Which Chinese player is going to snaffle the gold?
By Katie Garner
Players: Wang Yihan versus Li Xuerui (both China)
China is set to win both the gold and silver in the women’s singles, but their finalists have very different styles of play and levels of experience, so it was definitely set to be a very interesting match, especially as the Chinese players generally have such a high standard of play. 21-year-old Li Xuerui was to face off against team mate and previous world champ Wang Yihan, who has a tall, sloping, athletic look about her.
There was no gentle pitter patter at the start of this game, and it was instant smashes from experienced Wang, really making the most of her height to get great angles. The rallies were also quite fast paced for singles, with plenty of low-slung drives shooting across at eye level, with an interesting scatter of well- placed net shots serving to set up the next shot for a winner. Both players seemed so incredibly evenly matched, I initially had no idea who would be able to pull ahead and who would win in the game’s conclusion. The inspired variety of shots made the rallies very long, although this could also be because the duo must train together at some point, both belonging in the Chinese camp. They must definitely have an awareness of each other’s game plans and this might actually make it harder for them.
Both players were incredibly well-rounded with no real stand out shots as such, but such a high level of play all around the court. Both of their net shots trickled over the net, their smashes were both incredibly driven and their clears clipping the back tramlines. It was a real master class in how to play badminton efficiently, with class and style. Their athleticism is also to be admired, and I particularly noted how they could arch backwards to whack the clears and then reform themselves to prepare for the next fast-paced shot.
Li is the more elegant player of the two, her drop shots catching Wang out every time. Her grace around court was really great to watch, as she just appeared to float before delivering. Wang on the other hand doesn’t have that style of movement, but instead has strength of stamina – she can run like stink, even if it does have less flair and positioning. Wang also has a particularly punishing smash, so if Li by chance delivers a short clear, Wang took great pleasure in forcing it to the ground.
The first game was done in 23 minutes and won by Li 21-16 and as they enter the second, I tentatively begin to back Li, as she seems more confident, with sneakier shots and great defensive play, combating the smashes aimed at her and then turning it into her own opportunity to produce a winner, namely her stunning cross court smash, which has such excellent placement that Wang can’t seem to defend against it.
However, as the game continues, it’s evident that Li cannot sustain the pace, and she begins making futile mistakes – hitting shots out and letting the shuttle flutter into the net. Her mistakes and flagging energy levels let Wang sneak back into the running as they hit 19-19. It’s amazing how quick the turnaround is, as Li was looking so strong but she suddenly appears drained and zapped of energy, leaving shots that she would usually run for. Luckily for her, Wang also seems off form, her shots falling out and in the net. Wang wins the second game 23-21, as Li exhaustedly aims at Wang’s powerful forehand, and I must admit, I was worried about how her form would be in the third. Wang seems to have a burst of energy at the beginning of the final game, which only serves to emphasise how knackered Li suddenly is, and I found myself willing her to find something from somewhere and not let this last game become a whitewash.
Wang however doesn’t make the most of Li’s lull and whether through excitement or tension, she makes numerous unforced errors that enable Li to stay in the running. Li still manages to outfox Wang as well, making use of her sneakier shots and also bringing in her short serve in a bid to make the rallies shorter. Wang just had to keep Li moving to further destroy her draining energy levels, but Li made a last minute fight with a series of smashes for some instant winners, cross court and then, at the body. At 17-17 both players are showing some wear around the edges and it is impossible to judge where it will go from here.
After 78 minutes, Li manages to revive herself and steal the gold with a 21-17 win in the third and final game. The longest rally had 43 strokes and this doesn’t surprise me in the slightest as it was a completely quality packed game, with both players showing some really excellent shots, to provide a really worthy final. Wang was devastated not to win and shed a tear on the podium, but although she may have been bitterly disappointed, she still walked away with a medal proudly hung around her neck and that is still a massive achievement. A really fantastic final by the Chinese players.