Olympic badminton day six: Chinese supremacy continues03/08/2012 -
The mixed doubles gold medal is guaranteed to go to China as both their pairs reached the final, a situation likely to be replicated in the women's singles in which they have three of four semi-finalists. There is still hope for the Lin Dan-Lee Chong Wei men's singles final that fans have dreamt of, both moving into the last four.
For thirty minutes it looked as though China’s supposed dominance of Olympic badminton was about to come to an end. Normal service resumed soon enough.
The Chinese remain favourites to claim all five golds, a feat they have achieved in each of the last two World Championships, and are guaranteed a mixed doubles one-two as both their pairs made Friday’s final.
26 minutes into the afternoon session, however, they were a game down in each match, against Danes and Indonesians. Xu Chen and Ma Jin, the world number 2s, were first to complete the fightback, against Tantowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir, 21-23 21-18 21-13; denying the latter a second shot at mixed gold.
They were shortly joined by Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei, who overcame their difficulties to win 17-21 21-17 21-19 against Joachim Fischer and Christinna Pedersen, a partnership that has historically caused them problems. Initially, it appeared that their record against the Danes was set to worsen, struggling against a hungry duo led from the rear court by Fischer’s power.
A change of tactic in the second game reaped dividends as Zhang and Zhao focussed their efforts on Pedersen. It worked; the lead was never in Danish hands and, with Fischer a mere bystander, the top seeds opened up a six point gap. Holding five game points, Zhang and Zhao turned the tables to capture the second.
The decider was following a similar pattern at the mid-game interval, but Fischer and Pedersen were not quite done. They finally drew level at 18-18 after a spell of traded points, only to throw it away as Fischer planted a serve straight into the net, and the Chinese never looked back, completing the comeback to book their final spot.
Later in the evening Zhao would make it double joy as she and Tian Qing streaked to a comfortable win over Valeria Sorokina and Nina Vislova, 21-19 21-6. No player has won two gold medals in a single Olympic Games before, but as the highest seed left in both disciplines, Zhao has the chance to go one better than compatriot Gao Ling and Lee Hyo-Jung of Korea, who won gold and silver in Athens and Beijing respectively.
Of the 11 Chinese seeds who stepped onto court on Thursday, only two fell. Men’s doubles pair Chai Biao and Guo Zhengdong were dumped out by countrymen Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng, while Chen Jin was eliminated by Lee Hyun-il, a man he had denied bronze in Beijing.
32-year-old Lee retired from the international scene following that defeat, only to be talked into a return by coaches to fill the singles void left in his wake. With Chen apparently uncomfortable with a knee problem during the first game, the Korean had the ultimate chance to gain revenge and took the opportunity with aplomb, ending his campaign with a 21-15 21-16 victory.
What would have been more of a surprise was an early exit for reigning champion Lin Dan, the unthinkable almost occurring when he faced Sho Sasaki. Having run away with the first game 21-12, the Chinese began to relax and his rival took full advantage.
Coupled with Lin’s complacency, Sasaki produced a scintillating spell of badminton, overpowering the favourite for gold in a rare lapse. Much to the chagrin of the crowd, he was unable to maintain the form and Lin stormed back and claimed the decider 21-16, setting up a last four tussle with Lee.
There was almost a shock on the cards for the women’s singles number two, Wang Xin, who survived an almighty scare against 17-year-old Ratchanok Inthanon. From an early position of strength she capitulated, going a game and 16-9 behind to the Thai, who then allowed a shuttle to drop square on the sideline.
From that point on, Wang never looked back, making the gulf in experience wholly apparent. She took the final three points, culminating in a 21-18 second game; outmanoeuvring Inthanon and winning it with a drop shot.
The young Thai, a three time world junior champion, was forced to call for medical assistance for a foot injury during the decider’s mid-game interval, at which point she was already lagging four points behind. The gap only grew from there, Wang scraping through to a tough semi-final with Li Xuerui, a player with a staggering record for 2012.
Li ended the giant killing run of Hong Kong’s Yip Pui Yin with remarkable ease, 21-12 22-20, while top seed Wang Yihan had even less trouble against Cheng Shao Chieh and will play Saina Nehwal after the Indian saw off Tine Baun.
The other men’s singles semi-final involves the world’s second and third ranked players, Lee Chong Wei and Chen Long. There were no surprises in the men’s doubles quarter-finals either, the top three seeds joined in the last four by former World Championship runners-up Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong.