Finns Cherish Positives Despite Opening Loss

The intimate setting of Energia Arena provided the perfect ambience for the start of the TotalEnergies BWF Sudirman Cup Finals 2021 in Vantaa today as hosts Finland took on defending champions China.

Finland had set modest targets as they took on powerhouses China in Group A. All matches, expectedly, went to China in straight games, but the Finns were thrilled with the experience, and optimistic that the staging of such a major event would provide longer-term benefits to badminton in the country.

Mixed doubles player Jenny Nystrom said of the atmosphere that she’d never experienced anything like it, despite Nystrom and Anton Kaisti going down 21-3 21-9 to Olympic champions Wang Yi Lyu and Huang Dong Ping in the opening match of the tie.

“They’re so good that it’s impossible to do anything when we’re at our level. But it was really nice to play, the audience was nice and cheering, so that’s felt really good. I have not experienced this kind of audience cheering for me, so that was such a great experience.”

Nystrom was hopeful that the staging of the World Mixed Team Championships would showcase the best of badminton to those Finns not used to seeing badminton of this level.

“It’s an honour to be in the team and hopefully get younger players to see the sport and experience what it could be. It’s nice to show this is the real badminton, this is the level in the world. Even though we have been the best (mixed doubles pair) in Finland, this match showed our level in the world.”

Nella Nyqvist, just 15 years old, took on He Bing Jiao.

Finland had their chances in the men’s singles, with in-form player Kalle Koljonen – semifinalist at the European Championships – taking on Lu Guang Zu. Koljonen kept close in both games but was outplayed at the end, 21-16 21-19.

The left-hander noted that the cheering in the hall had presented a welcome break from the near-silent events of the COVID-19 era.

“It’s amazing that we get all the superstars of badminton here and I can see that people are enjoying this, and you can see how the crowd was loud. It’s a small hall but when we get it packed there’s still atmosphere, and after playing in empty halls, when you play with spectators you feel more alive. This is what you are meant to practice. And when they were shouting my name, I felt proud to represent Finland and thankful for the support.”

The attention on the sport before and during the Sudirman Cup, Koljonen hoped, would translate into attracting more players to the sport.

“I think people are excited and we’ve had more media coverage during these two weeks. I hope all youngsters have come to watch this. I hope that we’ll produce some excitement and more players to Finnish badminton. Then maybe we’ll start to have more players at the international level. This is a start.”

Of the generation that was likely to make an impact, he could well have been referring to Nella Nyqvist, just 15 years old and startled at the media attention after she was beaten 21-10 21-6 by He Bing Jiao.

“It was amazing and I don’t have any words. I was excited to play her. It feels good to be part of the team and it’s a one-in-a-lifetime event to be part of this,” said Nyqvist.

As men’s doubles player Jesper Paul expressed it: “It’s huge. I don’t think Finland has had something like this, ever. I hope Finnish people watch this and start playing badminton. It’s big for Finland and Europe.”

India Go Down to Thailand

Thailand eased past India 4-1 after losing their opening men’s doubles in Group A. World Junior champion Kunlavut Vitidsarn beat Kidambi Srikanth 21-9 21-19 to give the lead for Thailand, and the Thais built upon it, with Jongkolphan Kititharakul/Rawinda Prajongjai (women’s doubles) and Dechapol Puavaranukroh/Sapsiree Taerattanachai (mixed doubles) winning their respective matches.

In Group B, Chinese Taipei blanked Tahiti 5-0 without dropping a game.

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