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Memories of the All England Badminton Championships

There couldn’t have been a more fitting finale to the 100th All England Open Badminton Championships on Sunday. Denmark’s Lars Paaske and Jonas Rasmussen saved four match points against compatriots Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen to win the men’s doubles title 26-24 in the third game, bringing to an end one of the most thrilling tournaments in recent times.

All England Badminton championship

All England Badminton championship

Through the week, the fact that this was the 100th edition of the world’s most famous tournament was on everybody’s mind. The All England is often compared to Wimbledon in tennis, but the contemporary scene is far removed from the romanticism that it is associated with. The problem with the All England is that its venue has constantly shifted, and so, most past players feel no affinity to the current location. One expected to see a galaxy of greats turn up — but disturbingly, the only ones who came were those who are still associated with the game as coaches or officials — Park Joo Bong, Rexy Mainaky, Poul-Erik Hoyer Larsen. Not even the legendary Judy Hashman, who won a staggering ten singles titles and 17 overall, arrived despite living in England. No special effort seems to have been made to ensure the presence of former greats — and thus we had the spectacle of the 100th All England without its greatest champions. Rudy Hartono was not there; neither was Erland Kops, Liem Swie King, Lene Koppen, Morten Frost, Prakash Padukone, and several other names whose identities are so closely linked to the All England.

The game thus suffers from a lack of initiative to highlight its past. History is dispensed with in a glass cabinet with old battledores and shuttlecocks; there is no deeper engagement. Indeed, it was left to the Badminton World Federation — and not Badminton England — to bring out a commemorative volume on the first 75 years of the BWF. It would have been more appropriate had the national association released a souvenir on the 100th year of the great event.

While its treatment of its own tradition left much to be desired, Badminton England’s conduct of the event was classic as always. As in other parts of Europe, an event of this nature is presented thoughtfully. The critical aspect is lighting, which Asian organisers ignore. The right lighting gives an electric ambience, and looks stunning on TV. Audience seats are lit up in red, and all other lights in the arena, except those for the court, are turned off. Thus, any movement among the spectators does not distract from the on-court action. These may seem minor but are important details.

The on-court action lived up to the event. All players were aware of the occasion, and eventually it was the friendly Malaysian and world no.1, Lee Chong Wei, who took the men’s singles title. Lee has been unfairly criticised in Malaysia for being a choker, but this time he kept his nerve. A long hug with coach Misbun Sidek — a losing finalist at the All England — said it all. There was much relief and celebration in the Malaysian camp, with Misbun, Rexy Mainaky and the others hugging everybody in sight. Just as he stepped off court, Lee received a call from the Malaysian Prime Minister who had stayed up all night to watch the match.

Tine Rasmussen might be ungaily and almost awkward for a badminton player, but her power and netplay gave her the title over China’s Wang Yihan. That China did not win either of the singles titles was a rare occurence.

The standout performer was world no.20 Kenichi Tago. The Japanese dazzled with his all-court ability and his courage under pressure — he kept believing even when the situation looked hopeless, and brought down three top-ten players in four days. Tago looks sound in all departments; as Mainaky observed, if Tago can keep his head, he could be a force to reckon with.

The Indians, excepting Saina Nehwal, were disappointing. Saina became only the fifth Indian in the semifinals of the All England; and by the look of things, she should be in many more to come.

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