Lin Dan rolls into history

Lin Dan ... the first player to win three World Championship titles in a row.-G. KRISHNASWAMY

China continued its domination of world badminton by winning four of the five titles at stake. V. V. Subrahmanyam reports.

Lin Dan left a lasting impression on the BWF World Championships in Hyderabad (August 10 to 16) as he became the first player ever to complete a hat-trick of title triumphs in the men’s singles. His team-mate Lan Lu too had a glorious tournament, winning her maiden World women’s singles title. Lan Lu, thus, served a reminder that she is finally emerging from the shadows of her more familiar compatriots.

China continued its domination of world badminton by winning four of the five titles at stake. Earlier this year, the nation made a clean sweep of the titles at the prestigious All England Championship.

For Lin Dan, who has won the World title twice, followed by the 2008 Beijing Olympics gold and the prestigious All England Championship this year, the motivational level has to be very high to keep him going. He showed that he was very motivated indeed, as he kept nailing one opponent after another in contrasting styles.

Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia, ranked World No.1 in men’s singles, and Mi Zhou of Hong Kong, ranked World No.1 in women’s singles, had a disastrous tournament, both failing to get past the quarterfinals. Indonesia’s Sony Dwi Kuncoro, seeded No. 6, accounted for Lee Chong Wei, while the two-time world champion, Xie Xingfang (China), seeded No. 5, showed Mi Zhou the exit.

In another major upset, the reigning All England champion, Yihan Wang (China), was knocked out by 11th-seeded German Juliane Schenk, 21-18, 21-15 in 39 minutes, in the third round. Schenk eventually lost to veteran Pi Hongyan in the quarterfinals.

The beauty of Lin Dan’s success story was that he had a different game plan for each of his opponents. “He is a genius. When you expect him to be defensive, he can quickly change into attacking mode,” said World No. 3 Peter Gade, who lost to him in the quarterfinals.

The manner in which Lin Dan so easily brushed aside the emotions, that one normally goes through while taking on his own team-mate and practice partner, in the final against the 23-year-old World No. 2, Chen Jin, was another reminder that the 25-year-old star belongs to a different breed. Even Chen acknowledged that it is Lin Dan’s ability to mix his awesome smashes with delectable cross-court drops and half-smashes that separates him from the other players in the world.

In the final, Lin Dan seemed to reserve his best for the final onslaught in the latter half of the second game. This, in fact, proved to be the decisive factor as it was also a phase when Chen’s game began to misfire. Ironically, it was a service-fault from Chen that set up the match-point for Lin Dan. This, perhaps, was symbolic of how Chen’s game went awry in the biggest match of the championship.

The men’s singles also showed that some of the old warhorses such as Peter Gade (Denmark), the temperamental genius Taufik Hidayat (Indonesia) and Dwi Kuncoro still had a lot of fire in them even if they weren’t consistent enough. They showed flashes of brilliance, but failed to make an impact against the likes of Lin Dan and Chen Jin.

The ever-trying Gade, who by his own confession came to the tournament with the best of preparations, yet again realised how huge the gap was between him and Lin Dan following his quarterfinal defeat (20-22, 16-21). “He is so good. To beat him you have to give that 10 per cent extra. He is special, and that is why he is there right at the top. Maybe, if I had won the first game it would have been different. But that’s how Lin plays — attacking so differently from seemingly impossible positions,” said the Dane.

Chen, for his part, proved too good for the former Olympic and world champion, Taufik Hidayat, in the quarterfinals. He simply outplayed the Indonesian. “He (Chen) deserved to win. I did not play well today,” were the modest comments of Taufik, who was clearly the crowd-favourite having won the India Open Gold Grand Prix in Hyderabad in April this year.

Lan Lu with the women’s singles gold.-G. KRISHNASWAMY

In the women’s singles, it was apparent that the seventh-seeded Lan Lu, the 2008 All England finalist, was in the mood, from the start, to carve a niche for herself. The 22-year-old Chinese’s youthful exuberance prevailed as she shocked second-seeded Wang Lin in the semifinals and then got the better of the seasoned Xingfang, the 2008 All England champion, in the final in 38 minutes. There were moments of despair for Lan Lu in the first game when Xingfang, 28, threatened to dominate but Lan Lu’s resilience won the day for her.

For the host, it was a disappointing tournament with none of its players getting past the quarterfinal stage. The focus, apparently, was on the form of World No. 6 Saina Nehwal, whose preparation for the World Championships had suffered as she was down with chicken pox a few days before the start of the tournament.

Saina started confidently though, scoring easy wins in the early rounds including the one against Bulgarian Petya Nedelcheva despite being in trouble at one stage. But in the quarterfinals against Wang Lin, whom she had beaten recently in the Indonesian Open Super Series, Saina faltered despite taking a handsome 10-2 lead in the second game. She committed too many unforced errors at crucial moments to fritter away the advantage in front of a lustily-cheering home crowd.

The only consolation for Saina was that she became the first Indian woman to enter the singles quarterfinals of a World Championships.

“This, I feel, is a pretty decent achievement considering that I had just recovered from a bout of chicken pox. It could have been much better if only I had advanced (beyond quarterfinals) here in front of the home crowd,” Saina said later.

India’s best bet in the men’s singles, Chetan Anand, ranked World No. 15, just failed to produce his best against Dwi Kuncoro in the decisive phase of the tournament. “He played a very mature game, and I played really badly,” he confessed after Kuncoro recorded a 21-16, 21-16 win in the pre-quarterfinals.

Expectedly, the mixed doubles pair of V. Diju and Jwala Gutta delighted the home fans with a very good performance in the quarterfinals. In the last eight, they ran into reigning world champions Nova Widianto and Liliyana Natsir, whom they had beaten in the past. But here, the Indian duo was way behind in technique and tactics.

The rest of the Indians were also-rans with only Arvind Bhat showing glimpses of his class before going down fighting in the first round.

Wild card entry Parupally Kashyap had the satisfaction of taking a game off Chen Jin during his first round loss. “I enjoyed every bit of that match. I hope to keep improving,” said the Hyderabadi of his performance.

THE RESULTS

Men’s singles final: Lin Dan (China) bt Chen Jin (China) 21-18, 21-16. Semifinals: Lin Dan bt Sony Dwi Kuncoro (Indonesia) 21-14, 13-21, 21-15; Chen Jin bt Taufik Hidayat (Indonesia) 21-16, 21-6.

Men’s doubles final: Fu Haifeng & Cai Yun (China) bt Jung Jae-sung & Lee Yong-dae 21-18, 16-21, 28-26.

Women’s singles final: Lan Lu (China) bt Xie Xingfang (China) 23-21, 21-12. Semifinals: Lu Lan bt Wang Lin (China) 21-18, 21-19; Xie Xingfang bt Pi Hongyan (France) 21-18, 21-8.

Women’s doubles final: Zhang Yawen & Zhao Tingting (China) bt Cheng Shu & Zhao Yunlei (China) 17-21, 21-17, 21-16.

Mixed doubles final: Thomas Laybourn & Kamilla Rytter Juhl bt Nova Widianto & Lilyana Natsir (Indonesia) 21-13, 21-17.