Withstanding a small initial dent, the ‘Great Wall’ stood firm against all the firepower Malaysia could muster this afternoon, magnificently defending their country’s honour in the final of the BWF World Junior Mixed Team Championships 2017.
Perennial powerhouse, China, decisively retained the gleaming Suhandinata Cup, 3-1, to celebrate a remarkable 12th title in the prestigious tournament. Across the net from the same rivals whom they beat 3-0 in Spain last November, China’s players had to dig a little deeper on this occasion, with Malaysia striking an early blow in the opening Mixed Doubles encounter in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
While the hard-fought 21-12 9-21 21-17 result by Man Wei Chong/Tan Koong Le stirred Malaysian hopes, it stoked the fire in China’s belly and the proud title-holders rose to the challenge emphatically, seizing the next three matches, including both singles events on which Malaysia had been desperately depending.
It took Gao Zhengze just 38 minutes to put China level, dismantling Leong Jun Hao, 21-14 21-18, in Men’s Singles. Malaysia’s Asian Junior champion looked a shadow of self-assured figure he had cut all week. The expectation of his 30 million compatriots appeared too weighty for his still-maturing shoulders. His head coach would later confirm as much.
Having been thwarted in the mixed discipline (with Li Wenmei), Fan Qiuyue was determined he would not cost his country again. His power-hitting from the baseline, blending with Wang Chang’s all-court efficiency, overwhelmed their Men’s Doubles rivals. Every attempt by Chang Yee Jun/Ng Eng Cheong to get a grip on the match was snuffed out by China. Malaysia’s commendable fightback to 19-19 in the first game from 11-17 adrift came to nought and, in the second, their decent 13-8 advantage was clinically eroded; China conquering 21-19 21-17.
Then out strode Goh Jin Wei and Han Yue; the latter sitting pretty with China’s 2-1 aggregate in her favour while Goh was charged with keeping Malaysia in the hunt. Han rushed ahead in the Women’s Singles clash as her opponent – despite being a veteran at junior level – struggled noticeably. The Chinese player’s score ticked over speedily – 12-6 turning to 15-10 and soon to 21-16. Gritty Goh fought back brilliantly to open gaps of 17-9 and 20-14 in the second game but high drama ensued as Han snatched six straight points that brought Chinese fans to their feet with the score at 20-20.
Two more points and the tie would be over!
Somehow, Goh summoned the willpower to grab those points and force a decider but the tide had shifted decisively and Han would not be denied, displaying a relentless resolve as a flurry of errors came from Goh’s racket. The end was swift; another shuttle straying wide from the out-of-sorts Malaysian. The entire Chinese delegation stormed the court as confirmation flashed in neon: 21-16 20-22 21-8.
“I was slightly concerned after losing Mixed Doubles but we have great teamwork and the other players did well,” said China’s head coach Wang Wei, savouring his first success in that capacity.
“Malaysia was strong in singles but we did a lot of training in those events which helped us win both of them today.”
Singled out for praise by Wang, 17-year-old Han was thrilled to complete China’s mission, saying she did not want to let her team down.
Taking the defeat in stride, Malaysian head coach Kwan Yoke Meng noted that while his team have improved since last season, there’s still work to be done if they want to overcome China.
“We need to work harder to come back stronger next year. I thought we had a very good chance this year, with Mixed Doubles and the singles. Unfortunately for us, the Chinese played well under pressure. They performed well. I must congratulate them.”
By contrast, he added, Malaysia’s athletes succumbed to pressure and did not perform their best against the ‘Great Wall’ which Kwan was hoping to crack.
FEATURED IMAGE: China’s Han Yue (left) and Fan Qiuyue hoist the Suhandinata Cup during the presentation ceremony.