For Tarun Kona, Axiata Cup serves to break cultural barriers
The Axiata Cup is only in its second year, but it has already created a revolution of sorts in badminton. The event, which has for the first time brought players of several countries to play on the same teams, has not only attracted attention among badminton fans, but has, more importantly, also played a part in the breaking down barriers between players from different cultures.
For Tarun Kona, one of two Indian players involved in it this year – the other being Ashwini Ponnappa – the gains have been immense. Kona and Ponnappa are on the Asian team alongside players like Tai Tzu Ying (Chinese Taipei), Yip Pui Yin (Chinese Taipei), Zheng Bo, Bao Chunlai (China) and Lee Hyun Il (Korea). Kona has played doubles with Bao Chunlai and Lee Hyun Il (both retired in recent times after prolonged stints in the top-five singles rankings) and Zheng Bo, one of the most formidable doubles players of his time. It’s the first time ever that an Indian and a Chinese have played doubles together.
“It’s been great for the two of us because we are getting to play with legends like Lee Hyun Il and Zheng Bo and Bao Chunlai,” said Kona, from Malaysia, “…and for me and Ashwini as a pair also it’s good because all the mixed pairs who are participating are higher ranked than us… most of them are in the top 12, so it’s a good learning experience and good for us as a pair to play competitive matches.”
But beyond the skills they have picked up and the high level of competition, Kona is pleased at the way players from different cultures have opened up as they are part of the same team. He talks warmly of his doubles partners, and is particularly surprised by the Chinese duo of Bao Chunlai and Zheng Bo. The Chinese are mostly non-communicative to non-Chinese speakers at international tournaments, and Kona was surprised that they have opened up to the rest of the Asian team. “Off the court also it’s fun,” he says. “They talk about their culture and how it is back at home… and we thought the Chinese wouldn’t talk much and all but once you start talking they are really nice and sweet… like Zheng Bo and Bao Chunlai treated the whole team for dinner after the first leg (of the tournament).”
Chunlai, who was perhaps the tallest singles player of his time and a formidable No.2 behind Lin Dan, knows a bit of English, but most of the communication between the two is done by Chinese Taipei’s Yip Pui Yin, who served as interpreter.
The other player in the team, Lee Hyun Il, was Korea’s best men’s singles player over the last decade. He bid farewell to international badminton after the Olympics, where he reached the semifinals and eventually lost the playoff for bronze medal to China’s Chen Long. “Lee Hyun Il is very cool… doesn’t talk much but is very nice and sweet… he helps us out during our training,” says Kona.
Apart from the Asian team, the Axiata Cup has Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam and Europe. The tournament features most of the brightest talent in the world, including Daren Liew, Chong Wei Feng (Malaysia); Sony Dwi Kuncoro, Simon Santoso, Tontowi Ahmad, Lilyana Natsir (Indonesia); Boonsak Ponsana, Ratchanok Intanon (Thailand); Derek Wong, Gu Juan (Singapore), Nguyen Tien Minh (Vietnam); and Carolina Marin (Spain), Nathan Robertson (England), Vladimir Ivanov and Ivan Sozonov (Russia).