Asian Leg Review: A Pair with Flair

During the course of their sweep of the Asian Leg in Bangkok, Wang Chi-Lin and Lee Yang did more than just achieve a rare hat-trick of the biggest titles of their career.

What distinguished them was their effervescent on- and off-court personality which left an indelible imprint on the Asian Leg. Their uninhibited emotions on the arena, and their sparkling humour backstage, showed a pair that was willing to play hard, while staying cheerful through three challenging weeks.

Wang and Lee have been a fairly successful pair since they came together in 2019. Indeed, they won their first tournament together – the Barcelona Spain Masters – and went on to establish themselves as a steady pair, with modest success at top-tier events (HSBC BWF World Tour Super 750 and above).

Their career trajectory was to take a different turn in Bangkok. Before the start of the Asian Leg, they hinted that they had made good use of the time during lockdown to improve their strength and skill, but not even they could have imagined a sequence of 15 wins in three weeks. The Chinese Taipei duo seemed to get better with every match – for at the end of the Asian Leg, they’d won the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals 2020 without dropping a game.

All through the three weeks, Wang and Lee were a picture of excitement backstage, joking with interviewers and with each other; claiming to be exhausted, before pulling off another win the following day. Having won the YONEX Thailand Open, the first event in the Asian Leg, Wang laid out the secret of their success:

“We know each other since 10 or 11, so we know each other well. We’ve known each other since elementary school; at that time he was short and fat, but I didn’t like his skill, because it was too good.”

Just as unusual was their honesty in analysing their own strengths in comparison with their opponents’. After their semifinal win over Mohammad Ahsan/Hendra Setiawan at the TOYOTA Thailand Open, Wang said:

“Their skill is better than ours, their control is better. We were always chasing the shuttle and not in control. That’s not our style. We really wanted to move fast, so we moved first, and they saw us move and played into empty spaces. So I told him to stay, to wait for the shot.”

There was no pretence, either, when they survived difficult circumstances. After beating Ben Lane and Sean Vendy in the semifinals of the World Tour Finals, Lee Yang said they had struggled through it.

“We didn’t enjoy the match as we were under pressure. So we had to constantly encourage each other.”

And about the final, against Ahsan/Setiawan – “They have better skill than us. We will use our speed and power.”

While his partner Wang chipped in: “Tomorrow we play our idols, and Ahsan has had a daughter so I congratulate him, but I will fight them!”

The one recurring theme through the three weeks was their admission that they weren’t quite as skilfull as some of their opponents, which was why they had to compensate with greater work rate, and push speed and power. After winning the TOYOTA Thailand Open, their second title in two weeks, Wang happily flexed his muscles: “The Malaysian and Indonesian players have better skill than us, so we don’t fight with them on skill, we use power. Always. What I have is muscle!”

It is this disarming honesty, without seeking to hide their strengths and weaknesses, that separates Wang and Lee from every other top pair, and lends the partnership a distinct character. It also helps that, having won three top-tier titles in a row, they have elevated themselves in the pecking order. It will be interesting to see how they fare against the pairs that missed the Asian Leg – pairs such as Marcus Fernaldi Gideon/Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo, All England championship Hiroyuki Endo/Yuta Watanabe, and Li Jun Hui/Liu Yu Chen.

If they are able to sustain the momentum from Bangkok, they could well bring forth a different dimension to men’s doubles, of a pair having fun off and on court, spreading cheer and goodwill, while at the same time challenging for the biggest titles.

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