The dream final is off!
Shi Yuqi crashed the much-anticipated finals-day party at the YONEX All England Open Badminton Championships which fans were hoping would feature Men’s Singles icons and arch-rivals, Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei.
A packed but hushed Barclaycard Arena watched in disbelief today as the 21-year-old Chinese (featured image) beat the two-time Olympic champion and last year’s All England winner – 24-22 21-11 – to book a place opposite the top seed and world No.1 Malaysian in tomorrow’s showdown.
Leading his junior compatriot 20-18 in a close opening game, Lin seemed to be calmly setting about his task when, suddenly, he appeared lacklustre in his shot selection and plummeted to defeat. Seizing the opportunity, Shi maintained his composure for arguably the biggest triumph of his blossoming career.
“I’m very happy because it’s my first All England and I beat Lin Dan to reach the final,” said a joyous Shi.
“I hope I can keep that up for tomorrow. Obviously Lee Chong Wei has better capabilities and more speed than me but I’m going to try my best.”
Earlier, Lee – who had been doubtful of even playing in Birmingham due to injury – swept into the final, thanks to a masterful 10-21 21-14 21-9 comeback against Chou Tien Chen. The latter may have fancied his chances when he ran away with the first game, but Lee settled into a good rhythm, picking up his pace and attack as they switched sides. The king of the court was soon in command and, despite the odd flourish from across the net, it was increasingly obvious who would survive the test.
The sports-loving crowd – some live-streaming Six Nations rugby on their phones – cheered Lee’s every shot, whether crafty skills at net or sizzling smashes that rendered Chou helpless. Flinging his arms in the air as he prevailed in an absorbing rally that took him to 17-7 in the decider, the 34-year-old bore down on the finish line clinically and savoured victory with his coach when it came.
“I have nothing to lose. I am not 100 per cent fit but I came to enjoy All England. I couldn’t figure him out in the first game but I changed my tactics in the second game and attacked more. I hope I can play well tomorrow,” said a beaming Lee.
On the adjoining court, Lee’s opposite number – Women’s Singles top seed and world No.1 Tai Tzu Ying – was securing her finals berth, coming from a game down to oust Sung Ji Hyun: 11-21 21-14 21-14. The Chinese Taipei player’s racket wizardry, mixed with sharp smashes, again proved too much for her Korean opponent. While the men’s finale may not have worked out how fans wanted, the Women’s Singles category has served up a sumptuous prospect with Ratchanok Intanon advancing to battle Tai for the title. The two 22-year-olds are arguably the most naturally skilled exponents in their field and, if both play their best, it will be hard to predict a winner.
“I am more experienced now. I know what it takes to win and I will be able to handle the situation better than in 2013,” assessed the Thai star who was runner-up to Denmark’s Tine Baun four years ago.
Intanon got past Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi, 22-20 21-16, in a tight contest.
Meanwhile, Chris Adcock is likely to have nightmare about the broken racket string which he suffered on match point versus Lu Kai/Huang Yaqiong. One point away from their first All England final, the host nation’s darling duo could not get the job done and lived to regret it as their Chinese opponents – who had been 16-12 up in the third game – clawed back to snatch a nail-biting 19-21 21-12 22-20 success.
“We were nervous but we kept encouraging each other. We are confident we can win the final,” said Huang whose tenacity in key rallies proved critical.
They will face Chan Peng Soon/Goh Liu Ying for the prestigious championship as the Rio 2016 silver medallists became the first Malaysian pair to reach the All England Mixed Doubles final. For Goh it has been a courageous return after once more being plagued by knee injuries.
“This is my second event back and I am really happy to be in the All England final. It was a tough match but our experience was an advantage,” said a thrilled Goh after beating young Japanese Yuta Watanabe/Arisa Higashino, 21-17 21-15.
Men’s Doubles will be a shoot-out between two exciting duos, Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen (China) and Indonesia’s Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo, while Denmark’s Christinna Pedersen/Kamilla Rytter Juhl must conquer their second Korean pair in two days as they take on Chang Ye Na/Lee So Hee for the Women’s Doubles crown.