Two losses this morning – the fifth day of Olympic badminton – marked the retirements of two great European shuttlers.
France’s Pi Hongyan, once ranked as high as world No. 2, knew what to expect from Hong Kong’s world No. 23 Yip Pui Yin. Both women are well known on the circuit; Pi (featured image) possesses one of the most famous overhead techniques while Yip jump-smashes at any opportunity, an innovation she has made trendy.
Both showcased their playing trademarks and were evenly matched for much of the Women’s Singles contest but it was the younger campaigner who emerged on top, 13-21 21-12 21-16.
“I didn’t expect anything different from her. I tried my best and the outcome was what it was,” said a smiling Pi afterwards.
Defeat in the round of 16 at London 2012 was the final chapter in the 33-year-old naturalised Frenchwoman’s career. Born in Chongqing, she represented her native China before switching allegiance. At the Beijing Olympics, Pi came heartbreakingly close to beating eventual gold medallist Zhang Ning during the quarter-finals.
Denmark’s Thomas Laybourn and Kamilla Rytter Juhl succumbed to Chinese world No.1 pair Zhang Nan/Zhao Yunlei 13-21 17-21 in Mixed Doubles – the 2011 world champions ousting the 2009 world champions. At 34, Laybourn also bade farewell to international badminton, having served his country well.
Laybourn has left the sport in good hands though with compatriots Joachim Fischer/Christinna Pedersen keeping Danish hopes alive in the mixed discipline at these Olympics. Laybourn hugged his partner Kamilla Rytter Juhl in tribute to their on-court union that saw them reach the pinnacle of the world rankings.
Meanwhile, defending Men’s Singles champion, Lin Dan, proved too good for the former Olympic gold medallist Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia.
“It was an honour to be Taufik’s last opponent at the Olympics,” said the Chinese world No. 1 player after his 21-9 21-12 victory.
Despite the loss, immediate retirement is not on the cards for Hidayat.
“I’m proud of what I achieved in this sport. There is no definite date for my retirement. I will take a rest first and prepare for tournaments I’m scheduled to play in like the China League.”
In the other Men’s Singles match, Parupalli Kashyap of India prevailed 21-14 15-21 21-9 over Niluka Karunaratne of Sri Lanka. Both had swept aside seeded opponents to reach the round of 16, putting south Asian badminton on the map. However, it was Kashyap who lived to fight another match after conquering not only his rival but also his emotions in a titanic battle.
“My smashes were not as effective on one side of the court. I was attacking and attacking and the shuttle was coming back! I was getting scared and confused and tired so it was a really tough second game,” said Kashyap.