Tuesday, May 14, 2019
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO
The most striking feature of the first decade of the millennium was how completely China dominated badminton, particularly in the team events.
In the Sudirman Cup, China picked up their fourth straight title in 2001, beating Indonesia 3-1 in the final in Seville.
While earlier editions had seen teams like Korea, Indonesia and Denmark challenge and sometimes get the better of China, no team could match their overall strength in the late 1990s and 2000s. Players like Gong Zhichao in women’s singles, Gao Ling/Huang Sui in women’s doubles, and Zhang Jun/Gao Ling in the mixed gave the Chinese a depth that no other team had.
Despite the strength at their disposal, China slipped at the next edition, in 2003 to Korea, who banked on their strength in men’s doubles and mixed doubles to upset China. Kim Dong Moon/Ra Kyung Min and Lee Dong Soo/Yoo Yong Sung won two of the paired events, while Lee Hyun Il captured the pivotal men’s singles to help Korea to a 3-1 result in Eindhoven, Netherlands.
China struck back stronger than ever. Over the next six editions, they wouldn’t drop a single match in any final – walloping Indonesia (2005, 2007), Korea (2009), Denmark (2011) and Japan (2013) in a blitzkrieg that saw them scoop ten titles in eleven editions.
China had the system – and perhaps the good fortune – to unveil several gems who would do them great service over the years – players like Lin Dan, Zhang Ning, Cai Yun, Fu Haifeng, and others who kept up China’s dominance in the first decade of the millennium. There was no lag in one generation replacing another – in women’s singles, for instance, there was seamless transition from the likes of Gong Zhichao and Gong Ruina to Xie Xingfang and Zhang Ning.
In women’s singles and women’s doubles, China were way ahead of the competition – a fact reflected in the Uber Cup as well, which saw the Chinese grab all the titles from 1998 to 2008. This depth gave China an unbeatable edge in team competition.
Concurrently, China’s great rivals appeared to suffer a drought in unveiling new talent across all five categories. There were stalwarts like Taufik Hidayat, Nova Widianto, Liliyana Natsir for Indonesia; Lee Yong Dae, Lee Hyo Jung and Jung Jae Sung for Korea; and Peter Gade, Tine Baun and others for Denmark but collectively, no team could prevent China from achieving their succession of title victories.
By the end of the first decade of the millennium, China had won seven titles from the last eight finals, setting a slew of records in their wake.