At the 2001 World Championships staged in the Japanese city of Osaka from Monday 23rd April to Sunday 6th May, now 20 years ago, revenge was in the air.
One year earlier in Malaysia on the first occasion when only team events had been staged, at the final hurdle China, represented by Kong Linghui, Liu Guoliang and Liu Guozheng had experienced a rather surprise 3-2 defeat against Sweden. The trio comprising Peter Karlsson, Jörgen Persson and Jan-Ove Waldner was thought to past its best; in fact, they were at their best!
The task in Osaka was to avenge that defeat, it was avenged but to some extent the revenge was hollow; Sweden experience a rather surprise reverse. They suffered a 3-1 semi-final defeat at the hands Belgium; Fredrik Hakansson being preferred to Peter Karlsson.
• Philippe Saive v Jörgen Persson 17-21, 21-17, 21-19
• Jean-Michel Saive v Jan-Ove Waldner 21-11, 13-21, 17-21
• Martin Bratanov v Fredrik Hakansson 21-12, 10-21, 21-15
• Jean-Michel Saive v Jörgen Persson 21-12, 21-18
“Of course, it is good to be champions, but I do wish that it had been the Swedish team that we had beaten in the final; it was very sad to see them knocked out in the semi-final”, said Kong Linghui.
In the final, China overpowered Belgium, a 3-0 margin of victory being the outcome, the one change to the line-up of a year earlier in Kuala Lumpur being that Ma Lin was on duty as opposed to Liu Guoliang.
• Ma Lin v Jean-Michel Saive 18-21, 21-7, 21-15
• Liu Guozheng v Philippe Saive 21-18, 21-17
• Kong Linghui v Martin Bratanov 21-18, 21-19
For Belgium, a country with a population of little more than ten million, it was a remarkable achievement to finish in second place to the nation that is the home to a quarter of the world's people.
“No one expected us to come this far”, explained Jean-Michel Saive. “We had an unbelievable tournament and even finishing second could not diminish the joy we feel today.”
However, being the favourites to arrest the title is not always an easy task. Ma Lin was certainly nervous in the opening encounter against Jean-Michel Saive.
World Cup champion at the time, he lost the firstgame, recovered to win the second and trailed 13-15 in the third when the Chinese camp called for a “time out”. The break proved crucial.
“At that point, if I had taken another point, it may well l have been a different story, I had chances and wasted them, against China you have to take your chances”, reflected Jean-Michel Saive.
The remaining two encounters went in straight games to China.
“I was really getting into the rallies, but he was winning the points”, explained Philippe Saive, after giving a very good account of himself against Liu Guozheng.
However, it was Martin Bratanov who put matters into perspective and summed up the mood of the Belgian camp after losing to Kong Linghui.
“Five days ago, I would never have even dreamt about being here today”, he smiled. “It has yet to sink in that I' m part of the second best team in the world.”
Editor’s Note: Thanks to the assistance of Gennaro Bozza in writing this article.