Dev S Sukumar. Birmingham
March 10: The first two days of the All England have attracted fairly large crowds, a surprise since the qualifying and first round days are generally ignored at most tournaments. Apart from the general interest caused by the 100th anniversary, Badminton England has ensured that young spectators are kept engaged by some innovative methods. There have been autograph sessions with top England players, a speed gun to measure spectators’ smashes, and a game to test reaction time. The game consists of 12 light bulbs placed at various points around a picture of England doubles champion Nathan Robertson. As each light blinks, the player is expected to touch it in a fraction of a second before it goes off. The game was a hit with the crowd, with the top position belonging to a Martin Webb, who recorded 57 tries without letting the lights beat him.
The speed gun was equally popular. England internationals Robertson, Andrew Smith and others first had a go, and that set up the challenge for the spectators. Smith, a former top-ten singles player, clocked 186kmph; Nathan Robertson 179; Jenny Wallwork 154 and Sarah Walker 136. The closest a spectator could get was 170.
Among other interesting exhibits were two battledores and a selection of shuttlecocks, showing how the game had evolved since the 19th century.
Lee Chong Wei, the world No.1 Malaysian, is an extraordinarily friendly chap. While in the mood, he jokes around with everybody, but it’s easy to put him off, especially when he is asked about his most famous rival, Lin Dan. Lee has learnt the hard way that his words can be magnified and blown out of proportion, bearing little resemblance to what was originally said. As the only singles player in the world capable to standing up to the Chinese, he is constantly under pressure both from his own countrymen and the Chinese as well. Despite winning four Super Series last year, he hasn’t quite got the credit he deserves, as the media in his native Malaysia constantly carps at his ‘underachievement’.
After his first round defeat of Chetan Anand, he was in a playful mood and seemed ready to answer anything. Asked about his experiences in India, he first said: “India… difficult place,” and then, suddenly aware that his comments might cause some controversy, he covered up: “No problem, India no problem at all.”
The world no.1 has had a difficult time in India last year. He lost in the first round of the India Open to a Chinese, complained of food poisoning, and then, was disappointing in a quarterfinal defeat during the World Championships. Still, on Tuesday Lee was at his gentlemanly best, and spent time answering questions.