The crowd roared and rose to applaud as the "local" boys finished with a striking comeback. At the Boston Open, a US tournament 2nd only to the US Open in prize money and international flavor, the finals are usually filled with players from outside the US, or those international players who have come to live, play and coach with us and have so enriched USA Badminton. 2009 was no exception. In Men's Singles, Hok Hai Lee (Malaysia) defeated JBS Vidyadhar (India) 21-15, 21-18. Women's singles - Mona Santoso (Indonesia) defeated Nicole Grether (Germany) 21-14, 21-16. In Women's Doubles - Joo Hyun Lee/Mona Santoso (Korea/Indonesia) defeated Ying Chen/Yun Peng (China) 21-16, 22-20. In Mixed Doubles - Chandra Kowi/Mona Santoso (Indonesia) defeated Halim Haryanto Ho/Yun Peng (Indonesia/China) 21-19, 21-17 and retained the trophy after 3 straight wins in mixed doubles and Mona's completion of a Triple Crown.
But, the crowd was electrified and on their feet for the Men's doubles final. This was not because the other matches were anything but great badminton - they were excellent and well appreciated. It was not because men's doubles is often a highlight final, although it was. No, the crowd response was because this year's match of Sameera Gunatileka and Vincent Nguy (1st seed) against Daniel Gouw and Chandra Kowi (2nd seed) showed exactly what is right about US Badminton.
First - The route to the finals. Sam and Vincent breezed though the upper half of the bracket, not seriously tested until the semifinals. There they met Halim Haryonto Ho/Phillip Chew, the seasoned veteran and past World Champion with Tony Gunawan and the rising young 15 year old. After a solid first game by Sam and Vincent (won 21-18), the match turned as the veteran Halim controlled the front court, with the powerful smash of Phillip behind him cruising to a 21-11 win. Sam and Vincent, showing they deserved their #1 seed, focused on smart, controlled play in the third game and found ways to push Phillip to the very back to lessen his smash efficacy and increase the court space Halim had to cover to win the third game and match 21-16. The #2 seeds, Chandra and Daniel didn't lose a game on the way to the finals. They were tested in the quarterfinals by Bob Malaythong (recent Olympian with Howard Bach) and JDS Bidyadhar (India) men's singles runner-up, but won 21-14, 21-15. In the semi-finals, against Arnold Setiadi and Balram Thapa (Nepal), Daniel and Chandra prevailed in a close 22-20, 21-15 match.
With the finals set, a little reflection is important. Three of the four finalists were young American grown and trained players (Gouw - San Francisco, Nguy and Gunatileka - Maryland). Despite the recent West Coast dominance, this match was an East - West battle. All three players were known to the local crowd from strong play at the junior level in 2003, at the Marblehead Junior Nationals. The pairs represented two paths to excellence - an American player paired with a strong international partner (Daniel/Chandra) like Bach/Gunawan 2005 World Champions and a home grown pair who match well and stay together (Vincent/Sameera) like Bach/Malaythong, 2008 Olympians. Overseas training played a crucial role as Daniel Gouw returned from several months training in Indonesia to play Adult Nationals in April, 2009 at OCBC. In singles he upset Howard Shu and Sttawat Pongnaivat. In doubles, he and Chandra went 3 games with US Olympians Bach/Malaythong. Sameera and Vincent head off this summer for three months of Asian seasoning.
The match - The first game was a testing by each team of the other, with some unforced errors by the three Americans as Chandra's competition tested calm controlled a close game and led to a 21-18 win by him and Daniel. The second game with nothing to lose (as many in the crowd expected Kowi/Gouw to pull away as they had in earlier matches), Sam and Vincent relaxed and pulled out a close 22-20 win. This brought the crowd into the match. Their boys, the East coast team, who they had watched play in every big tournament in the Northeast the last 6-7 years were on the verge of a major win. Unfortunately, the intensity and the possibility hit Sam and Vincent and they fell behind 13-19 and then 14-20.
The comeback - Then, point by point with strong defense against Indonesia honed smashes, sterling net play and solid service, Sam and Vincent pulled even at 20 all. As coaches know, the next point is critical. Many players, after pulling even have a let down and lose the next point or two. Sam and Vincent won the next rally 21-20. Although facing a seventh match point for Chandra and Daniel at 23-22, Sam and Vincent reached 24 all. Thoughout the match, each of the Americans had showed their nerves in short serve faults into the net. At 24 all, Chandra showed that even elite international players can feel the tension and barely caught the tape with his serve. Sam and Vincent capitalized, and on a sparkling attack won 26-24 - game and match.
As the crown stood and roared for the "local boys", it was clear to all that another generation of men is following Howard, Bob and Raju. They will have to contend with Arnold Setiadi, Howard Shu (off with the Sudirman Cup Team) and young players behind them like Phillip Chew. On this day in Boston, Sam Gunatileko, Daniel Gouw and Vincent Nguy showed us what is right about US Badminton. And a final image is the 3 shaking hands congratulating each other, as they may well be team members on future US teams.