World No. 1 shoe fits for HK Open champion Tai

Tai Tzu-ying (above) is the second Taiwanese world No. 1 in badminton, after women's doubles duo Cheng Wen-hsing and Chien Yu-chin in 2009.
Tai Tzu-ying (above) is the second Taiwanese world No. 1 in badminton, after women's doubles duo Cheng Wen-hsing and Chien Yu-chin in 2009.

TAIPEI • Tai Tzu-ying of Taiwan enjoyed a double celebration after clinching the women's singles title at the US$400,000 (S$570,600) Hong Kong Open on Sunday.

The 22-year-old's 21-15, 21-17 victory over P.V. Sindhu of India in the badminton final was not just sweet revenge after losing to the same opponent at the Rio Olympics but also took her to the top of the world rankings, overtaking Rio champion Carolina Marin of Spain.

It was also Tai's second Hong Kong Open title after winning there in 2014, defeating Japan's Nozomi Okuhara in the final.

"My fans kept telling me I might be able to get to the world No. 1 spot in Hong Kong if I won the tournament but this is not my main concern," said the champion, who was ranked third when the tournament started. "I always emphasised the importance of enjoying the game as I did today."

Tai is the second Taiwanese world No. 1 in badminton. Women's doubles pair Cheng Wen-hsing and Chien Yu-chin also made it to the summit in 2009.

Tai's father Tai Nan-kai said he and two dozen friends, including former Taiwan interior minister Yu Cheng-hsien, celebrated her win in front of the home television.

"We shouted, 'Here's the badminton queen' when she won the match," he said.

He added that his daughter was set on becoming the world No. 1 when she started competing in international tournaments in 2009.

"Becoming world No. 1 is just a part of the process," he said. "From the television screen, she didn't look too excited either."

However, it was not all smooth sailing for Tai this year as sports goods manufacturer Yonex, sponsor of the Chinese Taipei Badminton Association, demanded that she "be punished or suspended" for not wearing its shoes at the Olympics and other tournaments.

Tai said she "tried to wear the shoes, but they did not fit well" and wore shoes made by her personal sponsor, Victor Sports, instead.

The dispute became a national issue with many backing her stance.

Chinese Taipei Badminton Association director Cheng Chun-lang finally apologised and said Tai would not be punished with the association considering scrapping its rule requiring players to wear sponsored gear.

THE CHINA POST/ANN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2016, with the headline 'World No. 1 shoe fits for HK Open champion Tai'. Print Edition | Subscribe