Mon, 14 Mar 2005

From: AFP

Lin labors in All-England epic

Agence France-Presse, Birmingham, England

World number one Lin Dan had to fight a long and unusual battle to maintain his bid to become the first man in nine years to defend the All-England men's singles title.

The Chinese player needed a stamina-sapping 93 minutes to achieve a 15-10, 13-15, 15-8 quarterfinal victory over Korea's Lee Hyun-Il in a contest of two left-handers which sometimes looked as though Lin were struggling with a mirror image of himself.

He was tussling with a dangerously revived opponent, unseeded this week but the world number two only 16 months ago and twice a victor in their previous four meetings.

Lin made a great start, grabbing the first five points quickly, easing in and out of attack and defense with great versatility, and holding on to his lead throughout the first game.

However, Lee began to make better progress in the second. He could never quite match the easy fluency of Lin's movement, but he did begin to find ways of forcing his attacks through more often, and of applying more pressure to the favorite.

Lee also came back strongly from within two points of defeat at 10-13 down, unleashing a hard-to-read round-the-head smash to reach 14-13 and then converting a game point at the second attempt with a brilliant flicked block which deceived Lin and landed on the line.

But Lin made Lee work harder in the early stages of the third game, and although serves changed hands several times at 3-1, the champion began to edge away. An attempt by Lee to end a succession of accurate, testing clears with a sudden clipped drop sailed wide at 6-1, and seemed an indication that physical pressure was mounting on the challenger.

Thereafter, though Lin was never quite in control, he was always able to maintain a safe cushion, and his victory earned him a semifinal with Wong Choon Hann, the Malaysian who reached the final of the world championships in the same arena 18 months ago.

Wong came through with an impressive recovery to win 11-15, 15-2, 15-3 against Shoji Sato. The other semifinal is also a China-Malaysia affair, with Hong Chen playing Wei Chong Lee.

Sato is one of three players signaling a formidable surge by the Japanese squad in both men's and women's singles.

Both Kaori Mori and Eriko Hirose advanced to the women's singles quarterfinals. Although Mori lost, Hirose continued her giant-killing run, beating German's Chinese-born Xu Huaiwen to set up a semifinal on Saturday again top seeded Zhang Ning of China.