OK, this will probably be my biggest post for a while, but I have a lot to tell after the weekend! Possibly some controversial thoughts as well.I had not been to the All England for 3 years so I was very much looking forward to this trip. I managed to get some great pictures, until a member of the Arena staff came over to tell me to put the camera away or it would be confiscated! I went down for the weekend with a few friends. I managed to miss the first 40 minutes or so on Friday, but still got to see some excellent stuff. I had not checked what seats I had for the 3 days, but I was delighted to find I had been given some of the best seats in the house. Row H, directly behind the middle court. A large group of Danes were directly in front of me, and provided a great atmosphere. As it was a bit quieter on Friday I didn't use these seats for the whole time. I wanted a bit of legroom to stretch out in after being stuck in the car for four and a half hours on the way down! So I moved a little further back and met some people I knew. Some of the memorable games on the Friday were: Bao vs Chen While there were some excellent rallies in this match, when it finished I had some strange thoughts. Bao was very solid for almost 2 sets, but near the end of the second set he just fell apart for no obvious reason. This continued throughout the 3rd set, and Chen was not particularly challenged. It did not seem to me that Chen was doing anything any differently to the beginning of the match. I was left rather puzzled. Lin Dan vs Lee Hyun Il There were some incredibly long rallies in this match, but to me it seemed that Lin Dan was coasting around the court, not playing at full pace. I had never seen Lee play before so I didn't know if this was his normal style of play. After winning the first set and being in a commanding postion in the 2nd, Lin suddenly lost focus for a few points and allowed Lee to take the set. In the 3rd set Lin came out with more urgency and was fairly comfortable in taking the win. I thought this match might take its toll for Saturday, but this did not seem to be the case. Blair & Munt vs Laybourn and Juhl I was very impressed with Juhl in this game, she dominated at the net and was also a force from the back of the court. It was also nice to watch Thomas play for the first time. Somehow from a clear position of strength in the 3rd set Blair & Munt contrived to lose the game. I had to leave the main hall to meet my friend at the door to give him his ticket. When I left the score was 8-5, and I was told Blair/Munt then reached 10-5. When I got back to my seat it was 13-10 to Thomas! Widianto & Natsir vs Chen & Zhao At the beginning of this game Widianto looked like he wanted to be somewhere else! He didn't look interested until things started to get tight in the 2nd set having lost the first. Even at match point down he was defending as if he didn't have a care in the world! After winning the 2nd set he looked more fired up and the 3rd was fairly comfortable for them. At the time I was fairly sure they would easily beat whoever won the other quarter final in their half of the draw. How wrong I was! Wong Choong Hann vs Shoji Sato I was eager to watch this game, to see the giant killer Sato in action. He seemed tiny in comparison to Wong on court, but he covered the ground excellently. At the end of a tight first set Sato held his nerve well to frustrate Wong. Unfortunately for him he was completely outclassed in the next 2. I don't know whether it tiredness or nerves, but Sato was well off the pace. During this game Wong was supported very loudly by the Danish fans, and he came across to thank them afterwards, which was a nice touch. Hian & Limpele vs Cai & Fu This game was a joy to watch, the touch and skill of the indonesians against the power and speed of the Chinese. I felt sure during the 2nd set that the indonesians would win this, but the Chinese held their nerve. The score was stuck I think at 12-12 for about 6 service hands each before the Chinese finally moved off. Eng Hian really is a genius at the net, his touch and vision is something else. He has a beautiful sliced backhand return of serve that he uses a lot, which I am going to try and copy! In the end though Cai and Fu were simply too fast for the indons. Onto Saturday: Saturday was another excellent day. The only thing that spoiled it for me was the at one stage they put 3 games on that I wanted to watch at the same time. I didn't know which way to look, so I probably missed some crucial points in these games. I was disappointed to see that Mia seemed exhausted after only a couple of points of the first set against Xie! Her racket skills are quite simply superb but she looks badly out of shape. At the same time they had on Cai & Fu vs Ha & Yim, Laybourn vs Widianto & Mia vs Xie. But I am sure this was done so that there was only 1 court on when Robertson & Emms played (which I thought was a very poor, scrappy game!) Eriko Hirose vs Zhang Ning I was amazed during this game at how the diminutive Hirose covered the court with ease. Her footwork must be truly amazing! From distance, it seemed that she was about half the height of Zhang Ning, yet she managed to match her opponent during the long rallies. In the 3rd set there was more purpose and urgency to Zhang Ning's game and she took it fairly easily. Hirose is someone to watch for the future for sure though. JR & Paaske vs Yulianto & Hadiyanto What a match - for me the match of the tournament. JR and Lars used all of their skill to keep the shuttle low and flat for long periods, but they still were not able to kill of their opponents easily. At the end of the 3rd set Paaske was a revelation at the net, his low serving was outstanding and his intercepting superb. The Indonesians got demoralised, and there were some angry looks exchanged as they lost their cool at the end. I was delighted for JR and Paaske, they played the big points exceptionally well. And I got some