Hafiz weathers Choi challenge

Kuan Beng Hong troubles Kenichi Tago, goes down fighting

Dev S Sukumar/ DNA. New Delhi

Two matches brightened proceedings on day one of the main draw of the Badminton Asia Championships at Siri Fort on Wednesday. Kuan Beng Hong played an inspired game against Kenichi Tago, but lost narrowly; countryman Hafiz Hashim was beautiful at times but nearly messed things up against Korean youngster Choi Ho Jin. Both Tago and Hafiz progressed to the third round, joining, among others, Taufik Hidayat and Lin Dan.

Perhaps the match of the day was All England finalist Kenichi Tago against the out-of-favour Malaysian Kuan Beng Hong. Beng Hong, runner-up at this event in 2005 and once the No.3 in his country, has been adrift for a while, but on Wednesday he displayed tremendous fighting ability against an opponent who was expected to smother him. Tago was left chasing shadows in the first game as Kuan demonstrated great all-court ability and had Tago on the defensive. The Japanese slowly asserted himself in the second. The third could have gone either way, but Tago was steadier under pressure. Until midway in the third game, things were level, but Kuan made a couple of errors and that was all it took for Tago to pull through.

Hafiz was at his fluid best against Choi Ho Jin, who recently upset Lin Dan. The Korean left-hander might be a good prospect for the future, for he demonstrates great athleticism and a sharp lefty smash. Still, Hafiz was a class above, and displayed maverick touch from time to time to leave specators gaping at the extent of his talent. What a pity that he hasn’t done more with his ability, apart from that momentous win of the All England in 2003! Hafiz blew a second set lead with some lazy shots, but kept things tight in the third game to progress.

Meanwhile, Zhou Mi looked a mess against Yulianti in the first round. Moving slow and looking lethargic, Zhou was in arrears in the second game after a first game loss, but she used all her experience to outplay the Indonesian.

There was little for India. Despite the lack of a strong draw, most of the country’s fancied names lost, in the first or second round; the day was salvaged by Saina Nehwal, Aditi Mutatkar, P Kashyap and the mixed doubles pair of Jwala Gutta/ V Diju.
Saina hardly broke sweat in her 21-10 21-13 dismissal of World Junior Championships runner-up Porntip Buranaprasertsuk of Thailand, earning a second round meeting with Julia Wong of Malaysia in less than half-an-hour. It was a breezy beginning to the tournament for the no.1 seed, who led 11-0 at the first break. “It was easier than I expected,” said Saina.

Most of the other contenders for the title — such as Zhou Mi, Wong Mew Choo and Yip Pui Yin — too progressed, as did Aditi Mutatkar, who, playing her first competitive match after a knee injury, got past the tenacious Singaporean Fu Mingtian in three sets. Compatriots Sayali Gokhale, Trupti Murgunde and Neha Pandit couldn’t get past the first round.

India were disappointing in the men’s singles. While Anand Pawar was unlucky to draw world champion Lin Dan in the second round, Anup Sridhar and Arvind Bhat were left mulling missed opportunities. Sridhar was beaten by the relatively unknown Malaysian Lok Chieh Chong in straight games and was honest enough to blame himself. “I thought I was fitter, but obviously I’m not,” he said. “I was unable to play the long rallies at that fast pace, and that’s why there were so many errors.” What next, asked someone, to which he replied, only half in jest: “I don’t know… maybe suicide.”

Arvind Bhat recovered from a first set deficit against Korean Hong Ji Hoon to take the second, but fell in arrears early in the third and was packed off 21-6.

P Kashyap, however, had a great day. He had a surprisingly easy first round win over the tough Hong Kong player, Wing Ki Wong, and rode that momentum to get the better of Indonesia’s Tommy Sugiarto.

Meanwhile, no.2 seed Lin Dan didn’t have to rely on his bigger weapons but was still untroubled by Anand Pawar. “He was very fast,” said Pawar. “He can increase the pace suddenly, and it’s tough to keep up at that level. He keeps pushing everything back, doesn’t allow you any opportunities at the net.”

Important Indian results:
Men’s singles: P Kashyap bt Wing Ki Wong (HK) 21-14 21-15 (1st rd); bt Tommy Sugiarto (INA) 21-14 21-16 (2nd round)
Anup Sridhar bt Ye Wook Rho (KOR) 16-21 21-13 21-8 (1st rd); lost to Lok Chong Chieh (MAS) 21-19 21-15; Arvind Bhat bt Bikash Shreshta (Nep) 21-14 21-11 (1st rd); lost to Hong Ji Hoon (KOR) 21-15 13-21 21-6; Anand Pawar bt Sophorn Noun (Cam) 21-3 21-6; lost to 2-Lin Dan (Chn) 21-14 21-12
Women’s singles: 1-Saina Nehwal bt Porntip (THA) 21-10 21-13 (1st rd); Aditi Mutatkar bt Fu Mingtian (SIN) 21-11 17-21 21-18
Mixed doubles: Diju/ Jwala bt Wai Hong/ Wah Chau (HK) 21-13 21-12 (1st rd)

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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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