Wed, 09 Mar 2005

From: AFP

With Asia supreme, Gade seeks European glory

Richard Eaton, Agence France-Presse/Birmingham, England

Peter Gade believes he is fighting for the future of badminton, as well as to avenge last year's final defeat to Lin Dan, when the All-England Open championships begin here on Wednesday.

The former world number one from Denmark believes that if he can pose a threat to the brilliant Chinese holder of the 106-year-old title he will be helping not only himself but assisting a better balance in an increasingly Asia-dominated sport.

"I have fears for its future," said Gade, the second seed.

"What this sport needs is Europeans versus Asians. That is what people like to watch.

"The Chinese have stepped up and the Koreans have stepped up and if we (Denmark) want to step up too we must be more professional. And in men's singles that can't be done in the next two or three years.

"That's why I hope Ken (Jonassen his third-seeded Danish compatriot) and I will keep going as long as possible," the 28- year-old added.

Gade ran out of steam in last year's long and excellent final but may find it difficult to improve upon that performance. Lin Dan in the past year has proved himself clearly the world's best player.

"He's such a versatile player -- he's good in such a lot of areas," admitted Gade.

"He's very quick; he doesn't make any mistakes, he's very good in defense but he's very good in offense too, so you can't play very defensive or very offensive against him or you get punished."

Gade, who won the Korean Open in January, but then deliberately missed the German Open and took a month off in order to prepare for the All-England, believes that as a result he is a better, more sophisticated player than last year.

He hopes he may be able to beat Lin by being more patient and making his opponent do a little more of the work in a long match.

But if he gets as far as the final again, Gade is likely to be facing an even greater Lin Dan, at the height of his powers, who comfortably won the German Open in Mulheim on Sunday and in recent months the China Open and Danish Open too.

However, Gade has a draw which could give him a third round with the dangerous Malaysian, Muhamamed Roslin Hashim, and a likely semifinal with the former All-England champion from China, Chen Hong.

Nor can Lin Dan be certain of anything in a world class field in which several players have realistic chances of the title. The champion has a possible quarter-final with his compatriot Xia Xuanze, the former All-England champion.

Gade's fears of the fading European challenge are supported by last month's decision by Peter Rasmussen, the former world and European champion from Denmark, to retire, although Taufik Hidayat, the Olympic champion from Indonesia, may also be missing this year.

Reports suggest that he has a knee injury which will keep him out, although there has also been a report about a disagreement last month between Taufik and Indonesia's director of training, Icuk Sugiarto, the former world champion.

Another leading European who will no longer be challenging for the All-England is Camilla Martin, the former champion from Denmark, which means the odds on an Asian winner are probably too short to quote.

The favorite is China's Zhang Ning, the World and Olympic champion, who will have fond memories of the national indoor arena here (Birmingham) as it is the venue for her 2003 world championship victory.

If she justifies her seeding it will be Zhang's first All- England title, though she should have strong opposition from her compatriots Zhou Mi, the 2003 All-England champion, and Xie Xingfang, winner of the Danish, German, Chinese and Indonesian Opens, as well as her former compatriot, Pi Hongyang, the second seed who now represents France.

China's chances are even stronger of winning the women's doubles for the ninth time in 10 years, as they occupy all of the top three seeding spots; Europe's best chances of a title arguably come from the mixed or men's doubles.

Denmark's Jens Eriksen is top seed in both, in the men's with Martin Lundgaard Hansen, with whom he is the titleholder, and in the mixed with Mette Schjoldager.

But China's Olympic mixed doubles champions, Zhang Jie and Gao Ling, may fancy disputing who are really the favorites.