Monday, February 17, 2003

Youngster ends nation's 37-year All-England wait

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia's agonising 37-year wait for All-England glory is finally over.
Mohd Hafiz Hashim turned the tables on defending champion and top seed Chen Hong of China to prevail 17-14, 15-10 in the men's singles final at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham, England, yesterday.
Yes!: MOhd Hafiz Hashim clenches his fist after winning a point en route to defeating Chen Hong 17-14, 15-10, in the men's singles final of the All-England badminton championships in Birmingham yesterday.
The unseeded Hafiz took 53 minutes to become the first Malaysian since Tan Aik Huang back in 1966 to lift the coveted title.
It was a remarkable achievement for the 20-year-old Hafiz.
Even the likes of Punch Gunalan (1974), Hafiz's coach Misbun Sidek (1986), Foo Kok Keong (1991), Rashid Sidek (1996) and Ong Ewe Hock (1998) had failed at the very last hurdle.
England seems to be Hafiz's favourite hunting ground for it was in Manchester last year that he won the Commonwealth Games men's singles title.
The Nusa Mahsuri shuttler, who crashed out in the second round at last year's All-England, was overjoyed with his biggest achievement in his young badminton career.
“This is certainly the happiest moment of my life. It is better than winning the Commonwealth Games gold medal,” gushed the ecstatic southpaw, who pocketed US$10,000 (RM38,000) for his achievement.
Hafiz achieved his success by playing as many of the rallies in mid-court and at the net as possible, thus increasingly nullifying Chen Hong’s spectacularly dangerous airborne attacks.
Hafiz was at least Chen Hong’s equal in the flat fast mid-court exchanges and also picked off winners at the net well.
But even when forced to defend against Chen Hong’s steep smashes, Hafiz often did remarkable things, once producing a block from behind his back and once between his legs.
The key moments came after Hafiz had saved a third game point at 12-14, and pushed on to 14-14.
That set up a surge of adrenalin which carried him on a run of six winning rallies and changed the course of the match.
In the second game Hafiz moved ahead from 2-2 to 5-2 and after getting to 11-6 and 14-8 proved mentally strong enough to fight off mini-revivals from Chen Hong, which got the champion back to 8-11 and 10-14.
“I could feel Chen Hong was getting apprehensive in the second game,” said Hafiz.
“Then I tried to attack him a little bit more.”