Korea ends China's domination

KOREA once again reconfirmed their superiority in the Mixed Team event for the prestigious Sudirman Cup when they dethroned reigning champions China in the finals played at Eindhoven, Netherlands recently.

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Korea's Lee Hyun II's victory over China's Chen Hong was the turning point of the Sudirman Cup finals.-Pic. AFP

KOREA once again reconfirmed their superiority in the Mixed Team event for the prestigious Sudirman Cup when they dethroned reigning champions China in the finals played at Eindhoven, Netherlands recently. This was an upset of sorts for China was clearly the favourite to retain the title for the fifth time in a row. But Korea spoilt their plans to emerge a deserving victor after a gap of nine years based mainly on their Doubles strength. Korea had earlier annexed the Sudirman Cup in 1991 and 1993. But at that time they had players of the calibre of Joo Boon Park, Kim Moon Soo, Bang Soo Hyun, etc. It is interesting to note here that though Korea has never won the Thomas Cup & Uber Cup, they have always excelled in the Mixed Team format. One of the reasons for this is that there are three paired events in a Sudirman Cup tie, viz men's doubles, ladies' doubles and mixed doubles whereas in a Thomas Cup encounter a tie consists of three singles and two doubles. Korea being traditionally strong in paired events has therefore fared better in this format of the game rather than Thomas & Uber Cup where the emphasis is more on singles. Another factor in favour of Korea is that they have an equally strong men's as well as women's team whereas teams like Indonesia and Malaysia have only a strong men's team compared to China and Korea.

All these years the Sudirman Cup and the individual World Championships were held simultaneously at one place over two weeks every alternate year. But from this edition onwards International Badminton Federation decided to experiment by splitting the two events as it was felt that it was too tiring for the top players to play team events in the first week followed by individual events in the following week. It was obvious that players who had not played in the team event had a slight advantage over the others as they were fresh and could last longer in the individual events. Apart from this the organisers also found it expensive to conduct a two week event. Hence it was decided to split the Sudirman Cup and the World Championships. But on the flip side many teams backed out of the Sudirman Cup, citing financial reasons for their withdrawal. In the earlier format one could get to play both the events at the same venue which meant considerable saving for smaller countries in terms of airfare, hotel, food, etc. But in the revised version a team was forced to make two separate trips within a span of two months as the team event was held in March and individual event in May. It is still not clear what policy International Badminton Federation is going to adopt in the future as far as the format is concerned. But one thing is certain — too much of tinkering with the rules, laws, scoring systems, constant rescheduling of events, etc does not reflect very well on the running of the Federation. On the other hand even the existing sponsors might back out if they lose confidence in the Federation. The International Badminton Federation would do well to keep this point in mind while taking future decisions concerning the development of the game across the globe.

Coming back to the Tournament itself, India blew away a golden opportunity of qualifying for Group II in the next edition when they went down 2-3 to Russia in the last qualifying match. Earlier India, who were drawn in Group 3A along with Austria, Bulgaria and Wales, did well to top their Group by remaining unbeaten in the first stage. Similarly Russia qualified for the play-off stage from Group 3B by overcoming Finland, U.S.A. and Norway.

In the crucial tie against Russia, the matches went the full distance and the result was decided only in the last men's doubles tie where the Indian pair of Markose Bristow and Rupesh Kumar gave a good account of themselves against their vastly superior opponents before going down in the decider. Earlier the young women's doubles pair of Jwala Gutta and Shruthi Kurien had scored a well deserved straight games victory over the Russian pair, who were ranked much higher in the world ranking, to restore parity for the Indians. The unexpected loss of reigning National champion Aparna Popat to Ella Karachkova of Russia in three games had put the Indians on the defensive from where they could not recover. Gopi Chand, playing after a long lay off due to injury, did well to win all his matches quite comfortably. The non-availability of the highly talented Chetan Anand for any of the matches due to indisposition further weakened the Indian team for he could have been used in the mixed doubles along with Jwala. Nevertheless once again it was a case of so near and yet so far for the Indians. Now they will have to wait and watch till the next edition in 2005.

Twenty three year old Rupesh Kumar, who was making his debut for India, was impressive in all his matches considering that he was playing abroad for the first time. He combined well with experienced Markose Bristow to form the No.1 combination for India. Even in their tie against Bulgaria, in a group match, they won the crucial last match to put India ahead 3-2 after the scores were level at two matches apiece — India winning both the singles and Bulgaria levelling with victories in ladies doubles and mixed doubles. Rupesh has a good match temperament which is likely to stand him in good stead in the future. Similarly Jwala and Shruthi also have it in them to perform better at the International level. But they need to be more consistent which will happen only if they are focussed and work really hard.

The turning point in the finals was perhaps the victory of Lee Hyun Il of Korea over Chen Hong of China. For Korea were assured of winning both the men's doubles and mixed doubles. On the other hand China was almost certain of winning the women's singles and doubles. So a lot depended on the men's singles which went in favour of Korea. Once Lee put it across Chen Hong, it was all over for China. From then on it was just a matter of time and the Koreans didn't take long to complete the tie. In the end it was a well deserved victory for the Koreans who put up a great show throughout the tournament. Well done Korea! Keep it up!