Fri, 03 Nov 2000

Underdog Iwawaki stuns Lidya, entertains badminton lovers

JAKARTA (JP): When her name was called, everybody at the US$150,000 JVC Asian Badminton Championships at Senayan Indoor Stadium expected an easy victory for second seed Lidya Djaelawidjaja of Indonesia.

When underdog Fumi Iwawaki walked onto the court, she brought with her only two rackets, a towel and a black leather wallet, and her clothes seemed too big for her skinny frame. Her appearance elicited some laughter from the crowd.

But the 21-year-old Japanese shocked the spectators, Lidya and Indonesian women's singles coaches Liang Chiusia and Kho Mei Hwa with her all-out performance. She covered the entire court and prevented the 1999 Indonesia Open winner from scoring with her offensive strokes.

The smiling Iwawaki, an underdog at the event, played with increasing motivation and self-confidence, a stark contrast to Lidya, who seemed to be unable to overcome the pressure.

The crowd, which earlier laughed at her, was soon cheering Iwawaki's passing shots, sharp smashes and neat net play.

When she won the match, she stared at the court in disbelief and flashed a wide smile at her cheering teammates.

When she was asked what her strategy was in defeating Lidya, Iwawaki only said: "No, I didn't have any strategy on the court. I only wanted to perform well."

Her statement should be seen as a wake-up call for Chiusia and Mei Hwa, with the badminton newcomer, going in without a strategy, performing well enough to score this shocking upset on Thursday.

Iwawaki was born in Ishikawa on Aug. 25, 1979. She first took up badminton when she was 9 with her hometown club, where she was coached by Yoshimitsu Matsuda, former Japanese national champion and the father of men's singles player Keita Matsuda.

"When I started playing badminton, it was only as a hobby. But afterward, the sport was very interesting and I decided to become a serious player."

She is on the Waseda University badminton team, where she is in her third year at the university's social science department.

Iwawaki's first international tournament was the Jakarta Open in 1995.

Asked if she wanted to follow in the footsteps of 1998 Asian Games gold medalist Kanako Yonekura and Olympian Yasuko Mizui, Iwawaki said she has not yet given it any thought.

"I just want to enjoy playing badminton. I don't want to think about targets or ambitions. All I have to do is perform well," she said, once again flashing her wide smile. (yan)