Monday, May 21, 2018
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO
Algeria’s men and France’s women were no match for powerhouses Denmark and China in their opening group ties of the TOTAL BWF Thomas & Uber Cup Finals 2018, but the debutants at the championships were revelling in the experience of competing alongside the world’s best teams.
Both teams had qualified for the World Men’s and Women’s Team Championships for the first time, and while they failed to prevent a 5-0 washout, they were confident of better times ahead.
As expected Viktor Axelsen bludgeoned Youcef Sabri Medel in the Thomas Cup Group D opening singles match, 21-4 21-8. Mohamed Abderrahime Belarbi kept Anders Antonsen on court for 12 minutes longer in the second singles but failed to get into double digits in either game (21-5 21-9).
“I haven’t played a player like Antonsen. It’s good for me. I want to work hard and do better against players like him,” said Belarbi.
“We are very happy to participate in this tournament. The match today was very hard for me and my teammates, but it’s a good experience for us. It’s good for the future. I live in France and I have a lot of friends and family who are following our results. It’s good for the development of badminton in Algeria and Africa. I live and train in France, like a couple of my teammates, Adel Hamek and Koceila Mammeri. We’re very happy and it’s a new experience for all of us. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it’s great for the next generation of players.”
Adel Hamek, Koceila Mammeri/Youcef Sabri Medel and Belarbi/Adel Hamek were also outclassed in the remaining matches, with Jan O Jorgensen, Mathias Boe/Mathias Christiansen and Mads Conrad-Petersen/Mads Pieler Kolding completing the rout.
“It’s an honour to represent our country at this event,” said Mammeri, who, like Medel and Belarbi, trains in France. “It’s a big chance for us to play strong players like Mathias Boe and Mathias Christiansen. We enjoyed the match and we did our best. It’s a big moment for Algeria as it’s our first time. It’s a great opportunity to play Denmark and Malaysia; we are enjoying the trip. We’re happy with the experience we’ve had so far.”
Uber Cup Finals debutants France came away from their Group D opener against second seeds China defeated but not dispirited.
Yaelle Hoyaux had her moments against He Bingjiao in the opening singles (21-14 21-13), while Emilie Lefel/Anne Tran had a 19-17 lead against Huang Dongping/Yu Zheng in the first doubles but failed to build on the advantage, going down 21-19 21-9.
Having had a chance to take the first game and blown it, Lefel was miffed with the result, but believed it held lessons for the future. “I think the first set was not bad, we tried to play our game and find good tactics, but they reacted well and we didn’t find a new solution and lost the first game. In the second we made many mistakes, so to be honest I’m frustrated,” said Lefel.
For her partner, there were some takeaways from the loss: “I don’t think we got anxious but we tried to end the rally too fast and we made some mistakes,” said Tran. “It’s a good experience to take and we know we aren’t that far from this level. I think it’s a great experience to be at the Uber Cup for the first time, and we’re very happy and we’ll try to enjoy the competition. Even if we didn’t play our best level today, it gave us a lot of confidence and we’ll try our best against the other teams.”
Gao Fangjie shut out Marie Batomene (featured image) 21-8 21-10 in the second singles before Huang Yaqiong/Tang Jinhua and Li Xuerui completed the whitewash, against Delphine Delrue/Lea Palermo and Katia Normano respectively.
“We can learn a lot from these great countries,” said Batomene. “I knew it could be very difficult against these players, but I’m trying to do my best. It’s nice to have the chance to play Gao Fangjie. We have to a lot to learn, in terms of being patient and building points. We hope we can qualify for the quarter-finals.”
Li Xuerui, playing her first big event since the Rio Olympics 2016, acknowledged that she would have to shepherd a young team that looked up to her for guidance: “As the most experienced player in the team, I came here to begin afresh and to gather our team as a unit to keep the Uber Cup in China. I always communicate with the young players and narrate my experienced. I appreciate their trust in me.”
Uber Cup top seeds Japan did not let their guard down against Canada, winning their second tie after yesterday’s defeat of Australia in Group A. Michelle Li was Canada’s best hope at taking a point off the Japanese, but Nozomi Okuhara stonewalled her attack in typical fashion (21-16 21-17) and set the stage for a 5-0 result.
Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota and Sayaka Sato followed Okuhara’s example with easy wins over Rachel Honderich/Kristen Tsai and Brittney Tam. Shiho Tanaka/Koharu Yonemoto and Sayaka Takahashi then completed the formalities for Japan beating Anne-Julie Beaulieu/Stephanie Pakenham (21-5 21-13) and Catherine Choi (21-10 21-11) respectively.
In Thomas Cup Group D, Malaysia did well to get past Russia without dropping a game. After Lee Chong Wei eased past Vladimir Malkov in the opening singles 21-9 21-6, Goh V Shem/Tan Wee Kiong had their hands full against Vladimir Ivanov/Ivan Sozonov. The Russians fought on level terms through the match, but the Malaysians were steadier at the death, and earned the second point for the team, following which the rest of the Russian challenge crumbled.