Dubai: Shock and awe rocked the opening day of the Blue Ocean Badminton Asia Mixed Team Championship at the Expo-City Dubai Exhibition Centre on Tuesday. South Korea stunned Singapore, led by world No 8 Loh Kean Yew, while the sizeable crowd were in awe of stars like P.V. Sindhu and H.S. Prannoy along with the budding UAE stars, who showed tremendous grit against a fancied Malaysia at the makeshift courts.
The day began with South Korea shocking Singapore in the morning, while the afternoon session had plenty of cheering for the UAE players, who played alongside India. While India cantered to a 5-0 win over Kazakhstan, Malaysia had to dig deep to beat the UAE team, made up of Emiratis and expatriates with an average age of 15.
It was a trial by fire for UAE teenager Bharath Latheesh, who faced world No 4 Lee Zii Jia in his first international outing.
Bharath started UAE’s campaign on a positive note, fighting tooth and nail against the Malaysian star. The DPS Dubai Grade 9 student, in fact, held a slender lead in the second game before the Lee raced away to a 21-12, 21-15 victory in 31 minutes. Those minutes on the court should be unforgettable experience for the UAE teenager, who has not played at such a big venue before.
Bharath, talking about his experience on the big stage, said: “It’s really a great experience and I played one of the greatest players in the world. I wanted to give my best in my first game,” said Bharath after his loss, still beaming with a smile after showcasing talent. “It was a dream come true. This was my first international competition and I am going back with a lot of learning experiences. I will have to train more, probably 10 times more than I have been working now.”
After training in a small court, the 15-year-old neither got overawed by the occasion, nor the huge setting.
“I train in a small court and it’s the first time I am playing in such a big court,” he said, adding that he does three training sessions daily. “Fitness at a ground near my house and then practice in the morning at my academy, while I play at school courts in the evening. My school has been a tremendous support for me.”
India started with a victory given by Dubai-born Tanisha Crasto, who partnered Ishaan Bhatnagar, to breeze to a straight-game win. India’s aces Sindhu and Prannoy also had a smooth sailing against Dmitriy Panarin and Kamila Smagulova respectively, winning in straight games.
“It was a good match. Both the matches started rusty from my side. 2022 has been good for me; lot of consistent performances. This year is an Olympic qualification year so, lot of work needs to be done. The focus is to keep playing well and being healthy,” said Prannoy.
Sindhu, who is playing for the first time in six years in Dubai, when she played in the World Tour finals, was cheered by a vociferous crowd and the two-time Olympic medallist is hoping to see the support continue for the whole week.
“It was a good start and we hope to continue the same way the whole week,” Sindhu, world No 9 told after her win.
No fitness worries
“Fitness wise everything is fine. Today was a relatively easier match and round by round it is going to be harder, so I have to be prepared for long matches and long rallies. Not easy points anymore,” added the 2019 world champion, who is returning after a four-month injury layoff.
The next game for Sindhu and India is against the hosts UAE, which has a number of young Indian expatriates. So how will she handle the young side?
“A game is a game. Against any country we have to give our best as Team India. We have to give our 100 per cent no matter who the opponent is. I have been watching them play. Tomorrow it is going to be the same and we give our best,” said Sindhu, setting the record straight.
Hard work is the key
However, the champion was willing to give the youngsters an advice to reach the top. Nothing but hard work and continuous learning is her mantra.
“Need to work hard in any match and any game. To come up to a level and maintain it, the only thing required is the hard work. It’s a process and keep learning every single day, how much ever you have achieved. The only suggestion I would give to everybody is that you have to be focused on skills, strategy,” she concluded.
Heavyweights Indonesia, China, Thailand all started on a winning note with Indonesia scoring two victories, against Lebanon and Syria.
However, the opening clash of the Asian Badminton Mixed Team Championship gave a glimpse of what is in store as Korea stunned the fancied Singapore 5-0. Trailing 2-0 after losing the mixed doubles and women’s singles, Singapore depended heavily on Loh Kean Yew to lead the comeback and keep them in the match.
However, the world No 8 found it hard to beat Lee Yun Gyu, ranked 239 in the world in three games. Lee gave Korea the upper hand by winning the first game 21-10 only to find the higher-ranked rival Loh staging a comeback by winning the closely fought second game 21-18. The third went in the Korean’s favour to give the biggest shock of the tournament so far.
“I was nervous before the match as Loh Kean Yew is one of the top players and he plays a high-pace game. I tried to match his pace, waited for my chances and focused on my defensive game. He was making a lot of mistakes today,” said Lee.
In another close game, Hong Kong China edged out Chinese Taipei 3-2 late in the day.
Group A: Korea beat Singapore 5-0
Group C: Indonesia beat Lebanon 5-0
Group A: China beat Uzbekistan 5-0
Group C: Thailand beat Syria 5-0
Group B: Malaysia beat UAE 5-0
Group B: India beat Kazakhstan 5-0
Group D: Hong Kong China beat Chinese Taipei 3-2
Group D: Japan beat Pakistan 5-0
Group C: Bahrain beat Lebanon 5-0
Group C: Indonesia beat Syria 5-0