Chen Yu Fei reclaimed China’s major event supremacy in women’s singles after nine years, achieving gold and glory at Tokyo 2020 in a match of fluctuating fortunes.
The top seed withstood a severe test from Tai Tzu Ying, eventually capitalising on a rash of errors from the world No.1 to take the title 21-18 19-21 21-18.
India’s Pusarla V. Sindhu added a second Olympic medal to her tally, powering past He Bing Jiao 21-13 21-15 in the bronze medal playoff.
How much will Tai rue those mistakes that let the match slip from her grasp? She would say later that she had no regrets and that she’d tried her best, but having done all the hard work in climbing back from 3-11 to 14-15, and with Chen visibly flagging, a flurry of mistakes let the pressure off the Chinese. The final thus was as much a story of Tai’s twin selves – her magical and her errant selves – competing for supremacy, and the stark contrast with Chen’s unwavering, industrial efficiency that saw her through to the biggest moment of her life.
Through most of this story Chen Yu Fei executed a well-drilled, finely-balanced gameplan, setting a slower tempo and with error-free play had the answers to Tai’s probing questions. The top seed showed incredible athleticism and anticipation in keeping the rallies going, while picking the right moment to snipe winners.
In the face of such resolute defence, Tai had but one option – and that was to reach into her reservoir of skill and unveil a spell that teased and tormented her opponent. Unlike in her semifinal against Pusarla V Sindhu, that spell would not sustain; it helped her climb from 3-11 to 14-15 in the third, and just when the momentum was in her favour, it deserted her. Chen, dragging herself between points, was struggling to keep the pace she had early on, but at the most inopportune of times, Tai’s errant self resurfaced. Three errors in a row and it was all but over.
“Yes, in the third game at the very beginning I made quite a few mistakes, so I was trailing,” said Tai. “Then especially in the second half of the third game I tried to reverse the game but I had fallen behind by too much so I couldn’t really reverse the game. I’m not disappointed. It was a goal (to win event), but the competition is over. I worked hard for it. I will rest and take it from there.”
The victor acknowledged the significance of what she’d done for China, reinstating the country’s supremacy at major events which they’d lost after winning gold in London 2012.
“I’m extremely happy to extend the honour, as we’ve actually had difficulty with the Chinese badminton’s women’s team since 2016. Now today I stood today on top of the podium,” said Chen.
“I was really tired but I persisted. I might have seemed really stretched and exhausted but I could still carry on with the game.
“This gold is recognition for myself as well as the women’s badminton of China. I’m extremely happy. I want to say thank you to my parents. I’ve been away from home a lot. I feel indebted to them. I hope this gold can be compensation in some way.”