AUSTRALIAN OPEN R16 – What actually happened in the last match of the night?

Drama mixed with entertainment fueled the marquee singles matches.

By Aaron Wong, Badzine Correspondent live in Sydney.  Photos: Badmintonphoto (archives)

World #3 vs world #27

The ultra-popular and charismatic 2021 Huelva World Champion Loh Kean Yew needed three nervous uncharacteristic unforced errors committed by China’s Li Shi Feng (pictured top) in the last handful of points to move into the quarterfinals, 21-10, 12-21, 23-21.

What happened in the second game?

A summary of what happened before is crucial o appreciate the richness of it all. Loh had blown Li completely out of the water before the change of ends with his unreachable and unreadable smashes.

Next, the contrast was stark. The landscape was completely different. The Singaporean who had been dictating proceedings simply didn’t anymore and not so much because Li deliberately took over.

An opera analogy is useful here. As many a colourtura singer who’ve starred in Mozart’s The Magic Flute have admitted, you only have so many high notes in one night. Of its 100 minutes run time, the exhilarating peaks are all performed across just three minutes.

There was such a similarity in athleticism in this match. Universally at the elite level of badminton, the athlete knows their own way of warming into a match and for Loh it meant going full steam and veered into giving 10% extra in the opening game.

Hence, he had to be content with being quite average by his standards after the first two minutes interval. Also, Loh’s feel for the angles and dimensions of the court was no longer as instinctive after swapping sides which does happen to any badminton player, competitive or social.

Closing moments

Li, China’s third highest ranked player, steered through the changing extremes of weather of the match with consistent composure as is typical of the baseline men’s singles style from his country and with the aid of coaching from 1999’s World Champion Sun Jun and one-time Superseries winner Qiao Bin.

Sadly for Li, he became self-conscious on his two hard earned match points and sprayed cross-court half smashes wide when he wasn’t under pressure to deliver that stroke.

The exit

Afterwards Li Shi Feng stopped to oblige every photo request from with a small throng of fans who waited at the exit for half an hour until a half hour before midnight. Loh Kean Yew (pictured above) emerged right after and acquiesced his fans while walking and flanked by his teammates Yulia Jin / Crystal Wong who’d narrowly missed out on causing a big upset in women’s doubles had they beaten twice former-World Champions Mayu Matsumoto / Wakana Nagahara.

Universal storylines

Several variations of the steady player versus the creative one unfolded throughout Day 3 in Sydney.

Li Shi Feng stayed ultra-steady without being creative and he nearly got the job done until he stopped being himself for a moment.

Matsumoto/Nagahara were the usually creative players who weren’t. The heavily favoured Japanese had to reply heavily on their drilled defensive responses. The Singaporeans forced the match to go the distance by patiently and consistently looking for interceptions in the front court especially against Matsumoto.

Pai Yu Po had to summon her own reserves of creativity and steadiness at the right moments against her impressively solid all-rounder compatriot Yu Chien Hui.

The top seeded Malaysian Lee Zii Jia dazzled the crowd with relentless commitment to unfathomable net shots despite sustaining an injury and bowing out to China’s world #19 and 2018 Australian champion Lu Guangzu (pictured above).

Afterimage: A significant World Tour 300 condition

Knowing that a World Tour 300 event not only entails less prize money but also thousands of dollars saved on customised lighting explains a lot about why the best players in the world at times appear as human as the rest of us.

The stadium lighting is bright enough overall but does have regular blinding moments when staring up which isn’t a problem whenever for those engaged in fast flat rallies.

Putri Kusuma Wardani (pictured above) also missed a sitting duck shot on Court 3 at virtually the same spot as Ng Tze Yong a day earlier.

To give you a better idea, I only looked up once for a few seconds while standing in the middle of Court 4 and continued to “see” lingering brightness on my retina after turning away. This is known as an afterimage, the same consequence as when a photo is taken of you with the flash on.

This factor certainly added tension to the Loh-Li encounter with every mishit by the former World Champion after the last interval while he was still behind in the score line.

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