Friday, April 26

Winning start as Pi feels ready to maintain Asian run


MANCHESTER: Pi Hongyan, the adopted Parisian who is favourite to win the European women’s badminton title here this week, got off to a winning start on Wednesday and warned she feels confident of becoming the fourth successive Asia-raised player to win the crown.

FAVOURITE: Pi plays a return to Akvile Stapusaityte of Lithuania in their second round women’s singles match in Manchester. — AFP photo

FAVOURITE: Pi plays a return to Akvile Stapusaityte of Lithuania in their second round women’s singles match in Manchester. — AFP photo

The China-raised Pi needed little more than half an hour to overcome Akvile Stapusaitytye of Lithuania 21-17, 21-9, and then said: “I feel very different from how I was last month.”

Then Pi was beaten in three games in the second round of the All-England Open in Birmingham by Germany’s Juliane Schenk, whom she should face in the semi-finals here tomorrow.

Now Pi was moving better, and coping well with the slowish conditions which are not ideal for her, as a mature, skilful, but pocket-sized competitor who is not sufficiently powerful to easily get the shuttle on the floor.

“But I felt good,” she insisted. “Before the All-England I had been injured and had only about a week to get ready. Now I have been able to train and prepare since the Swiss Open (three weeks ago) and I feel different.

“We have also been changing the way I am training. So to do well at the European championships is important not only for France, but for myself, to prove that the new way is working.”

Pi played at too high a speed for her opponent and her movement showed no sign of the difficulties with her knee which had bothered her against Schenk.

But Pi is not thinking about a rematch just yet. Her next but one opponent could be Petya Nedelcheva, the fifth-seeded Bulgarian who has beaten her before and who wasted little time in getting past Belgium’s Lianne Tan 21-8, 21-6.

Later Pi’s main rival, Tine Rasmussen, the All-England champion from Denmark, also made a solid start, economising on energy with a swift victory over Andrea Zvorc of Croatia, by 21-10, 21-9.

Top men’s seed, Peter Gade, had more of a fight before progressing, standing at 18-all in the second game with Kieran Merrilees, the Scottish international, before coming through 21-17, 21-18.

Gade used the second game to accustom himself to the lights, which made visibility difficult in one spot, and also to the drift – though the former world number one from Denmark did emphasise that this was one of the best stadia he has competed in.

When Gade did these things, he found that Merrilees summoned more skill and tenacity than in the first game, and made it     more difficult for the favourite.

“There is probably likely to be a few moments when my concentration slips,” said Gade, who is bidding for fifth European title.

“But he took advantage very well.”

“I just want to get myself up to play my best in the semi-finals and finals,” added the 33-year-old.

Gade next plays Raul Must of Estonia and then could face Carl Baxter, the eighth-seeded Englishman.

Two of the most notable men’s singles wins in the first round came from French players, Mathieu Ping – or Lo Ying Ping according to his Chinese name – and Brice Leverdez.

Lo beat Finland’s Kasper Lehikoinen 19-21, 21-12, 21-8, while Leverdez got a notable scalp when he beat Poland’s former world top 20 player Przemyslaw Wacha, 21-18, 12-21, 21-17.

Later Anthony Clark’s defence of his mixed doubles title ended on the first day. He and his new partner Heather Olver overcame Sam and Chloe Magee, the brother-sister partnership from Ireland, 21-15, 21-16, even though Clark received treatment on a calf injury between games.

The 32-year-old Englishman – perhaps the biggest crowd-puller at a Manchester tournament – then went away for an hour’s treatment before deciding to withdraw from the event.

Clark had been due to compete in the men’s doubles with Nathan Robertson, ending what was arguably England’s best hopes of a medal. — AFP