Surprises from China
China produced two of the most unexpected singles champions the 100-year-old singles events have ever seen at the Yonex All England Championships when Xia Xuanze and Gong Zhichao won titles at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham. Xia upset the seedings for the fourth time in as many days by winning the Men's Singles final 15-6, 15-13 against Taufik Hidayat, the 18-year-old Indonesian who had been hoping to become the youngest Men's Singles champion of the open era. Gong, whose 50 kilograms looked too little to carry her through another tough contest in a tough week, not only managed it with a 11-5, 8-11, 11-5 victory over Dai Yun, but earned her first title in two years during which she has often been too frail to succeed. Xia's success has Olympic implications. This week could see him joining two other Chinese players who are world ranked above the sidelined Sun Jun, which means the world champion might not make the Sydney Games in September. Xia reckoned that it might not be the world ranking order which alone will decide this. "If China has more than three in the top 16 I think the coach will decide," he said This means that Xia could conceivably finish in the Olympic qualifying positions according to IBF regulations and still miss out. Throughout the tournament Xia was a revelation, though he was helped in the final by the fact that a nervous Hidayat, who has now lost two All England finals in succession, played into his hands. Too often the teenager lifted or cleared the shuttle, and into positions where Xia's well-disguised and wrong-footing overheads could score. Hidayat lost the first eleven points and was 5-11 down in the second game before he began to make significant progress. The Indonesian struggled back to 13-13 by creating more opportunities for himself to hit down, but the recovery came narrowly too late and he left the arena apparently too disappointed to talk to the international press. Xia by contrast was as relaxed with them as he had been with himself on court, and even at one point had the media men practising in unison how to pronounce his name. "Sheer Shoe Anne-Zuh," they chorused. "Yes I expected to win," the chorus leader smiled. "Because I know you have to be confident to have a chance. But I can't tell you my tactics - they're secret." Then he admitted he did not know how to drive, an inability he shared with the women's winner Gong. This too was significant, for part of the first prizes for both players were sleek-looking Proton cars worth more than ú22,000 each. Gong may be a non-driver, but a non-talker she was not. She would be able to keep half her prize money, she said, and the rest would go to the federation to help young talent. But there was a possibility that in the future the system might change, whereby players would keep more of the winnings themselves. Gong won because her light-footed movement was relentless. She employed this to move the shuttle to all four corners, gradually tiring Dai, the conqueror the day before of the world champion from Denmark, Camilla Martin. China also won the women's doubles, but the only player to win two titles was South Korean. This was Kim Dong Moon, who followed his achievement in winning the men's and mixed doubles at the world championships by doing the same at the All England.