SONY DWI KUNCORO of Indonesia created history in Hyderabad recently by becoming the only player to win the men's singles title of the Asian Badminton Confederation (ABC) Championship three times in four years. Kuncoro staged a remarkable comeback in the first game to outclass Kuan Beong Hong of Korea in the final of the Championship, sponsored by the Indian Oil Corporation, at the Gachibowli Indoor Stadium, Hyderabad. Women's world number four and top seed for the event, Wang Chen of Hong Kong, won her second singles title beating Mori Kaori of Japan in the final. Chen's triumph vindicated her decision to shift base from China to Hong Kong for better opportunities and more focus in training.
The men's singles final saw seventh-seeded Kuncoro growing in stature. Cornered in the first game by an aggressive Hong, the 21-year-old Athens Olympics bronze medallist wriggled out of the crisis with a high-quality game. Quickly taking stock of Hong's aggressive mood and vastly superior net game, Kuncoro changed his strategy after trailing 3-6 in the first game. He pushed Hong to the baseline, engaging him in long rallies interspersed with his trademark high-jump smashes which repeatedly stranded the Malaysian. Clearly, Kuan, the world number 11, erred by playing to his opponent's strength — a lethal forehand — as he repeatedly fed Kuncoro with easy winners instead of attacking a comparatively weak backhand.
The final also illustrated how nerves can catch up with an inexperienced player in an important contest. Hong's body language was disappointing once Kuncoro, 22, took a convincing lead. His game as well as confidence fell apart.
Compared to Kuncoro's swiftness, Hong looked out of sorts. Not very often does it take just 33 minutes for a champion to shut out his opponent but that is exactly what Kuncoro did. "I am really pleased with my performance. I was out of action for six months after the Athens bronze medal due to a leg infection. But, I am now feeling much better and am looking to be back in the zone," said Kuncoro, who authored the biggest upset of the tournament when he defeated top seed Ng Wei 15-3, 15-11 in the semifinal.
Kuncoro acknowledged that invaluable tips from his coach, the famous Joko Suprianto, about the importance of not conceding too many easy points carried him through to the title. The victory kept intact the seventh-seeded Kuncoro's all-win record against Hong in five meetings and he was richer by $10,000 as well.
In the women's final, world number nine Kaori threatened to take the game away from the 29-year-old favourite Chen, with a wonderful array of cross-court smashes. But after taking a 6-1 lead, she choked. Not missing the chance to stage a comeback, Chen played like a true champion. With a clever combination of deep baseline strokes and delectable drops, Chen turned the match around. There were innumerable occasions when Kaori stood in the centre of the court virtually applauding Chen's winners. The problem for Kaori was that she could not control the pace of the game after taking the convincing lead. Kaori was also plagued by her inability to counter the flurry of Chen's aggressive cross-court strokes, which enabled the Hong Kong girl to claim the winner's purse of $7000.
The much-talked about Indian `Young Brigade' comprising Saina Nehawal, Krishna Deka Raja, Aparna Balan and Trupti Murgunde in the women's section and Sagar Chopra, Aditi Pawar and P. Kashyap in the men's section failed to live up to expectations of a decent show. By the end of second round, it was obvious that these youngsters were not equal to the task. May be, as chief coach Vimal Kumar said before the event, they might have gained in experience but they conveyed the impression that they still have a long way to go.
The silver lining for India was provided by former national champion Chetan Anand and Arvind Bhat who made it to the quarterfinals. Unfortunately, Anand lost to Kuan Beong Hong after wrapping up the first game 10-15 easily. He lost the next two games 7-15, 2-15 in 62 minutes. So was the case with Bhat, who despite a convincing 10-3 lead in the first game, suffered a 16-17, 5-15 defeat at the hands of Lee Hyun II of Korea.
The last minute pull out by the 17-member Chinese contingent took the sheen off the prestigious event.