HA NOI — Nguyen Tien Minh came from behind to successfully defend his title at the Viet Nam Challenge – Robot Cup badminton tournament, which closed yesterday at HCM City’s Phan Dinh Phung Gymnasium.
The national No 1 and world 26th seed sweated it out against Malaysia’s Chong Wei Feng in the final, where Chong upset many local fans to win the first set 21-17.
Chong also had many people wondering about Minh’s performance at next month’s Beijing Olympics, where he will be one of two Vietnamese representatives competing against high-ranking rivals from across the world.
Minh seemed exhausted after a semi-final match last Saturday against Saensomboonsuk Tanongsak of Thailand, the tournament’s No 3. The Vietnamese reigning champion needed nearly an hour to eliminate Saensomboonsuk, his most difficult match yet on the way to the final.
In the final’s first set, Chong eased up and got in tune with his technique, and in the end dominated the match.
However, the loss jolted life into Minh, who under Chinese expert Yan Shi Qiang, who coached Viet Nam at the 22nd Southeast Asian Games in 2002, changed his play tactics.
Yan recognised Chong’s right-handed return weakness and told Minh to create volleys to attack Chong consecutively. In addition, the Vietnamese also combined long and short shuttles that confused Chong, causing inaccurate returns. The Malaysian himself also lost points with netted hits.
It was an easy set for Minh when he led 11-3 and kept a large distance with Chong until it was 21-10.
The third and final set was aggressive, heating up the entire gymnasium. Chong, who was not appreciated as highly as Minh, was in high spirits and found his form. He silenced many local fans by leading 9-4 to Minh, whose physical strength gradually slowed down.
People became worried when the defending champion couldn’t find a way to stop Chong, whose points kept rising, up to 12-6.
Taking full advantage of a few minutes during a timeout, Minh sped up the game and step-by-step earned some important points, before levelling the score 15-all.
Both sides realised that it was an essential moment of the game that would decide the winner of the tournament. They all were careful with every action. The score rose slowly: 18-17, 20-17 for Chong before Minh drew 20-20.
Thousands of fans cheered Minh on.
In the end, Minh won 26-24 and the men’s single event title stayed in Viet Nam.
It was the only champion crown that the host team grabbed from the tournament, which gave Minh a bonus of US$2,000. Former Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, also chairman of the Viet Nam Badminton Federation, awarded Minh VND20 million on the spot.
He received other bonuses from Nguyen Phuong Nam, director of Robot Company, the main sponsor of the tournament, and the HCM City’s Badminton Federation.
Apart from cash prizes, Minh also pocketed 4,000 points in the world rankings of the World Badminton Federation, which should give him a boost on his way to Beijing.
In other news yesterday, Malaysia ensured two gold medals when they sent competitors to the finals of men’s and mixed doubles. Meanwhile, Singapore pocketed a gold and silver in the women’s doubles final match. — VNS