All England preview: History beckons Lee Chong Wei, Tine Baun
After a rather disappointing start, the All England Open has moved to a climactic finish. The first-round losses of women’s singles favourites Li Xuerui and Wang Yihan have done little to diminish the event, as the finals today will prove.
Even veteran Tine Baun, who had announced around six months ago that the All England would be her last tournament, wouldn’t have dreamed of such a finale. She is in the final, just one win away from a dream finish to her career. The All England is her favourite tournament, and to finish a career with a title win, there must be an extraordinary occurrence. Alongside, we have Lee Chong Wei, who is in his fifth straight All England final, and three other doubles finals. Here is our take on the five finals:
Men’s Singles: Lee Chong Wei (Malaysia) vs Chen Long (China)
Too close to call. Lee is the people’s favourite, for he is a gracious champion and even more gracious runner-up on the few occasions that he has lost. Chen Long is the fast-rising superstar from China, who has managed to get the better of Lee on a few occasions. There’s little to choose between the two, but their styles are dissimilar. Lee is the most fluid mover on court; relying on speed to create openings and to finish them. His one weapon is the jump smash which he delivers with great accuracy on either flank, while his net game helps him extract the lift from opponents.
Chen Long is a superb physical specimen, over 6 ft and muscular like all the other Chinese. He’s an embodiment of the power game that China has assiduously cultivated over the decades. Lee Chong Wei holds the edge, but only just. Everything depends on how consistent he is… if he makes a few mistakes, Chen Long will be all over him.
Favourite: Lee Chong Wei
Women’s Singles: Tine Baun (Denmark) vs Ratchanok Intanon (Thailand)
Baun is in her last tournament, and that will spur her on, since she has nothing to lose. The crowd, especially a large contingent of fans from Denmark, will be solidly behind her, and the noise they make can give wing to even tired muscles. On the other hand, Baun had played a long semifinal match, so the effects of that might just slow her down. Will she be physically fresh for the final?
Ratchanok is in her first All England final, and on the verge of her biggest moment. She needs no greater inspiration, and although she is only 18, she has been playing top-level badminton for at least three years now. The freshness of youth favours Ratchanok, while experience favours Baun. The match will be a contest between Ratchanok’s exhilarating creative skills and Baun’s wicked smashes and drops, delivered with economy of movement. Ratchanok has beaten Baun in three of their four encounters, but Baun looked in great shape, physically and mentally, on Saturday, and will play pressure-free badminton.
Favourite: Tine Baun
Men’s Doubles: Qiu Zihan/Liu Xiaolong (China) vs Kenichi Hayakawa/Hiroyuki Endo (Japan)
Qiu/Liu are the next stars of men’s doubles badminton. They are the natural successors of senior compatriots and legends Cai Yu and Fu Haifeng. The match between the two Chinese pairs at the Hong Kong Open late last year was electric, and Cai and Fu somehow managed to hold off the hungry young pair. Qiu/Liu will murder anything short of good length, and their defence is also of high quality. The only hope the Japanese have is to prevent them from playing at a fast clip, in much the way that the Indonesian pair of Hendra Setiawan/Mohd Ahsan played on Saturday in the second game.
Favourites: Qiu Zihan/Liu Xiaolong
Women’s Doubles: Yu Yang/Wang Xiaoli (China) vs Cheng Shu/Zhao Yunlei
Yu and Wang have a 5-0 advantage over their opponents, and should be able to ease through once again. The top seeds, who made a comeback to the top of world badminton after the ignominy of being disqualified for ‘throwing’ their group match at the Olympics, have dominated badminton in the last few months. Their only big challenge in recent times was from the Olympic champions, Qing Tian and Zhao Yunlei, but the Chinese have decided to experiment with their combinations this year, and have split the successful combinations and paired them with different players. Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli should be able to win, unless their coaches think otherwise.
Favourites: Yu Yang/Wang Xiaoli
Mixed Doubles: Zhang Nan/Zhao Yunlei (China) vs Tontowi Ahmad/Lilyana Natsir
Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei are the most accomplished pair in mixed doubles, and they have a brilliant record in finals. The Olympic champions have made top-class opponents look pedestrian, by their sheer intensity. What makes the difference is Zhao Yunlei – she hits harder than most women players, and defends as well. Ahmad and Natsir are the defending champions, and have won two of their six encounters, but the Chinese are in a different league during the events that matter.
Favourites: Zhang Nan/Zhao Yunlei