Saturday, September 7, 2019
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTON PHOTO
The TOTAL BWF World Championships celebrated its 25th edition in Basel. Here are the highlights of the August 19-25 event:
Never Too Old
With their third title together, Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan continued to relish a prolific year, in which they won the All England and the New Zealand Open, besides finishing runners-up at four events. Setiawan’s overall fourth title made him the oldest-ever winner of a World Championships gold medal – particularly significant as the ‘Daddies’ had split after the Rio Olympics and spent a year with other partners.
A First for India
After two bronze and two silver medals, it was finally time for gold for Pusarla V Sindhu. The Indian’s stiffest challenge came in the quarterfinals against Tai Tzu Ying, where she weathered the deceptive offerings of the world No.1 in three hard-fought games. Once she was through, there was no stopping her, as she breezed past Chen Yu Fei and 2017 nemesis Nozomi Okuhara to claim India’s first ever gold medal at the World Championships. What added to the occasion was that it was her mother’s birthday.
Since winning Japan’s first men’s singles gold at the World Championships last year, Kento Momota had shown signs of fallibility, which made him far from certain to retain the crown. However, the Japanese was outstanding throughout the week in Basel, not dropping a game in six matches. Anders Antonsen was expected to be a difficult opponent in the final, but Momota was in a higher class, resulting in perhaps the most one-sided men’s singles final in history. Momota thus became the only non-Chinese men’s singles player to win two gold medals.
Matsumoto/Nagahara’s Dream Spell
A similar record was achieved by Mayu Matsumoto and Wakana Nagahara in women’s doubles, as they became the first non-Chinese pair in that category to win a second title. It was almost not to be, as their compatriots Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota nearly pulled off one of the great escape acts in finals history. Having lost two match points last year, Fukushima and Hirota levelled from five match points down before holding a match point of their own. Matsumoto and Nagahara however refused to be deflated and picked off the last three winners to claim the crown.
In a League of their Own
Few pairs have beaten Zheng Si Wei and Huang Ya Qiong over the last two years. Among these pairs are Hafiz Faizal/Gloria Emanuelle Widjaja, Yuta Watanabe/Arisa Higashino and Dechapol Puavaranukroh/Sapsiree Taerattanachai. It was interesting, therefore, that the defending champions were to face all three pairs in their campaign – but they ran through their stiffest opposition barely breaking a sweat. With the exception of the opening match, against Mark Lamsfuss/Isabel Herttrich when they dropped a game, Zheng and Huang set a standard that no one could approach. The final saw a 21-8 21-12 demolition job of Puavarnukroh/Taerattanachai, making Zheng/Huang one of only three pairs – Park Joo Bong/ Chung Myung Hee and Zhang Nan/Zhao Yunlei being the others – to defend their title.
Glory for Japan
Just three months ago Japan, favourites for the Sudirman Cup, fell apart in the final to China. What a dramatic turnaround it has been since then, with Japan enjoying their most successful World Championships and China suffering their worst!
The Japanese had five finalists overall, while China had only one. With Tokyo 2020 a year away, there couldn’t have been more auspicious signs for the Land of the Rising Sun.
Among the young players to make a mark at the World Championships was Thai 20-year-old Kantaphon Wangcharoen. The youngster continued to build on a remarkable 2019 by making the semifinals, beating top players like Kidambi Srikanth and Chou Tien Chen on the way.
Thailand enjoyed their most successful World Championships, with a silver (Puavarnukroh/Taerattanachai) and two bronze (Ratchanok Intanon and Wangcharoen).