Thursday, November 18, 2010

ASIAN GAMES IND. Day 2 – Liliyana: “We want gold”

Liliyana Natsir and Tontowi Ahmad stroked impressively for their first match in Guangzhou, for the first round of the mixed doubles individual event. In no time, they had sent packing Commonwealth Games gold medallist Koo Kien Keat along with his younger partner Woon Khe Wei.
By Raphael Sachetat, live from Guangzhou. Photos: Badmintonphoto (live)
The announcements from the local government that tickets would be put back on sale – after supposedly sold out venues were found to be half empty – paid off.  The second day of the individual event saw a large crowd gather in the newly decorated Tian He Stadium early on Wednesday morning.  Oddly enough, there were more people than during the finals of the team events when China was playing.  Liliyana Natsir and Tontowi Ahmad got to play in front of a very strong crowd, which was obviously disappointed by the performance of Malaysia’s Koo Kien Keat and Woon Khe Wei but which was encouraging them on the few occasions that they were scoring.
Liliyana and Tontowi, on the other hand, were scoring one point after the other, very sharp at the net for her, hitting very hard from the back for him, resulting in a quick 21-10, 21-9 success.
We were very well prepared for this match and this overall competition. We took control very early over the match and things went smoothly for us,” said a delighted Liliyana after the match. “And we could see that, even if Koo was hitting strong, his partner was struggling at the net,” she added.
For Koo Kien Keat, the important part still lies ahead – in the men’s doubles, where he and Tan Boon Heong have a title to defend.
I’m not a professional mixed doubles partner and I didn’t have specific training in this category, nor have I prepared especially to meet these opponents. I just want to prepare for tonight’s match on men’s doubles and prepare for it mentally,” said the Malaysian.
“He’s more powerful than Nova”
Of course, the question popped whether Liliyana Natsir was disappointed by not playing with Nova Widianto for these Asian Games. “Yes, when I first heard that I was to partner someone else for the Asian Games, I was a bit concerned. But then, we started playing together with Tontowi, and we got good results from the start, which was encouraging,” said Liliyana. Encouraging indeed as the duo played three Grand Prix Gold tournaments prior to these Asian Games and scooped 2 golds and one silver – in Macau, Indonesia and Chinese Taipei respectively – with very good wins over tough opponents such as Gunawan/Marissa and even Olympic Champions Lee Yong Dae and Lee Hyo Jung.
The reason for this success? “I think that Tontowi is very strong mentally, and of course, he is younger and very powerful. Nova was powerful too but not as powerful as before in the latest tournaments we were playing, even if we were still world number one,” said Liliyana.
Now, the coaches haven’t said anything about our future. We’ll take it as it comes and it will all depend on our results. Of course, a good result here at the Asian Games would be important for us. We will take one match at the time, but in my mind, I have come here for the gold,” she added. They will next take on Chinese Taipei’s Chen and Cheng – a pair they beat last time they met.
Sony out!
If Indonesia welcomed this mixed doubles win, hopes were partly shattered in the men’s singles, where Sony Dwi Kuncoro was sent packing by Chinese Taipei’s Chou Tien Chen, quite unknown to the general public but who had great support from the local crowd.  The youngster enjoyed some easy mistakes from Sony – obviously still not at his best – and lobs that were not high enough to prevent him from smashing. It was a close call until midway through the third game, when the Taiwanese moved into a higher gear to get 6 match points. He was to close it up on his 4th one, for a final 21-13, 14-21, 21-17 success.
I’m certainly really excited. I’ve been training for such a long time for this moment. It feels like winning a big match. I didn’t feel any pressure even if Sony was higher ranked than me, and the pressure was all his. I think it was his injuries that affected his performance,” said Chou, who is world number 66 with a career high in last year’s China Open when he reached the quarter-finals.

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