If there was anyone in the competition who could possibly look to deny Lee Chong Wei his third title at the 2014 India Open, it would have to be Chen Long. While their rivalry is yet to take the shape of a generation-defining one that the Malaysian had with Lin Dan, Long is the only one in active badminton who comes close to setting up such a rivalry.
At the start of the tournament, no one apart from Super Dan had beaten Chong Wei more than Long – eight times in 16 contests. The advantage appeared to be heading Chong Wei’s way when he beat Long in the 2012 Olympic semifinals but it swung the Chinese’s way after he won the next four encounters between the two — including the 2013 All England final. Chong Wei had broken the streak at this year’s All England final to even the head to head.
At the India Open, both shuttlers seemed in great touch. Long had breezed through his early rounds and even emerged on top despite a near superhuman effort from Denmark’s Jan O Jorgensen in the semis. Chong Wei had toyed with the oppoenents on his side of the draw and only dropped a game in the semis during a period of complacency.
So when the two shuttlers strode out onto the Siri Fort court on Sunday, the massive crowd who cheered their arrival would well have expected an epic. It was not to be. Despite being on court for nearly an hour, Chong Wei was rarely in any sort of pressure as he picked up a regulation 21-13, 21-17 win.
While Long doesn’t have Chong Wei’s ability to conjure up unlikely shots, he has usually compensated by being near unbreakable defensively. On slow courts and with slow shuttles, the powerfully built 6’2” Chinese thrives during long rallies.
The Siri Fort stadium’s courts are anything but slow, giving an edge to an attacking player — like Chong Wei. And when he has an off-day, Long is even more vulnerable against the mercurial Malaysian.
Long was clearly having an uncharacteristically poor day on Sunday. He was error prone during rallies, and often hit long or wide while finishing. He often failed in his judgement of the drift, leaving shuttles which fell well inside the lines. Two of those lapses came at crucial stages in both games. Long even had a service footfault that gave Chong Wei matchpoint. Chong Wei admitted he had things easy.
“I did my best to take every shot and I think Chen Long didn’t play well today. (He made) a few simple mistakes,” the Malaysian said after his match.
The Malaysian meanwhile had a near flawless game. There was a period when he was uncomfortable at the net but it passed. The Chinese would battle to a 16-14 lead in the second game but Chong Wei overturned that deficit with a five point streak of his own. Chong Wei even managed to pull of a bit of mirth in that period. It came towards the end of a lengthy rally with the two players level at 16.
The Chinese looked to have won the point with a near perfect drop shot. Chong Wei though not only retrieved the shuttle with a full stretch dive, but also managed to place his clear so well that he had time to admire his shot while still on the floor. Long scrambled back to reach the lob but only hit his shot out.
While Long’s loss would have been a disappointment to the Chinese team, they were assured of a win in the women’s singles championships. In an all China battle, Wang Shixian who beat Olympic champion Li Xuerui 22-20 21-19.
China also clinched the women’s doubles title with Yuanting Tang and Yang (F) Yu, who were among those banned during the match-fixing scandal at the London Olympics, prevailing over Korean pair of Kyung Eun Jung and Ha Na Kim 21-10 13-21 21-16 in an hour-long battle.
However, the Danish pair of Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen, the seeded seconds, kept the Chinese at bay in the men’s doubles competition as they bounced back from a game down to outwit third seeds Xiaolong Liu and Zihan Qiu 17-21 21-15 21-15 in a match that lasted for an hour and six mintues.
London Olympic bronze medallist pair of Joachim Fischer Nielsen and Christinna Pedersen also continued their good run as they edged out fourth seeded Korean combo of Sung Hyun Ko and Ha Na Kim 21-16 18-21 21-18 to clinch the mixed doubles title.