All England: Defending Champ Falters in Opening Test

There was one way Toma Junior Popov could outdo his younger brother Christo’s tenacious morning win against Lee Cheuk Yiu in the opening session of the YONEX All England. That was by taking down Li Shi Feng, defending champion and world No.4.

Which is what he proceeded to do, keeping things tight and closing it out efficiently before the third seed could stage a comeback. The 21-17 21-13 was interestingly his third win against Li Shi Feng and completed a great morning session for the Popovs.

“Very happy because I was struggling these last few weeks with some injuries, some back problems and other physical problems,” said Toma Junior. “So I’m happy to be back, really happy that it’s happening at the All England. It’s one of my favourite tournaments and it’s the first time I’m going into the second round in men’s singles. It’s a great achievement for the moment.”

Toma Junior and Li at the end of their match.

Was it Toma Junior’s style that Li hadn’t got a grip on?

“Maybe it’s my style, or maybe because he isn’t in good shape. I’m happy that I’ve got my third win against him. I’m proud because he’s one of the best players in the world and he won this tournament last year, so it’s big for me.

“From the outside it looked like I was dominant, but on the court it wasn’t like that. It was quite tense, because he’s a top player, and every time he’s down he can switch on and win many points in a row. So my main focus was to be steady and dictate the game, and be consistent. Consistency was the key. Happy particularly with my front court game and I hope I can keep this feeling and touch in this arena.”

A short while earlier his younger brother had ground out a three-game win over Lee, runner-up at the India Open in January. Such was the intensity that he didn’t erupt in celebration, instead heaving a long sigh of relief.

“I have mixed feelings … it was very tough mentally,” said Christo. “It wasn’t physical, it was mostly skills and it some tactical preparation. The hall was great to play today, there was no drift. It was really tough in the head, and when I won it was just relief, no celebration. So I’m pretty happy, because it was my first All England in singles. He’s done well lately, and he’s a great player.”

Other Highlights

» Liu Yu Chen and Ou Xuan Yi saved four match points on their way to a 15-21 23-21 21-14 result over Ong Yew Sin/Teo Ee Yi.

» Malaysia however had cause for cheer with Tan Kian Meng/Lai Pei Jing making a late recovery to get past Thom Gicquel/Delphine Delrue 12-21 21-19 21-14.


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