Here is a first-hand account of Team USA's progress at the 2013 Sudirman Cup in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia.
Opening day here at Putra Stadium pitted our Team USA against Team Sweden. The Team USA Coaching staff of Andy Chong (Singles), Rudy Gunawan (Doubles) and Don Chew had a good feeling that we would do well in both doubles and the mixed. The reason for the poorer outlook for the Men's singles is the potential match-up between Sweden's number one Henri Hurskainen, a player who had beaten Victor Axelson in last year's 2012 European Championships semi-final as well as posted a win last year over our MS Sattawat Pongnairat. The women's singles was more of an unknown quantity as we currently know little of the female singles players.
The Mixed double opened with some tentative play by both teams as the cross drafts and lighting were unusually difficult in the Putra Arena. Phillip Chew and Jamie Subandhi entered play with some very steady net play but again took time to adjust when defensive clears were called for and they found themselves behind and lost the first game 16-21 against Amanda Hogstrom and Nico Ruponen. In the start of game 2, Phillip and Jamie began attacking more effectively, driving service returns into the deep corners and exacting short defensive lifts from their opponents. In the end, the balance of the attacking points went the way of the Swede duo winning 21-17 in the second game.
As the Men's singles began, there was a minor concern that Phillip would not be well rested before the start of the MD with Halim Haryanto Ho but that wasn't the case as Sattawat Pongnairat put in a gut wrenching 3-game performance against Gabrielle Ulldahl that included at least 10 points decided by the roll of the shuttle along the top of the net. Sattawat's match was difficult to watch as the drama unfolded, 1) the questionable over rule by the chair umpire and untimely loss of the Mixed doubles, 2) a major opportunity to take the Men's singles with Ulldahl playing and not their singles ace Hurskainen and take the tie to a 1-1 possibility and 3) the net tape becoming a major match decider. Ulldahl and Pongnairat exchanged point for point throughout ending with the advantage going to the Swede 21-16, 20-22, and 21-18.
Next on court was the quick handed darting play of Halim and Phillip. A definite edge-of-your seat nail-biting match that had spectators counting the many different ways one could handle the racket to produce misdirection and opponent pinning drives. The slashing net play and sneak attacks by Phillip Chew proved a delicate point of balance that occasional misfired to produce a highly charged MD tie that proved powered angle smashing attacks are not the only route to dominating a point. The taller Swedes were at times unable to touch, let alone return net drives. Ultimately, they had enough consistent play to take the tie in three close games 24-22, 14-21, and 21-14.
This put Team USA in a bind for Group play as they now had to beat either the next opponent Scotland or the Russians. Good news earlier in the day was that Scotland dominated Russia 4-1 signaling the possibility of a good chance to sneak in and steal a tie for Team USA.
All throughout the tie, the unexpected opportunities and miscues prevailed. The Women's Singles that was an unknown in the end surprised all and gave Team USA welcome relief as solid and uplifting play by Iris Wang proved successful against Swede Ellinor Widh 21-16, 21-12. To add more drama to an already loaded evening, Paula Obanana and Eva Lee played a controlling first game but their lead slipped away at 19-17 to lose 22-20. Experience and nerve was called upon to take the next two games….and Paula and Eva finished the night in better form 21-15 and 21-6 albeit not as comfortable as desired. So Team Sweden Took the Tie 3-2.
Day 3 here at Putra Stadium pitted Team USA against Team Scotland. Again the coaching staff of Andy Chong, Rudy Gunawan and Don Chew had a good feeling that we would do well in both doubles and the mixed. The selection for the WS tie was limited to Iris Wang and Jamie Subandi as Karen Velez sustained a mild ankle sprain putting her on the non-playing list for the tie. This was unfortunate as Karen had some success in a previous 3 game with Kristy Gilmour the Scottish #1 WS. Resting during this match as well was Phillip Chew as he had put in double duty for the Mixed and Men's Doubles the previous match.
The tie opened with dicey Mixed double play by both teams as the cross drafts and lighting were unusually difficult in the Putra Arena once again. Halim Haryanto and Jamie Subandhi entered play with some very steady net play but were attacked frequently by Imogen Bankier and Robert Blair. Game 2 showed Scottish attacks by Bankier, and this brought the balance of the attacking points to the way of the Swede duo winning 21-17 in the second game.
