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The hall reverberated with calls in Mandarin and screams of ‘Chen Jin’. It seemed to me that I was somewhere in China, although I was actually in the heart of Sydney, at the Sydney Exhibition Centre in Darling Harbour, witnessing the men’s finals between Chen Jin and Tien Minh Nguyen at the 2012 Yonex Australian Open Badminton Championship.

The tournament was played from April 3 – 8 with an impressive draw of players (307 in all), including Ajay Jayaram and Kashyap Parupalli from India. There were many players from Australia too, but unfortunately both Indian and Australian players were knocked out, not even reaching the quarter finals of the tournament. The most impressive Indian player was Ajay, who went down fighting in a 3-set match against Wan Ho Shon. Although players came from Europe, Africa and South America, the domination of Asian countries, in particular China, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Malaysia, Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam, was overwhelming. As an indication of their might, from the quarter finals stage onwards there was only one representation of a non-Asian country – Poland. Once they were eliminated, it was an all-Asian affair from the semi-final stage.

Some of the highlights of the tournament included former world champion Taufiq Haidayat of Indonesia. Taufiq showed why he was once the world’s number 1, as he possesses one of the best backhand strokes in the game. He executed his backhand strokes, time and again, effortlessly and accurately. The crowd backed him and was sad to see him depart at the quarter finals at the hands of Sho Sasaki, last year’s winner. If I have to vote for the most devastating smashes in the singles games, it must go to Sho Sasaki. As a player of short stature, he leapt into the air, and unleased smashes at lightning speed. Rarely were they returned by his opponents. However, Tien Minh Nguyen, overcame him at the semi finals through sheer persistence and sound strategy of minimising his chances to smash.

The singles winner, Chen Jin, had a flawless game and his opponents could not exploit any chinks in his armour. He had an answer to everything that his final opponent, Tien Minh Nguyen, threw at him. The only threat he had was in the semi finals against Indonesian, Simon Santoso. Although Simon penetrated Chen’s defence but his undoing was his inconsistency as he committed many unenforced errors. Simon, like Taufiq, had a smooth backhand. The women’s singles was tame as Han Li of China had an easy win.

The doubles were generally fast and furious games. In the men’s doubles, a crowd puller was the pair of Markis Kido and  Hendra Setiwan. Whenever Kido leapt to smash, the crowd hooted for him. In the women’s doubles, the crowd loved the never-say-die attitude of Luo Ying and Luo Yu from China. The final of the mixed doubles was evenly fought. However, in the end, the Chinese Taipei pair of Fang Chieh Min and Lee Sheng Mu prevailed over the Malaysian duo. Another doubles pair that impressed me was the Indonesian pair of Angga Pratama and Ryan Agung Saputra who went down in the semi finals.

Now, a quiz question: What is the fastest racquet sport on earth? It’s badminton. At the women’s doubles the Luo pair smashed at 210 to 220 kmph. Chen Jin, in the finals, smashed at over 260 kmph. The fastest ever recorded badminton smash was by Malaysian player Tan Boon Heong at 421 kmph!

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