The Star Online > Sports
Wednesday May 5, 2004
China’s weak link now a definite strong point

BY LIM TEIK HUAT

PETALING JAYA: The doubles have often been the weak link in the Chinese team for the Thomas Cup Finals.

But this has changed for the 23rd edition of the Finals, which will be played in Jakarta, beginning on Friday.

China now have two strong pairs to bank on for points – world number two Fu Haifeng-Cai Yun and sixth-ranked Sang Yang-Zheng Bo.

The emergence of these two promising pairs within a short period shows that China are serious in their efforts to wrest the world men’s team title for the first time in 14 years.

China last won the Cup in Tokyo 1990 – beating Malaysia in the final.


The two pairs were not even in the team for the last Finals, hosted by China in Guangzhou two years ago.

They were used as sparring partners for Zhang Jun-Zhang Wei and Chen Rui-Wang Wei.

But after China’s failure to reach the final in Guangzhou, their Indonesia-born coach Tang Hsienhu, better known as “The Thing” in the badminton fraternity, was asked to take over the training of the doubles players.

Hsienhu began to focus on bringing up the young pairs and he has done wonders to Haifeng-Cai Yun and Sang Yang-Zheng Bo.

The two pairs were ranked outside the top 150 when he started working with them last year.

But now they are major threats to the world’s top pairs from South Korea, Indonesia and Denmark.

And there is the formidable line-up of men’s singles players.

Dubbed the “Fab Four” by the Chinese press, Lin Dan, Chen Hong, Bao Chunlai and Xia Xuanze have been regularly challenging for major titles on the international circuit since last year.

Lin Dan, yet to turn 21, is already the winner of the Danish, Hong Kong and China Opens, which carry six-star status on the circuit.

He is now the current world number one.

This year, he won the All-England and Swiss Open titles and will be a strong favourite to win the gold medal in the Athens Olympics.

China can depend on him to deliver the first point for the team in the Thomas Cup Finals.

Bao Chunlai, the 2000 world junior champion, reached the final of the Swiss and Japan Opens this year while Chen Hong, who held the world number one position before he was toppled by Lin Dan, proved that he is back on track after reaching the final of the Korean Open.

Both players are expected to play in the second singles, depending on the tactical decisions made by chief coach Li Yongbo.

In this situation, other teams may have a chance of stealing a point.

The two players have suffered unexpected defeats on the international circuit when under pressure.

Xuanze defeated Chen Hong in the Korean Open to win his first international title since claiming the world crown in Birmingham last August.

If Xuanze were to play at third singles, China will definitely have an experienced and steady player to bank on in a deciding match.

China have been reported to be very thorough in their preparations for this Finals.

Yongbo has constantly exposed his charges to simulation training methods.

Taped recordings of spectators cheering and jeering at the previous Finals in Jakarta in 1994 were played at full blast while the players trained.

For the Finals this time, China are the top seeds and they are in Group A with defending champions Indonesia and the United States.

Either China or Indonesia are expected to play against Malaysia in the quarter-finals.

Malaysian coach Misbun Sidek feels that China are looking stronger than ever to regain the Cup.

“They have the luxury of shuffling their singles line-up. Even the reserve, Chen Yu, is capable of beating anyone,” said Misbun.

“It will not be any easy for any team to beat them this time.

“They have two reliable doubles pairs, who are known for their speed and aggressive play.”

But it remains to be seen whether the current crop can put an end to China’s poor record in the team competition over the last decade. After lifting the Cup in 1990, China have reached the final only once – in 2000 and they were beaten 0-3 by Indonesia.