Backed by the might of Datuk Lee Chong Wei, and the strong support from Datin Seri Paduka Rosmah Mansor, Malaysia lifted the second edition of the Axiata Cup with a 3-1 demolition of Thailand at the Kuala Lumpur Badminton Stadium in Cheras today.
The World No 1 answered the clarion call by the BA of Malaysia and National singles head coach Rashid Sidek on the eve of the final clash, just 48 hours after becoming a father with the birth of his son Kingston Lee.
Malaysia walked away with the winner’s cheque of US$400,000 which was presented by the wife of the Prime Minister. Thailand picked up US$200,000 while All-Star Asia, who had earlier in the day flayed Indonesia 3-1, won the third prize worth US$150,000. The Indonesians settled for US$100,000 after producing one of their worst performances in recent times.
“I wanted to help the team in their final match, and make it special for the fans too,” said Chong Wei during the post match press conference. “Now, I will take a short break and concentrate on fatherhood before preparing for the Sudirman Cup. I am not so sure about competing in the India Open. I will discuss it with my coaches.”
Rashid said the panel of coaches had decided that Malaysia stands a better chance of defeating Thailand with the presence of Chong Wei in the team though he believe that Liew Daren and Chong Wei Feng are capable of weathering the storm.
“It was a tactical move and with Chong Wei around we were confident of taking the men’s singles, mixed doubles and men’s doubles. This has been a great moment for us despite going through some tough moments in the earlier rounds.” said Rashid.
The atmosphere turned out to be electrifying from the very beginning when Sonia Cheah took to the court against All-England runners-up and three-time World Junior champion Ratchanok Inthanon. The Malaysian, who turns 20 in June, however, could not match the speed and experience of the Thai and went down 16-21.
In the second game, Ratchanok, ranked World No 8, proved her mettle and courtplay superiority with overhead smashes and deceptive netplay and rattled Sonia en route to a 21-17 victory, giving Thailand the much needed confident start.
With the Thais going 1-0 up, it was now left to the mixed-doubles pair of Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying to pacify the fans that were restless following Sonia’s defeat. The World No 5, however, were in their element against Sudket Prapakamol-Saralee Thoungthongkam as they cruised to a 21-16, 21-15 victory to level the scoreline 1-1.
The fans were by now already clamouring for Chong Wei to shut out the Thais in this crucial men’s singles tie, the third match of the night, against Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk whom he had last beaten at the semi-finals stage of this year’s All-England championships.
Roared on by the fans, Chong Wei rocked the stadium with his typical brand of net play and leaping smashes to lead 11-7 at the mid game break, and later leading 17-9 with that serious intent to win the match. He eventually took the first game 21-12.
In the second game, Chong Wei led 11-9 in midgame break and then rolled seven straight points to take a 17-9 lead. But the determined Thai, not wanting to admit defeat, pulled back nine points but could not sustain the pace enabling Chong Wei to win 21-18, and ensuring a 2-1 win in Malaysia's favour.
Going into the final match of the night – the men’s doubles with a 2-1 overall lead over Thailand, and a step closer to winning the Axiata Cup, the World No 2 pair of Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong easily brushed aside Boonsak Ponsana-Songphon Anugritayawon 21-10 in the first game and sealed the second 21-17 .
Meanwhile, the All-Star Asia-Indonesia tie turned out to be a one-sided affair, with the Indonesians down to 2-1at the end of the mixed doubles event. It was the deciding men's doubles that proved to be the turning point when All-Star Asia’s Bao Chun Lai-Zheng Bao won the first game 21-12 against Hendra Setiawan-Mohamad Ahsan.
However, the much dispirited Indonesia squad conceded defeat when Ahsan complained of a back injury and could not resume the match.
Indonesia’s team manager Herry I.P expressed his dismay at the overall performance of his players who came to Kuala Lumpur expecting to defend the title without much faze.
“It was a disappointing end to a disappointing tournament. I expected more from the players but they were not in the best of form. Many of them peaked for the All-England and are still recovering. I expect them to be back at their best for next month’s Sudirman Cup.” He said.
Indonesia's surprise 3-0 defeat to Thailand in Saturday’s semi-finals was the added motivation the players needed when they came up against each other this afternoon. But nothing went right for them from the very start.
Taiwanese Tai Tzu Ying was stretched by Lindaweni Fanetri in the opening women’s singles before winning 21-18, 22-20, her second victory over the Indonesian since the Chinese Taipei Open last year.
In the men’s singles, London Olympics bronze medalist Lee Hyun Il's victory over Dionysius Hayom Rumbaka, ranked World No 27, was a double elation for the South Korean, who celebrates his 33rd birthday on Wednesday, and his wife, You Here Sook, and daughter Lee Choe Won were amongst the spectators.
For someone, who stayed away from high level competitive badminton matches since the London Olympics, the left-handed Lee's performance earned a thunderous applause after he trounced Dionysius 21-19, 16-21, 21-6.
The Indonesians pulled a point back in the mixed doubles through Muhammad Rijal-Debby Susanto who won 16-21, 21-16, 21-15 over Tarun Kona-Ashwini Ponnappa. The Indian pair put up a determined display but eventually unforced errors and a far experienced Indonesian pair saw their defeat.
Results – Final: Malaysia 3 Thailand 1: Sonia Cheah lost to Ratchanok Inthanon 16-21, 17-21; Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying bt Sudket Prapakamol-Saralee Thoungthongkam 21-16, 21-15; Lee Chong Wei bt Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk 21-12; 21-18; Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong bt Boonsak Ponsana-Songphon Anugritayawon 21-10, 21-17.
Third-Fourth playoff - All-Star Asia 3 Indonesia 1: Tai Tzu Ying (Tai) bt Lindaweni Fanerti 21-18, 22-20; Lee Hyun Il (Kor) bt Dionysius Hayum Rumbaka 21-19, 16-21, 21-6; Tarun Kona-Ashwini Ponnappa (Ind) lost to Muhammad Rijal-Debby Susanto 21-16, 16-21, 21-15; Bao Chun Lai-Zheng Bao (Chi) bt Hendra Setiawan-Mohammad Ahsan 21-12 (rdt).
Final Standings: 1 Malaysia, 2 Thailand, 3 All-Star Asia, 4 Indonesia, 5 All-Star Europe, 6 Singapore, 7 Vietnam, 8 Philippines.