XD: SECOND TIME FOR CHAU, FIRST FOR LEE
Mixed doubles between Hong Kong and China was characterised almost entirely by short rallies in the first game owing to mutual esteem. Hong Kong's Chau Hoi Wah / Lee Chun Hei Reginald had been beaten three times previously by their opponents of today Bao / Liu but but meeting in a Superseries final today earned them justified newfound respect from the Chinese.
Liu Cheng took it up a notch at 10-11 and 19-20. He knew it was a key moment psychologically at the former stage and it's-now-or-never at the latter. The first paid off and the second which was game point went their opponent's way and the crowd loved the fireworks of a long rally full of bang-bang missiles.
Frown lines appeared on Bao Yixin's face early in the second game in contrast to non-verbal high five encouragement between the Hong Kong pairing. Big occasion tension followed into the second game. Bao Yixin's serve into the net was followed by Lee Chun Hei's. Hong Kong earned the 4 points outright from 15 onwards to pile on the pressure, being just two points from victory. Two factors turned the tide: anxiousness led to switching on conservative play got the better of Lee as well as accidentally letting Bao Yixin back into the rallies especially at the forecourt. This made the difference to tying the match at same score for the sixth seeded Chinese, 21-19.
A rattled Hong Kong fell behind at the start of the third game but nerves also grabbed hold of Bao on easy kills to help them back in. Next, it was China's turn to be rattled by a comeback when the opponents sneaked ahead 11-10 at the final change of ends care of simple errors by Bao. Chau/Lee unbelievably regrouped completely fresh and raced ahead, collecting the biggest bunch of points quickly with minimal resistance while Liu still had his mind on the line call challenge that didn't go his way at 10-10. Lee learnt the lesson of the second game and forbade nerves or mind wandering to get the better of him when having the luxury of a 5 point lead again. The pair with the plan and being able to recover from nerves sooner won today, 21-19, 19-21, 21-15.
"I want to thank my parents, my coach and partner. They make it possible for me achieve what I did today. I wish I could explain to you how amazing our teamwork transfored to rise to the challenge and the joy of playing all these special players this week", enthused Chau afterwards.
Her partner Lee was grateful she stuck by him after the upsetting conclusion to the second game. It is Hong Kong's first trip to the peak of a Superseries podium in a week that saw Chau/Lee beat three top 10 pairs in a row they've failed to overcome in the past. Deserved 2015 champions and a second time for Chau at the Australian Open.
WD: TANG VS TANG
In the All-China women's doubles final, the first game lacked a sense of urgency with Ma Jin / Tang Yuanting taking it narrowly over defending champion Tian Qing with new partner Tang Jianhua, a former world #2.
Tian Qing, once considered the most exciting and adaptable woman in international doubles, showed she's no slouch in this new partnership whereas previously with Zhao Yunlei she was assigned to be rear court admiral. Being able to end rallies immediately at the net reminded spectators she used to be world #3 in mixed doubles.
In the second game, the shortest and smallest of the four women on court, Ma Jin, decided that her side should take the energetic approach which now differentiated them from their compatriots in the blue kit. It didn't pay immediate dividends of securing the second but it engaged her partner Tang Yuanting who is the youngest of the bunch.
There was nothing separating Ma Jin and Tian Qing's captaining contributions. Each Tang, Yuanting and Jianhua provided the firepower for their teams and it would either be the more consistent Tang or the one who can smash through the other side who would go ahead in the decider. Tang Jianhua has been providing high quality, solid, unflashy support all week actually fulfilled both these criteria and guaranteed their reaching match point.
All four ladies went for broke and Ma Jin leveled at 20-20. At deuce where anything can happen, the pair that had practiced being energetic already overtook as the new champions, 19-21, 21-16, 22-20.
MS: TALLER VS TALLEST
World #1 Chen Long met the only one in men's singles who can smash sharper than him which is Denmark's Viktor Axelsen. The Dane went in with a plan to open strongly but got caught in the patient game of Chen Long which garnered the Chinese the first game 21-12.
If left unchecked the consequences for the Dane would have been the same in the second game. At 8-10 down in the second, Axelsen made the change of pace that was enough to stop being strung along by Chen but not overblown to tempt the dragon out of the lair as Chen overall possesses greater range of shots, strategic vision and experience. After winning six points straight, Axelsen shifted into gear of his original plan which is using his natural gifts of extra height on smashes and simply hitting freely. It worked effectively as it did against Lin Dan whenever Axelsen is ahead and the opponent is in a worried state.
The third game opened with Chen willing to match Axelsen in action mode. The Chinese can play the Dane's kind of style and superior thus gaining the advantage again. Leading on the scoreboard, Chen returned to the patient game to see whether Axelsen would take a risk again or just play into his hands. The Dane took a risk on raising the tempo to narrow the gap but never close it. The concentration required to repeatedly win points against one as stable as Chen Long nowadays was too demanding and two unforced errors creeped in, one was an easy forehand lift that went well wide. Chen eventually snatched the match on an overturned line call that he challenged, 21-12, 14-21, 21-18.
WS: HIGH VS HIGHER
As it stands, Spain's Carolina Marin can do what Wang Shixian of China is capable of but with more muscle. That's not to say it was a power game but the European has the natural edge in a key department. Wang became quickly aware that she has to recognise the key moments within a rally and move quicker than normal to address the shuttle in a sweet spot just to keep pace. To create options, Wang would need to travel even quicker on top of that.
Not only is speed required but balance at the point of impact too in order to hit decent shots. Like she did against Bae, Wang scared her opponent by equalising at the end of the first game but Marin isn't Bae and didn't drop her quality in the last two points and took it 22-20.
Today Wang was not given the opportunity to threaten Marin but managed to stay in the match until such time as the Spaniard might break flow which just never happened. It was women's singles of two players at full top level capacity. Wang's already always high level brought out the full potential of Marin too who soared at a higher altitude to win 22-20, 21-18 in two games. The 2014 runner-up became the 2015 Australian Open champion.
"My legs became tired but I tried to fight hard especially keep the shuttle in when Wang Shixian caught up in the first game", explained the winner as she saw things.
MD: DEFENCE KINGS
Facing another tall Chinese pair one after another, Yoo Yeon Seong / Lee Yong Dae of Korea had the reflexes practiced for the general expectations as far as similarities went.
China's Liu Cheng in his second final of the day showed no signs of fatigue however his side were left flat footed three times in the first 10 points by Korean dropshots, twice from Yoo's racquet by 2-0.
In the first game, the Koreans were successfully at creating discomfort for their opponents mainly as a result of their natural variation of play and mixing up the speed of the shuttle. Also, the Koreans tended to smash against out of balance or out of position opponents whereas the Chinese assaults were akin to punching through a brick wall as it was at times when the Koreans were usually ready side by side. In the second game, Liu/Kai maintaining a lead from the outset altered the colour of the reply shots. The Korean's smashes turned less red hot and proceedings somewhat resembled yesterday's high octane Korea-China rallies rather than one pair simply outsmarting the other.
The readjusted Koreans concentrated on defending better instead with attacking becoming a secondary weapon. Yoo/Lee didn't have to create this dimension out of desperation rather it is second nature to them. They were the only successful defending champions this week, 21-16, 21-17.