Saturday, May 15, 2010

Did you feel the earth shake yesterday

The earth shook yesterday. If you are a sports fan, you would have felt it. And if you are a badminton fan, it measured 10 on the Richter scale.

The Thomas Cup and Uber Cup tournaments are going on in Kuala Lumpur. These are the Men's and Women's badminton world team championships. The Uber Cup , for women, is the private property of China. For the last 12 years they have been invincible. They usually complete the entire tournament without dropping a single match. Everybody else fights for the second place. The same was expected this year – in the world rankings in singles, the top five are Chinese. In the doubles, the top two are Chinese. Each tie in the Uber Cup consists of three singles and two doubles. What hope had anybody else got when China fields World No 1,2,3 in singles and Nos 1 and 2 in doubles.

China took its appointed place in the finals without losing a single match. In fact in all the matches, it dropped only a single game – thanks to Saina Nehwal of India. Facing them in the finals was South Korea. In the last five Uber Cup finals, it has been China vs South Korea . And the Chinese simply steamroller the Koreans and win, usually without dropping a match.

Of course, this is telecast live in China. I didn’t bother to tune in on time – what’s the point. I tuned in late into the first match – Wang Yihan of China, the World No 1 against Bae Seung-Hee, No 16 ranked. Bae played out of her skin, won the first game closely and then started to inch away in the second game. Unbelievably, she stood on match point and then won. The Koreans poured on to the court to celebrate.They had won the first of the best of five matches, a dream start.

Second on was the world no 1 doubles pair of Ma Jin and Wang Xiaoli against the scratch combination of Lee Hyo Jung and Kim Min Jung for Korea who have never played before this tournament as a pair.The match developed into a classic – if you have ever watched badminton doubles you would know how incredibly athletic it can be . The crowd roars at every smash and the rallies are long. The Chinese won the first game and it looked like they would eventually triumph. But Lee and Kim would simply not give up. Kim was playing steady and Lee was going for outrageous shots and getting most of them. They won the second. The third game was neck and neck and then finally after an hour and six minutes of pulsating badminton, the Koreans won. I could scarcely believe the match score. Korea 2 : China 0

Third on court was Wang Xin, World No 2 for China against the virtually unranked Sung Ji Hyun. Wang looks like a 15 year old and on her slim shoulders rested China’s hopes. Sung looked barely older. Shrieking a like a schoolgirl at every point Wang raced away with first game. But Sung would not give up. Fighting for her life, she took the second. But that took all that she had. Wang simply ran away with the third game. Korea 2- China 1

Fourth on was the experienced Chinese doubles pair of Du Jing and Yu Yang. They were seasoned players and had the experience to win anytime. Against them were Lee Kyung Won and Ha Jung Eun, an unheralded pair. Another classic developed. The Koreans had scented blood and played at a breathtaking level. Each pair won a game each. The third game would be etched long in the memory of those who watched it. The crowd was going berserk and there were surely some ruptured eardrums. After four hours and thirteen minutes of scintillating badminton, it stood at match point for Korea – match and championship point. A long rally ensued and finally Lee and Ha won. The entire Korean contingent poured on to the court and the scenes of celebration was riotous. The ground shook; the earth trembled. Mighty China had been beaten.

PS - How I wish I could upload the photos capturing the magic of this tie here. Alas, the Net Nanny is in full vigour ...