best combinations from Korea, Indonesia, China, Malaysia etc. but at least they will be in with a chance to break into the top 20 in the World. Right now they hardly get a chance to play with foreign pairs which makes it that much more difficult for them while playing important team events. They must learn to play against the foreigners who play totally different style of doubles. They can do this only by practicing constantly with them. A long stint abroad will also help boost their confidence which is so crucial in the development of a player.

I am suggesting the above as I personally benefited a great deal from my training stint in Jakarta in the mid 70's where I trained with their National squad for six weeks. In the initial period of the camp I could hardly score a few points against the best Indonesian players of that time like Rudy Hartono, Liem Swie King, Sumirat and so on. But towards the end of the camp, I started beating them, which did my confidence a lot of good. I realised that if I worked harder, I could do better at the world level. In fact, I consider my training stint in Indonesia as one of the turning points of my career. Similarly, these two young pairs can also benefit by practicing and training abroad. Of course results are not guaranteed but there is no harm in trying.

Back in Birmingham, one witnessed a high standard of badminton especially in the men's singles. The most impressive of them all was Bao Chunlai of China who reached the semifinals before losing to compatriot Xia Xuanze in two games. The way he demolished third seeded Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia and former World No. 1 Roslin Hashim of Malaysia suggests that the youngster has a bright future ahead of him. He has all the right qualities of a champion. In addition, he is also a thinking player which sets him apart from the rest. Wong Choon Hann of Malaysia also had a good run in the tournament before falling prey in the final to the wily Chinese Xia Xuanze. Apart from these three, Kenneth Jonassen of Denmark was also impressive. Unlike the other Danes who failed to impress, Kenneth showed his fighting qualities to enter the last eight stage before going down to the ultimate champion Xia Xuanze of China. He had his chances in this encounter and should have won the tie. But that was not to be and Xuanze went on to win in three well contested games. Other big names in the fray to disappoint were Peter Gade and Peter Rasmussen of Denmark, Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia, Mohd. Hafiz Hasim of Malaysia and Lee Hyun II from Korea.

As expected, there was no stopping the Chinese girls in the women's singles. Zhang Ning was way ahead of the rest and fully deserved her success. The only two Europeans who had the ability to trouble the Chinese were shown the door in no uncertain terms when both Camilla Martin of Denmark and Mia Audina of Netherlands were handed an 11-0 drubbing in the second game by Zhang Ning in the quarterfinals and semifinals respectively. This in short sums up the supremacy of the Chinese in this event and needs no further proof.

It was the same story in the women's doubles as well. The way the Chinese beat the Koreans and Danes, their closest rivals in this event, showed that it would take a long time for any pair to come close to them. But luckily, it is not the case in the men's doubles. Just like in the men's singles, there are at least 5-6 pairs from different countries who on a given day can win the title. This makes it interesting from the spectators' point of view for no one is sure till the end who the ultimate winner will be. This time in Birmingham, it happened to be the Danes — Lars Paaske & Jonas Rasmussen — who defeated Sigit Budiarto & Chandra Wijaya of Indonesia in three games in the title round. This also happened to be the only title that went the European way.

There was a time in the past when Europeans were unbeaten in mixed doubles. But not any longer. The Asian have taken over this event as well and have left the Europeans way behind. In All-Asian finals, Kim Dong Moon and Ra Kyung Min of Korea gave a lesson or two to the Chinese Olympic Gold medallists and reigning World Champions Zhang Jun and Gao Ling by easily trouncing them in two games. It was a repeat of the last year's finals but the Koreans triumphed on this occasion and that too in style. This was a small consolation for Korea who were denied the men's doubles title due to withdrawal of their top two pairs.

Huang Sui and Gao Ling of China, the champions in the women's doubles. — Pic. CLIVE MASON/GETTY IMAGES-

The organisation of the event itself was of the highest order. Badminton Association of England lived up to their reputation of being one of the best in the business of organising tournaments. They went into the minutest of details and paid particular attention to the way the entire event was presented. However, the same could not be said about the performance of the English players, which left much to be desired. The scheduling of matches though came in for a lot of criticism from the press and commentators for they became long drawn affairs. Of course, the scheduling was done by the referee in consultation with International Badminton Federation and the hosts had nothing to do with that aspect. Nevertheless, the championships were a great success and for that Badminton Association of England team led by their CEO, Stephen Baddeley, deserves kudos for a job well done. So it is now on to USA in 2005!

The results (all finals, x denotes seeding):

Men's singles: Xia Xuanze (CHN x5) bt Wong Choong Hann (MAS x9) 15-6, 13-15, 15-6; Doubles: Lars Paaske/Jonas Rasmussen (DEN x4) bt Sigit Budiarto/Candra Wijaya (INA x11) 15-7, 13-15, 15-13.

Women's singles: Zhang Ning (CHN x2) bt Gong Ruina (CNN x4) 11-6, 11-3; Doubles: Gao Ling/Huang Sui (CHN x3) bt Wei Yili/ Zhao Tingting (CHN x1) 15-8, 15-11.

Mixed doubles: Kim Dong-Moon/Ra Kyung-Min (KOR x9) bt Zhang Jun/Gao Ling (CHN x1) 15-7, 15-8.