No dearth of style

Who says there is no style left any more in badminton?

Dev S Sukumar

Let not too much ground be conceded to the pessimists, who see modern badminton as primarily a physical, aggressive game with no room for its subtler elements. Despite what they say, there is still room in the game for that intangible something that makes badminton a beautiful game – style.

Too often, old-timers hark back to the days of Finn Kobbero or Flemming Delfs, and recall style as a thing of the past. The modern game, they say, is too physical, too fast and aggressive, to accommodate the stylists. One just has to go through the draw of the Badminton Asia Championships that begin today to recognise that, despite revolutionary changes in the game, there are some who bring flair and elegance and style to the game.

Think of Hafiz Hashim, the 2003 All England champion from Malaysia. Hafiz has done little of note since that sensational triumph, but to watch him is to watch elegance in motion. Those who witnessed the India Open final in 2009 between Hafiz and Taufik Hidayat will concede that, in terms of style and class, few players could’ve matched the proceedings of that day.

Hafiz plays a dreamy backhand, and glides rather than moves… and everything about him has a surreal quality to it. The unhurried nature of his game might not make him a dangerous opponent, but it elevates the spectacle. There is no saying how far Hafiz can go in this tournament, but he has a relatively easy quarter.

Fifth seed Boonsak Ponsana is another of those stylists with plenty of tricks in his wrist. Boonsak returned with the India Open in 2008, beating Chetan Anand in the final. Chetan himself is a pretty deceptive customer, but Boonsak combines dexterous wrist and tricky strokes with superior fitness and anticipation, and it’s no wonder that he is a consistent name in the top ten.

Among the others in the draw, Dionysius Rumbaka (Indonesia), Wang Zhengming (China), Kenichi Tago (Japan), and Zhou Mi in the women’s singles have some unusual racket skills that make them stand out from the rank-and-file.

But can any conversation on style be complete without mentioning Taufik Hidayat? The Indonesian epitomises style – to the extent that he is the main act in any tournament. Fans, both in his home country and elsewhere, revere him despite his many human frailties, and that’s a tribute to the magic he wields with the racket.

In fact, no less a personality than the seven-time All England winner, Erland Kops, called Taufik the “most talented player” he’d seen.
With Taufik leading the way, the Asian Championships will provide some memorable matches. The 28-year-old Taufik, and contemporaries Hafiz and Zhou Mi might not be around too long, so fans might as well savour the rich fare on offer, and remember that in every era, there have been players who have risen above the mundane, physical aspects of the game.

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About badmintonmania

Sometimes I wonder if I'm the Indian in Thoreau's Walden who makes cane baskets and is surprised nobody wants them. A. was talking about discipline when she said: "But Dev, if you want to move ahead in life, you'll have to be like that," and she may as well have defined everything else for me. I've played the low percentage game for too long to believe there's anything in it but the romance; the odds keep getting jacked up higher and higher; and you may be a good Idealist but a worse Fool.
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