QINGDAO – A Lee Chong Wei-inspired Malaysia overcame the worst possible start to crush Russia 4-1 at the Sudirman Cup on Monday as the world number one showed his teammates how it should be done.
Earlier in the day, a determined England pushed South Korea all the way before the Koreans’ superior quality and stamina saw them survive a major scare.
South Korea, along with Denmark, are tipped to be the closest challengers to reigning champions China, but they will have to play far better if they are to be realistic contenders in the Chinese coastal city of Qingdao.
Similarly, Malaysia were sluggish to get going, as their mixed doubles pairing of Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying went down 21-19, 21-18 to Alexander Nikolaenko and Valeria Sorokina.
Not for the first time, Lee was Malaysia’s saviour, stepping up to blast the out-classed Ivan Sozonov off the court 21-9, 21-10 in a brutal 26-minute demolition job.
Lee said afterwards that he had been slightly troubled by the lighting at the arena, but added: “I think I did OK today and I was quite a bit better than my opponent, though I can do better.
“We have a strong team here and we will be difficult to beat. Our goal is the top four.”
The Koreans, the 2009 runners-up, finally emerged 4-1 winners over the unfancied English to book their place in the quarter-finals at their opponents’ expense. But it was not without its headaches.
Rajiv Ouseph was a surprise 25-23, 21-16 winner over world number nine Park Sung-Hwan to pull England back to 1-1, while Liz Cann made Bae Yeon-Ju sweat before the Korean just about emerged in three games.
The Koreans next face Denmark on Wednesday to see who tops the group — seen as vital to avoid the mighty Chinese in the next round.
“I’m happy we beat England but there are still plenty of areas we can improve on,” said South Korean coach Sung Han-Kook, who accused his players of “gifting” gritty England points.
“It will be tough against Denmark as obviously we know each other so well. It will be a question of which player performs better on the day,” he said.
“We have a day’s rest and we need to go back to analyze what strategies we can use for the match. Our aim is to win a medal and hopefully meet China in the final.”
Denmark got their tournament off to an emphatic start Sunday when they thrashed England 5-0. China were also big winners, defeating Germany 4-1.
The Germans were again on the wrong side of a hiding on Monday, going down 4-1 to Japan.
Indian star Saina Nehwal was surprisingly beaten 21-14, 22-20 by teen sensation Ratchanok Inthanon, but Nehwal’s team recovered to beat Thailand.
Nehwal, the world number four and a huge star back home, said she was still recovering from a tight singles match a day earlier.
“Yesterday’s game was quite tough and that made me really slow today,” said Nehwal, 21, who struggled to see off Taiwan’s Tai Tzu-ying on Sunday, eventually coming through an unconvincing 21-10, 12-21, 21-17.
“I was still confident I could pull through but I made too many errors today,” added Nehwal.