Friday, April 10, 2009

BAC QF – Sasaki Single Singles Holdout against China

China grabbed a commanding 7 of eight available semi-final spots in singles at the 2009 Happy Suwon Badminton Asia Championships. Sho Sasaki ended up as the last man standing against Chinese domination as he grabbed the last spot with a win over Zhou Wenlong. India’s Parupalli Kashyap threatened to deal Bao Chunlai the same lot but came up short in the end.

By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live in Suwon. Photos: (live)

Quarter-finals day started off with a string of one-sided doubles matches. Although Zhang Yawen and Chai Biao retired midway through game 2 of their quarter-final, the 30 minutes that had already expired were longer than either of the Korean pairs took to book their semi-final spots. Olympic champions Lee/Lee made quick work of their younger teammates while Malaysia’s Chan/Goh were almost as lost against home favourite Yoo Yeon Seong and Kim Min Jung, who won 21-13, 21-6 in just 27 minutes. Japan’s Hirata Noriyasu / Maeda Miyuki took a little more time but still defeated China’s Chen/Zhang in two.

China then took over the stage. Chen Long got things started with a convincing 21-8, 21-17 drubbing of Japan's Kozai Kazuteru. Then on the centre TV court, Jang Young Soo went to work to salvage the home honour in the men’s singles against Du Pengyu.

Jang kept things close through most of the first game but had trouble keeping his defensive returns low, inviting several easy kills from Du. Du needed some protection from the chair umpire, who corrected an out call on Du’s smash down the forehand line.

Facing 4 game points, Jang was the one to keep his consistency and some deceptive play plus a couple of errors from Du brought up the crucial 20-all tie. Jang then found the touch to put Du on his backhand, prompting a smashable short lift, then on game point, he kept his smash return low and kept the advantage.

In the second game, Jang tried to move Du around but the Chinese shuttler seemed to glide effortlessly wherever he needed to go and finished the game, largely unchallenged. The third game was more of the same. Despite flashes of brilliance, Jang was outplayed by his younger opponent and Du finished it 21-14, ending the home challenge and ensuring half of a very likely all-Chinese final.

Minutes later, Japan’s Sho Sasaki made sure that at least one of the eight singles semi-finalists would be representing a nation other than China. Sho kept up relentless pressure on Zhou Wenlong for a 21-18, 21-16 victory.

Immediately afterward, at the other end of the hall, Parupalli Kashyap took a shot at going one step further and actually blocking the all-Chinese final. Bao came out firing to an early lead but seemed to get complacent as Kashyap stayed focussed and consistent, making his way to a 15-8 lead before Bao started to reel him in. The Indian upstart never panicked, however, and moved out to 19-14 on a deceptive drop that bounced off the tape and into Bao’s court and the first game was soon history.

Bao played with greater urgency in the second game and stole 9 straight points to take a commanding 19-8 lead that the Indian could not dent before allowing Bao to even the match at one game apiece.

Kashyap stayed in control for the first part of the deciding game, leading 11-8 at the interval, a lead he guarded jealously with some punishing attacks to Bao’s backhand after the Chinese giant tied the game at 11- and then 12-all. Bao finally made a 7-point run from which his opponent never recovered and took the match 15-21, 21-9, 21-16 to keep alive the possibility of an all-Chinese final.

“I still don’t know exactly what happened,” said Kashyap after the match. “I think the feeling of beating him didn’t sink in. When I was leading in the third game, I really just wanted to finish it but then I started playing into his hands. He doesn’t like to move around the court. He just wants to keep taking a step or two and driving it and I started letting him do that.

“I think that my shots were better than his today overall but I wasn’t doing anything special. I was just playing my regular game and it was working,” Kashyap said of his ability to take commanding leads in the first and third games.

There was no hint of vulnerability for China in the women’s singles, meanwhile. Not even Hong Kong’s mainland-born Zhou and Wang could block their ex-compatriots Zhu and Wang from joining Wang Lin and Xie Xingfang in the semi-finals. Spectators were robbed of the chance to see a repeat of last year’s final when Jiang Yanjiao ceded a walkover to 2008 runner-up Wang Lin. Zhu Lin played 3 one-sided games against Zhou Mi, coming from a game down to win it 12-21, 21-13, 21-15.