World Champion Lin Dan tasted his first success in the continental championship. His job was made easier by the second round exit of top-seed Taufik Hidayat, who lost to Chinese Taipei's Hsuan Yi Hsueh is straight games.
The seeding list pointed to a bright possibility of the strongest ever Indian performance at the Badminton Asia Championship. With World number six Saina Nehwal and the mixed doubles pair of V. Diju and G. Jwala tipped to win the gold and the third-seeded men's doubles combination of Rupesh Kumar and Sanave Thomas expected to be in the semifinals, the Indian camp had reasons to be optimistic.
For once in the continental championship, the Indians were not just participating; they were seriously in contention for titles in two of the five sections.
However, as things turned out at the newly-constructed Siri Fort Sports Complex, even after India's most impressive, collective performance in the championship, there was disappointment that was hard to ignore.
Perhaps, the enhanced expectation led to the deep sense of disappointment. All three Indian seeds fell short of justifying their pre-event billing. Saina became the first Indian woman to reach the semifinal of the championship. But the 21-17, 21-11 loss to the Chinese qualifier and eventual champion Xuerui Li pushed everything else into the background.
On the way, Saina defeated three rivals who had beaten her in their previous meeting. The gritty Hyderabad girl dismissed Thailand's Porntip Buranaprasertsuk (21-10, 21-13), then brushed aside the Malaysians, Julia Pei Xian Wong (21-14, 21-16) and Mew Choo Wong (21-5, 21-13).
The comprehensive victories over the Malaysians were particularly significant since they will be her main hurdles on way to the Commonwealth Games gold at the same venue in October this year.
“I am disappointed that I lost, but overall I am quite happy with the way I won the earlier rounds,” said Saina.
She also made a pertinent point by saying, “strangely, in India, unless you win a tournament, you are not considered a performer.”
Coach P. Gopi Chand and Jwala, too, echoed similar sentiments. Gopi pointed out, “let us not forget that Saina became the first Indian lady to reach the semifinals of the All England (in March this year) and lost only one match in the Uber Cup qualifiers. And she again made the semifinals here. Overall, I am happy with her growth as a player. She did have an off day against the Chinese girl but I am pleased with the way she played against the two Malaysians.”
Painful exit...Saina Nehwal breaks down after her semifinal defeat to Xuerui Li of China and is comforted by coach P. Gopi Chand .
Another bright spot, a rather unexpected one, was provided by Aditi Mutatkar. Plagued by injuries, Aditi made her presence felt by reaching the quarterfinals. Like Saina, Aditi too lost in straight games to a Chinese qualifier and surprise finalist Xin Liu.
Trupti Murgunde, Neha Pandit and Sayali Gokhale lost in the first round.
Diju and Jwala, who stayed as World number seven for over 15 weeks, ending in the second week of January, fell 21-15, 11-21, 14-21 in 48 minutes to the unheralded Chinese pair of Zihan Qie and Qing Tian in the quarterfinals.
Disappointing show...Top-seeded Indian pair, V. Diju and Jwala Gutta, who lost to China's Zihan Qiu and Qing Tian in the mixed doubles.
Earlier, the triumphs over opponents from Hong Kong and Chinese Taipei were achieved with a fair degree of comfort. Diju, nursing a troubled back, could not get over his discomfort against the Chinese and some good work from Jwala from the forecourt proved insufficient.
“I am very disappointed,” was Jwala's straight-in-the-face reaction. This expressive and articulate lady made no secret of how she felt. “It was so important for us to win this title here in India. Moreover, we should not have lost to this Chinese pair. They were clearly beatable. The Chinese girl was still fine but the guy was not playing all that well. Only if Diju's back pain had not returned during the match, we would have won,” she said.
Earlier, Jwala and Ponappa exited from the women's doubles first round. Aparna Balan and Shruti Kurien fell in the second round to surprise winners, sixth-seeded Chinese Pan Pan and Qing Tian.
Rupesh and Sanave lost in the quarterfinals, to Koreans Sang Hoon Han and Ji Man Hwang. During the 17-21, 21-16, 21-15 defeat, the Indians looked increasingly short of preparation. The duo clearly lacked steam in the latter half of the match and erred too often.
China's Xuerui Li was simply unstoppable.
In the men's singles, P. Kashyap justified his 13th seeding by reaching the pre-quarterfinals. He lost to Hong Kong's Yun Hu in three games. Earlier, Anup Sridhar, Arvind Bhat and Anand Pawar lost in the second round after Guru Saidutt, Ajay Jayaram and K. Nandagopal.