good pics of this game too! Lin Dan vs Wong Choong Hann This was a great but very strange game. At no stage in the game was Wong able to produce clear winners. Lin Dan was able to retrieve absolutely everything that Wong threw at him, while being able to hit winners almost a will himself. To my mind his long game against Lee in the QF had no effect on Lin Dan. He just seemed to lose focus towards the end of the second set, and allowed Wong to run out to 14 from 9-9. In the 3rd set though Lin Dan was back to the form of the first set, and produced winner after winner. I was very puzzled during this game though because the Danish fans in front of me who had so loudly supported Wong on Friday turned against him and started shouting for Lin Dan. Even Li Yongbo looked visibly surprised by this when he turned around! Maybe they were all hungry like us, and fancied some Chinese for dinner like we did..... Chinese Dinner We left the arena and proceeded to go to a restaurant called Tin Tin (I think) all of 2 minutes walk away. As we went through the doors and up the stairs I was passed by none other than Bao Chunlai (he's very tall!). In the restaurant we had a quick look around - there were 4 members of the Japanese ladies team eating, and also some of the indonesians (Yulianto & Hadiyanto I think). This must be a good restaurant. As we settle down to eat my friend taps me on the shoulder. Lin Dan appears in the waiting area, by himself and is seated at the table next to us. As our mouths hit the floor, he was joined by Xie Xingfang! Imagine possibly the 2 best singles players in the world eating at the table next to us! I'm not exactly sure what he had, but he was only drinking coke (no alcohol obviously!). Perhaps I should have paid more attention to what food champions eat! I can certainly recommend the restaurant though, the food was excellent! (I had Kung Po chicken) Onto Sunday: There were people outside the arena looking for spare tickets as it was apparently sold out! Strange that there were quite a few unused seats inside though. I wasn't sure about the cheerleaders between sets though! MS Final I know this is controversial, but this final left a bad taste in my mouth. Lin Dan won the first with some ease, he was able to retrieve everything Chen Hong had and frustrate him, he was also able to produce clean winners, just like he could against Wong in the semi final. Chen Hong's only real weapon seemed to be his net play, which was a little inconsistent, but when it worked he produced some fine tumbling net shots clipping the tape. Unfortunately a different Lin Dan came out for the 2nd set. He did not seem push the rallies in the same way, and when he went for his winners he produced some wild shots. I thought he had maybe lost his focus a little and we would be in for a great 3rd set with him coming out fighting to defend his title. But he didn't seem to even try, and it was all over in just 11 minutes! At 14-1 down though Lin produced 2 clean winners again with some ease, that seemed to me to be a statement. The fact that he didn't seem particularly bothered about losing also said something to me. MD Final I was looking forward to this game immensely. Could JR and Lars repeat their semi final performance? They seemed fired up at the beginning, and my friend commented to me that JR didn't make a single mistake in the first 12 or so rallies. Unfortunately this spoiled it and the mistakes soon followed! I think JR and Lars were just a little jaded, their shots just didn't come off, it was a bit of an off day for them. Full credit to Cai & Fu though they played their usual high speed game, and they held their nerve at the end when there was a little controversy. I'm not sure what Cai was doing talking to Li Yongbo during the game, or what was said, but I thought the umpire should have tried to stop them. Can you send a coach off in badminton? I got some good pics from this game as well, before my battery ran out :-( LS Final This in my opinion was another strange game. The Zhang Ning that played this game was not the same on that played the day before. There was no purpose, no urgency or speed to her game at all. And she didn't look as if she cared either. If you can't be up for an All England final then what can you be up for? Xie Xingfang's reaction at winning was somewhat muted as well. For example it was nothing like Lin Dan's reaction at winning last year's final. It was not the reaction of a person who had fulfilled possibly a lifelong dream. MX Final While the atmosphere was excellent during this game, I thought it was a little over the top. For a start the crowd booed Thomas and Kamilla when they were announced. And they also booed them when they dared to hit some winners and win some points. This is not on in my book. Fair enough support the home players, but don't put down the good play of their opponents. Gail Emms' comments about playing in Asia looked ridiculous after this. In the first set 2 contentious decisions went their way at critical points. A shocking line call (I was looking right down the line), and a service fault against Juhl when she had sent Emms the wrong way. There might have been a bad call against Emms' serve in the first set as well, but the way she took it was poor. I didn't think this was a great game, I thought Juhl looked nervous at the net and was more comfortable smashing from the back (she has an amazing smash!). Nathan did well to play her out of the game in the second set though. As usual though I thought Robertson's mind was wandering for spells of the second set. I have to wonder how good could he be if he could focus properly. I gather as well that the 'no photography' rule went out of the window during and after this game! It seemed as if half the crowd had their cameras out! LD Final I couldn't stay for all of this, but managed to watch the first set. Huang Sui's defence was outstanding and I think they were probably deserved winners. Pics to follow!