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Hafiz creates major All England shock

February 16, 2003 22:58 IST

Muhammad Hafiz Hashim caused one of the biggest upsets in the 104-year history of the All-England championships when he upset the top-seeded titleholder Chen Hong to win the men's singles title in Birmingham on Sunday.

Hafiz's 17-14 15-10 win made him the first Malaysian for 37 years and the first unseeded player for 15 to win the title, and ended Chinese hopes of equalling their own open era record of winning four of the five titles.

It completed what had already been a remarkable tournament for the 20-year-old from Kalentan, who had previously beaten two other seeds and avenged his elder brother Muhammad Roslin Hashim's defeat in the semi-finals the day before.

"This was revenge," the 20-year-old confirmed afterwards. "Now I just want to do the same at the world championships (at the same venue in May)."

Hafiz's success also had a hint of mimicry. Roslin had  held five game points against Chen before narrowly failing to make it the first time that brothers had met in the men's singles final of a major event. Hafiz saved three game points and trailed 9-14 in the first game before going on to his startling triumph.

Unfortunately Roslin didn't see all of his younger brother's triumph because he had to leave mid-way through to get a flight to Kuala Lumpur, but Hafiz sent him a text message on his mobile which Roslin received at the airport.

Hafiz achieved his success by playing as many of the rallies in mid-court and at the net as possible, thus increasingly nullifying Chen's spectacularly dangerous airborne attacks.

Hafiz was at least Chen's equal in the flat fast mid-court exchanges and also picked off winners at the net well. But even when forced to defence against Chen's steep smashes, Hafiz often did remarkable things, once producing a block from behind his back and once between his legs. The key moments came after Hafiz had saved a third game point at 12-14, and pushed on to 14-14. That set up a surge of adrenalin which carried him on a run of six winning rallies  and changed the course of the match.

In the second game Hafiz moved ahead from 2-2 to 5-2 and after getting to 11-6 and 14-8 proved mentally strong enough to fight off mini-revivals from Chen which got the champion back to 8-11 and 10-14.

The last Malaysian to win the men's singles title was Tan Aik Huang in 1966. It followed Hafiz' achievement in winning the Commonwealth Games title in Manchester in August.

There was some compensation for the Chinese when later they lifted the women's singles Zhou Mi won a routine encounter 11-6 11-5 against Xie Xinfang, the sixth-seeded surprise survivor who in the semis had brought down the top-seeded world champion Gong Ruina.

Earlier Zhang Jun and Gao Ling captured the mixed doubles title with a 11-6 11-7 win over their compatriots Chen Qiqiu and Zhao Tingting. That enabled Zhang and Gao to complete a hat-trick of major titles, having already won the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000 and the world championships in Seville in 2001.

China had already been certain of three All-England titles even before the final day began, having provided all the finalists for the wome n's singles and  doubles and the mixed doubles.