From this lot, Pawar ran into World champion Lin Dan, who went on to taste his first success in the continental championship. His job was made easier by the second round exit of top-seed Taufik Hidayat. The temperamental Indonesian surrendered to Chinese Taipei's Hsuan Yi Hsueh in straight games.
(Prefix denotes seeding)
Men's singles final: 2-Lin Dan (China) bt Wang Zhengming (China) 21-17, 21-15.
Women's singles final: Xuerui Li (China) bt Xin Liu (China) 21-13, 18-21, 21-19.
Men's doubles final: 5-Gun Woo Cho & Yeon Seong Yoo (Korea) bt 1-Hung Ling Chen & Yu Lang Lin (Taipei) 21-19, 12-21, 21-17.
Women's doubles final: 6-Pan Pan & Qing Tian (China) bt Vivian Kah Mun Hoo & Khe Wei Woon (Malaysia) 21-10, 21-6.
Mixed doubles final: 7-Peng Soon Chan & Liu Ying Goh (Malaysia) bt Yeon Seong Yoo & Min Jung Kim (Korea) 21-17, 20-22, 21-19.
MESSY LOGISTICS AND INDIFFERENT SECURITYMEN
In the past, the Badminton Association of India (BAI) has hosted several mega events displaying great administrative and logistical skills. The World Championship in Hyderabad last year is the latest example of BAI's organisational abilities.
However, the hosting of the Badminton Asia Championship in New Delhi's under-constructed Siri Fort Sports Complex left a lot to be desired. Labelled a “test event” for the Commonwealth Games, scheduled to be held in October, the continental championship witnessed too many problems.
If the electronic scoreboards did not function at all on the opening day, the movement inside the stadium was unreasonably restricted in the name of security. There were far too many men in uniform doing precious little. Right from the entrance of the Siri Fort Complex to the stadium, there were at least three check-points, two fitted with scanners.
One would have expected strict and brisk frisking of those wishing to enter the stadium, but one incident reflected the indifference with which the policemen were doing their job. A broadcaster's wife and their 11-year-old daughter, inadvertently armed with the tickets of the World Cup hockey match for March 2, made it past two check-points and reached the main entrance of the stadium when they were stopped by one alert policeman. The lady contacted her husband who in turn spoke to a former international who had given the ‘tickets'.
The former India player, speaking to Sportstar, said, “I had pulled out the tickets from my bag, that also had unused tickets of the hockey match. When I was contacted, I realised my mistake and promptly offered to come to the main entrance of the complex with valid tickets to help the lady and her daughter. I was shocked to learn that they had managed to reach the spectators area outside the playing hall with tickets meant for hockey. It sure is funny, but it is a poor reflection on the people entrusted with security for the event. At the first two check-points, none bothered to check whether the tickets were valid or not. It is ridiculous.”
In fact, after the first day, the rest rooms of the complex, barring the ones in the VIP area, were locked as early as 4 pm to prevent the sub-inspectors/beat constables from using them. “The policemen don't use the toilets meant for them. They are making a mess of the rest-rooms meant for spectators and others,” said a visibly harassed DDA official, clearly at his wit's end while dealing with the policemen.
In fact, on the eve of the championship, one high-ranked police officer insisted that all the players vacate the main stadium for the purpose of sanitising it. When the Competition Manager explained to the man in authority that the host was obliged to allow the players to practise at the venue, it did not cut much ice. When told that the Chinese team was due to reach the stadium for practice and the security was free to stop them but had to take responsibility for whatever that followed, the police officer relented.
Strangely, in the high-security area, the only “free zone” was the media centre. Any unauthorised person could simply walk in and stay put in the media room on the first two days. It was only after Mr. V. K. Verma, the BAI president and also the Director General of the Organising Committee of the Commonwealth Games, stepped in to address the issues some semblance of order could be noticed.
Mr. Verma did maintain that more money was spent on this event than the World Championship in Hyderabad, but the messy logistics was far too glaring to be ignored. One wonders if the BAI could have done a better job if the continental championship was not a ‘test event' for the Commonwealth Games.
In the months ahead, the Organising Committee has a major challenge in dealing with the seemingly inexperienced and indifferent police officers entrusted with the responsibility of security at a mega event like the Commonwealth Games.