Thursday, June 22, 2006

Pitted against the world no.2 and the ref

Malaysia Open: By the time we arrived in Kuching for the Malaysia Open, we had been on the tour for more than three weeks and getting tired of having to adjust to different kinds of food, playing conditions etc. I beat Jean Michel Lefort of France in the first round 22-20, 21-11. The first game was close, but I could see that Lefort was tiring at the end of it and managed to win the second game quite easily.

In the second round, I played Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia, the world No.2 and defending champion. I lost the first game 13-21 and was down 13-8 in the second before I found my rhythm. I knew that if I kept cool and remained focussed I would have a chance at some point in the match.

I could see that Lee was distracted in the latter half of the second game and capitalized on that to win it 21-17. In the third game, the umpire, being Malaysian, was totally biased in Lee’s favour and was very unfair to me. She even gave me a red card for just asking to talk to the chief referee. A red card means that the opponent is given one point. This is usually shown to a player who is abusive to his/her opponent and the umpire. All I did here was ask to talk to the referee and I was shown a red card.

I lost my focus at that point and went down 13-21 in the third game. This meant that my Asian tour had come to an end. Arvind Bhat came up with a brilliant straight sets win over Kenneth Jonassen in the second round but failed to get past the next hurdle, losing to Roman Spitko of Germany in the last 16 stage.

All in all, I had a successful Asian tour with my ranking going up about 30 places from 65 to 35. I had some very good wins and have also learned what I need to work on to get better. My next international tournament will probably be the World Championships in September.

Cracking the top 35

Singapore Open: The Singapore Open was to be held in the Singapore Indoor stadium as it has been for many years now. This is a very big stadium with a huge gallery and also with a lot of wind inside the playing hall. I had lost in the first round here last year.

This year, in the first round, I was to play world No.19 and 5/8 seed Dicky Palyama of the Netherlands. Again, I had seen him play before but this was our first match against each other. I won 30-28, 21-17 to make it the best win of my career so far.

The first game, as the score suggests, was very close and I saved five game points and needed nine game points before I closed it out. Winning such a close first game meant that I had a big psychological advantage at the start of the second game. I went up by a big margin immediately and closed out the second game at 21-17.
I played Lu Yi, another young Chinese player, in the second round. Lu Yi had just beaten Chetan Anand in the Indonesia Open and was in good form. I had a good strategy for this match and I handled the drift (wind) in the hall well to win 21-18, 21-16.

In the third round, the last 16 stage, I played Andrew Smith of England. Smith has been around on the circuit for a long time and can be a difficult opponent. But by this time I had adjusted very well to the playing conditions and I won quite easily, 21-9, 21-16, to enter the quarterfinal.

I lost to Kenneth Jonassen of Denmark, the world No.5, 15-21, 15-21 in the quarterfinal the next day. I was a little unlucky in the second game with three line calls going against me. These bad calls can make so much of a difference when the scores are level and I was not able to recover in time and lost in straight games.
Still, reaching the quarterfinal was a great result and my world ranking went up another eight places to 35, which is my best-ever ranking. Apart from Chetan, who reached the last 16 stage, the other Indians lost in the first and second rounds.

Pre-quarters at Surabaya

Indonesia Open: We arrived in Surabaya the day after the big earthquake in Indonesia and were a bit worried but Surabaya was not affected by the quake. The Indonesia Open was to be a 6-star event, meaning there would be a lot of ranking points on offer here.

Taufik Hidayat, the current World and Olympic Champion, has a great record here having won this event five times already. I was up against Shoji Sato in the first round, the 9/16 seed from Japan. Sato has been in great form, having beaten Taufik Hidayat in the Thomas Cup finals in Japan in May.

I had watched him play before but this was our first match. I won 21-18, 17-21, 21-19. I had a good strategy in this match and was able to execute it well enough to win. Sato is very quick around the court, probably the quickest in the world, but has trouble keeping up the speed as he gets tired playing at that fast pace. I knew there would be some rallies where I would have no chance at all because he is so quick. But I also knew that if I was able to hang on for a few rallies at the fast pace, Sato would tire and give me some easy points. In the end, I feel I won because I was fitter than him.

In the second round I beat Bo Rafn of Denmark 21-10, 21-12. I was accustomed to the conditions on court by now and had a great match against Bo. In the third round, the last 16 stage, I was up against Qui Yanbo, a young Chinese. I lost to Yanbo 15-21, 19-21. Towards the end of the match, I could see that Yanbo was very tired and I would’ve had the advantage in the third game if I’d won the second, but I just didn’t play well enough in the closing stages of the second game and lost in straight sets.

Excepting me and Kashyap, who lost in the second round, nobody in the our men's singles team managed to get past the first round. Getting to the last 16 stage in a 6-star event was a good result for me, and I went up about 15 places on the world rankings after this result.

Saina rules at Manila

Philippines Open: This was the first of four tournaments that the Indian team was to participate in. I played a local player, Bartolomew, in the first round. I won 14-21, 21-8, 22-20. It shouldn’t have been such a close match but I was a little overconfident and paid the price for it.

With the new 21 rally point scoring system it is very important to remain focussed throughout a match even if it is easy as it can get close very quickly. I didn’t exactly have the best start to the tournament and I ended up losing in the next round to 9/16 seed Kendrick Lee of Singapore 22-20, 19-21, 19-21. I had beaten Lee in the Commonwealth Games in March, but this time he managed to play better in the closing stages of the second and third games and won in three tough games.

Arvind and Chetan got to the last 16 stage losing to Ng Wei and Roslin Hashim respectively.

But the story of the tournament has to be Saina Nehwal’s first Grand Prix victory. She was unseeded and ranked 85 at the start of the tournament. Saina beat Xu Haiwen of Germany in the quarterfinal, which is probably the biggest win ever by any Indian woman as Xu is ranked No.4 in the world. Saina went on to beat unseeded but good players in the semifinal (Ai Goto) and final (Julia Wong) and thus won her first Grand Prix event.

What was striking to me was that she played very confidently even though she is only 16 and hasn’t had too much experience in international badminton. This is surely the biggest achievement ever by an Indian woman in badminton. She has shown that there are no rules anymore, anything is possible.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Hello Everyone

Sorry I have'nt been updating the blog for the last few weeks. A combination of limited internet access and not having enough time is why I have'nt posted anything new yet.I am currently participating in the Malaysian Open and will run into Lee Chong Wei tomorrow in the second round. This is the last of four tournaments that I have now played consecutively. I will put up reports of the 4 tournaments as well as a couple more posts when I am back in India. Expect these posts in about a week or so! Thank you for the words of encouragement and for the visits. Please keep visiting!