China and Korea face off for third place

By Katie Garner

Players: Chen Long (China) versus Lee Hyun Il (Korea)

This bronze medal match was always set to be a cracker, and your typical youth versus experience combat. Chen Long is a relatively new and young Chinese player, quick out the blocks and keen for some fast and furious play. Lee Hyun Il on the other hand, who came 4th is last year’s Olympics, has an incredibly unique style of play that can infuriate opponents and lead to jumpy mistakes – he is very patient and uses movement and placement instead of power to slowly work his way into the points and build up into the rally for the winner. Chen has won three of their five head to heads so even though he has just sneaked ahead in the stats; it’s still a relatively drawn result.

First Game

If you want to pick up some hints on movement, then you’ll get a textbook of tips from these guys, especially Chen who has an exceptionally long lunge which takes him around the court in one smooth step. What I thought was great to see was firstly the impressive mix of shots, but also the quantity of net shots. There were so many net rallies that I haven’t really seen on the singles court before which I actually found really exciting, especially as I play a lot at the net myself. The play was so patient from both players, as young Chen decided to play Lee at his own game, so both of them were producing excellent shots and just waiting for the other to make a mistake. Lee was probably the more deceptive of the two, particularly with a point he played at 8-9.

Chen however keeps up with Lee and in a way, uses his own tactics against him as he mirrors Lee’s lengthy play. Chen does so well that he even begins to build up a slight lead and it is then that he begins to introduce some of his more speciality shots into the game, opening up the power smashes, especially cross court. Both players are still moving each other constantly around the entire space of the court, so great stamina also involved. The play continues more in Lee’s gentler style, with the shots being so incredibly controlled, really aiming to outwit and outfox rather than out power. There seems to be more forward and backwards movement rather than side to side, and I personally feel that this is harder to reach and deal with.

Chen makes the first of the power movements to develop the game further, and once again begins to unleash the cross court smash to build some easy points, although the net rallies are so long with such width to them as they saunter from side to side across the court. Chen manages to keep up with the deceptive net play. I would say that Lee has definitely been setting the pace so far, adopting a more controlled precision play with a variety of drops and net shots instead of the mix of smashes and drives that Chen would perhaps prefer. However, Chen has built an impressive lead of 17-9 and can therefore afford to begin to impose his style of play on court. Chen begins to punch over his punishing drives that are becoming increasingly difficult for Lee to defend against.

Lee seems to a be a little off the ball, setting up the points really well but then fluffing the winner once he has done all the hard work. He still has smooth movements around the court though and the net rallies between the pair of them are simply beautiful to behold. The first game concludes 21-12 to Chen so that’s one in the bag to the Chinese player. Chen really ramped up the pressure and intensity, playing Lee at his own style and succeeding brilliantly.

Second Game

Lee is now on the back foot after losing the first game so he really needed to reassert his dominance, and he does this by taking some typical Chinese tactics and starting off aggressively, playing Chen’s style back at him. He begins to catch Chen off guard with his cross court net shots – they were such fluid movements that it gave Chen hardly any time at all to react to the drop of the shuttle. This great mix of styles from Lee makes him unpredictable – Chen now doesn’t know when he is going to use his patient, graceful mix or whether he will suddenly smash down from the opposite side of the court.

There was a fantastic point at 4-1 as Chen delivered a thundering smash right from touching distance of the net, but by some miracle Lee managed to fling his body backwards and retrieve the smash leaving the audience, commentators and even Chen gobsmacked. That must give you some confidence going forward. Lee returns to his signature style patiently setting up his shot by keeping Chen moving continuously to get him hopelessly out of position to give him plenty of space to execute the winner.  Lee seems to really have upped his game, motivated no doubt by his loss in the first game – he is now a man on a mission.  He then however seems to be getting almost too comfy with his lead as he hits shots out, squandering his carefully built up lead.

Lee has such accurate shots and this makes up for what he may lack in power. Both players seem to feel that their opponent has a weaker backhand, as almost all of their attacking shots seem to fall on this side. Chen really bounces around the court and disciplined any weakness in any of Lee’s shots. For example, at 8-10, Lee hesitated, believing a shot to be out, but then with a late change of mind he tries to save the point with a short clear which Chen pounces on with almost feline ability to force to the ground. Chen manages to level the score line back to 10-10 despite being seven points behind at the start of the game, which just shows how quickly games can turn around and develop, for either player.

With such a measured and controlled game, it is actually near impossible to decide what the possible conclusion to this game. Lee however once again begins to make errors after setting up points, so really giving them away to the ever eager Chen. Both players have such a graceful style around the court that it is really amazing to watch and learn from, especially with such succinct technical abilities on show. Lee once again tops up on points using his deceptive drop shot to quickly regain the lead. He follows this up with a burst of aggression, punishing Chen’s weaker shots with some fast paced smashes of his own. He then takes the second game 21-15. He didn’t appear to panic in any way after losing the first game and then losing the lead in the second – he kept his cool and was able to see the second game finish how he wanted.

Third Game

The decider rolls on and Chen immediately jumps to with a dominating smashing routine. Lee’s smashes contrast quite a bit to Chen’s as he uses more of a slicing action than power which gives his shots a steeper result. Chen’s legs hold up though and his defensive lunges are just as good as his attacking play. Lee however is back to old tricks with his net shots building rallies, forcing Chen to make the error that Lee can then finish off. Chen mirrors Lee once more and it is from here that the power play begins to alternate, both players winning rallies and smashes. Chen has had the fewer unforced errors by far, but at 14-11 he sends one flying into the net, surely a clear sign of building tension for the conclusion of the game. Lee’s play also begins to look sloppier, putting shots out and in the net, and juxtaposed with this is a sudden burst of energy from Chen, who also begins to taste the end of the match.

The final game finishes 21-15 to Chen as he outplays Lee at his own classy game to snatch the bronze medal in 80 minutes of play. Well-deserved and a great game on the last day of the badminton at the Olympics.