Stepping up for Men's singles was Howard Shu playing a well rounded all court game featuring a planned attacking style with solid defense. The net did not play a major role in deciding this outcome but the drift was felt even more strongly with wristy punch clears traveling a full foot out on one side of the court and curving clears into the sideline by 8 inches. (This is reminiscent of the 2005 Arrowhead Stadium wind.) This was evident as 3 USA players and even the Thai players the next court over "whiffed and framed" a few smash and smash returns throughout the evening.
Regardless, Howard led through the first half of game one against the Scot Kieran Merrilees while both were rallying evenly and attack opportunistically to get the feel of the hall. After the coaching interval, Merrilees begins to sharply build an attack that turns the advantage to Scotland, closing the game out at 21-16. On the change of sides, Merrilees continues the pressure and Howard was not able to find a successful counter game losing the second and closing the match at 11-21.
In a deep hole of 0-2 to dig out of, Team USA put the experience of Halim Haryanto Ho and Jimmy Pohan on to the floor.
Again a quick handed but also a quick witted USA MD team took to the court and produced another nail biting match that saw the Scots Robert Blair and Paul Van Rietvelde attempting to field the pinning drive/smash combinations by Halim and Jimmy. Team USA's high intensity and dominating style of point were present through both first 3/4 of each game with leads of 4 points but the Scots found their metal late in each of the two games and closed in on a win 21-18, 21-18. The rest of the tie was played in a thoughtful subdued manner as thoughts moved to the Russian match the next evening.
The Women's Singles brought Iris Wang to play against Christy Gilmour who has been doing well in European play winning singles 2012, the Polish and Swiss Internationals, and the Czech Open. A tall order to face, Iris took Kristy on a few good tours of the court and even played some quick smashing points and finished with a final score of 9-21 and 15-21.
Team USA was not to leave the hall pointless, Eva Lee and Paula O’banana finished strong with a straight-forward victory over the Scottish pair of Kristy Gilmour and Caitlin Pringle 21-11, 21-11.
Day 4 at Putra Arena brought Phillip Chew and Eva Lee together in their first tournament pairing. This combination produced a very quick driving first game to play Nina Vislova and Andrej Ashmarin. The USA pair swiftly advanced to a four point lead 11-7 at the interval but the lengthy armed Vislova began a tight coverage of the net and left smaller targets in play. The Russian's smothering coverage left small areas of the court to attack and led to a well fought match ending in a 15-21, 16-21 defeat.
Entering now was Howard Shu in the Men's singles against Anatoly Yartsev had a 3 inch advantage as well as a sharply angled smash. Howard played to an early 5-9 deficit as Anatolly was parlaying quickly angled smashes but as the coaching interval neared, he was only down 11-10. Trading points, Howard was only able to keep within striking range but not able to close and lost the game 21-18. On the change of side he was only able to manage 12 in the second game.
Phllip Chew and Sattawat Pongnairat set about matching against the Russians Ivan Sozonov and Vladimir Ivanov in an extreme angle smashfest that left the score with no doubt about who owned the court. 21-11 21-11, a Russian win. This was the not an unexpected outcome as Ivanov was the 2012 US Open Men's Singles Champion and is currently ranked #17 with fellow Russian Ivan Sozonov.
Jamie Subandhi was next to take on Ksenia Polikarpova in a much needed point for Team USA. She opened the game with some all court drop clear combinations to stretch the already lengthy Russian. Not finding any real openings, she switched to a flatter driving game that gave her a few more points but lost the first game 21-13. In the second game, she produced some guided and patient shots into the corners to create wider attack alleys and angles for her cut smash and drive smashes coming from a 4 point deficit at 12-16 to take the game at 19-21. Hoping to continue her positive tactics, she got off to a slow start and was behind 4 points at the interval. At this point and after a few unlucky shuttles dropping onto the line she found it difficult to climb back into the chase and lost in the third 21-13.
Not to be denied a point again the Russians, the solid play by the veterans Paula Obanana and Eva Lee dominated the court and closed the tie with a 21-12 and 21-18 win.
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