Tai Eases into Top Gear

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Tai Tzu Ying avenged her All England loss to Chen Yufei in Malaysia.

It was back to routine business for Tai Tzu Ying with titles on successive weekends of April on the HSBC BWF World Tour. There are over three months to go for the TOTAL BWF World Championships 2019, but early season form holds good portents for the world No.1, who has yet to win a medal at the Worlds.

The last season, during which she demonstrated once again her virtuoso qualities, ended anti-climactically with an early exit at the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals. A quarterfinal loss at the Malaysia Masters saw her 2019 season begin on a bumpy note, before her racket began to talk at the All England.

She offered no excuses after her defeat to Chen Yufei in the All England final – although she had a niggle in her playing arm.

April saw her back to her best. Tai cut apart her two vanquishers this season – Ratchanok Intanon and Chen Yufei – on her way to the Malaysia Open final, where Akane Yamaguchi was also outclassed in straight games.

The following week, in Singapore, Yamaguchi fell again in an unusual match; her compatriot Nozomi Okuhara proved no match for Tai’s guile in the final.

The last two matches in Singapore showed two facets of Tai’s on-court persona. Against Yamaguchi she was almost lackadaisical until she was four match points down; and then everything seemed to change. Yamaguchi was left chasing apparitions around the court as her maverick opponent teased and tormented the indefatigable Japanese.

The final saw a different Tai Tzu Ying, more businesslike, more ruthless, and with almost no hint of the playfulness that is her hallmark. Nozomi Okuhara was singed by her laser-like focus, 21-19 21-15.

Tai achieved a hat-trick of wins at the Malaysia Open.

The elements on which Tai’s game is based – deception, variety, unbelievable angles –elicits gasps; so does her apparent indifference to established practices. In an age when players pride themselves on the zealousness of their pre-match routines and ‘homework’ – Tai nonchalantly revealed that she doesn’t even watch videos of her own game.

No videos of opponents either?

Casual shrug. “No, I don’t need to,” she said, after the Singapore Open final.

Not for her the importance of recollecting match details, reflecting over turning points or tactical hits and misses. Having beaten Yamaguchi in the semifinals with a memorable come-from-behind effort, she was surprised when asked about the five match points she’d saved.

“I forgot all about it,” she laughed. “Did I really save five match points?”

Precise and powerful when on song.

It was much the same at the World Championships in 2015, when, not long after blowing six match points against Lindaweni Fanetri in the quarterfinals, she came away with a smile. The loss was already behind her, never mind that she was within one winning rally of a World Championships medal.

She has grown as a player since then; she is fitter, more precise, and harder-working on court now. Can she gain in Basel what she couldn’t in London 2012, Guangzhou 2013, Copenhagen 2014, Jakarta 2015, Rio 2016 or Nanjing 2018 – a Major Event medal?