Men’s Singles supremo – China’s Lin Dan – expertly extinguished any thoughts which hometown hopeful Kieran Merrilees had of providing Scotland with a rousing start to the TOTAL BWF World Championships 2017 today.
Aware that, despite his celebrity status, most fans inside Emirates Arena would be cheering for his opponent, the five-time World champion snuffed out the 27-year-old’s challenge 21-15 21-10 in 39 minutes. The scoreline was trending towards a far worse deficit for Merrilees in the first game, with Lin blazing ahead 18-5, having rocketed to 11-1 at the interval. However, the Chinese star lapsed in concentration, allowing the Scotsman to narrow the gap to 20-15.
There was no such let-up in the second game and in quick time both players were engaged in a barrage of media interviews about their first-round clash.
“I am satisfied with my performance. I never played Kieran before but I watched two of his matches. He is not as low level as some media suggested,” said Lin who is gunning for a sixth World title.
“It was my first match so I prepared carefully and I wanted to get control from the start because Kieran had home-court advantage.”
Meanwhile, Merrilees admitted being awestruck as he stood across the net from one of badminton’s best-ever players.
“He was ruthless today. It was a bit of a blur. My legs felt like jelly, it was very tough… He played some unbelievable shots that hardly anyone in the world would get back. I thought I had won the rally but he would get it back and then put me under pressure too.
“It was difficult to see a winning scenario. I was really struggling through that match, I was so nervous the whole way,” said the vanquished athlete candidly.
Nonetheless he sought the silver lining in this landmark outing on home soil, hailing it a “great experience playing against the best player in the world”.
“I’ve learnt a lot from it, perhaps next time I’ll try and cut myself off before a match and up my concentration, but it’s easier said than done when you’re playing against Lin Dan. He’s on a different level to anyone I have ever played.”
Lin’s compatriot, Shi Yuqi, survived a testing encounter versus Irish journeyman, Scott Evans. The latter was a point from grabbing the opening game but his rival saved it with a mid-court smash. The All England runner-up eventually wriggled through 23-21 22-20 in 51 minutes to set up a second-round clash with Ygor Coelho de Oliveira. The effervescent Brazilian shook off a nervous start to win his maiden World Championship match, 21-18 16-21 21-10, versus Norway’s Marius Myhre.
“He was fast and he was pushing a lot to my right side. I adjusted my game and was able to get control of the second and third games. I am excited to be in the second round. I have improved a lot since the Rio Olympics and I am looking forward to playing Shi Yuqi,” said the 20-year-old who has been training in France for the past year.
Other Men’s Singles players progressing included Anders Antonsen (Denmark), Rajiv Ouseph (England), Gergely Krausz (Hungary), Tommy Sugiarto (Indonesia), Zulfadli Zulkiffli (Malaysia) and Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk (Thailand).
In Men’s Doubles, one half of the defending World champions, Mohammad Ahsan, began his quest for a second successive crown and third overall, having won in 2013 and 2015 with former partner, Hendra Setiawan. Ahsan and Rian Agung Saputro prevailed over Swedish duo, Richard Eidestedt/Nico Ruponen, 21-15 21-18. Elsewhere, Or Chin Chung/Tang Chun Man had their hands full with Jelle Maas/Robin Tabeling, needing 62 minutes to beat the Dutch duo. The Hong Kong pair rebounded to win 19-21 21-18 21-17.
“We knew it would be tough. The shuttle was slow and the venue is big. We needed time to get settled. We are focusing on one match at a time and not thinking too far ahead,” said Or when asked if they fancy upsetting some of the top contenders as they have done previously.
France’s men’s tandem Bastian Kersaudy and Julien Maio came from a game down to beat Ireland’s Magees – Joshua and Sam – in the last match on centre court: 19-21 21-15 21-14. Their Women’s Doubles counterparts, Emilie Lefel and Anne Tran, had provided some inspiration in the penultimate match on the same court, defeating Scottish rivals, Rebekka Findlay and Caitlin Pringle (21-12 21-10).