Fairy tale finish as Hong Kong’s Lee Cheuk-yiu snatches New Zealand Open title

Unseeded Lee stuns Taiwanese top seed shuttler for men’s title in Auckland with coach He saying he has a bright future ahead of him

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 August, 2017, 6:57pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 August, 2017, 8:33pm

Hong Kong youngster Alex Lee Cheuk-yiu’s completed a fairy tale victory in the New Zealand Open on Sunday by upstaging top seed Wang Tzu-wei, of Taiwan, to clinch the men’s singles title after a thrilling 67-minute final in Auckland.

The unseeded player was forced to save four match points in a row after trailing 20-16 in the final set before taking the deuce to lift his first major international honour. Lee won the thriller 2-1 (11-21, 21-15, 22-20) against the more experienced Taiwanese.

Wang had beaten the 21-year-old in the first round of the Macau Open in November.

Lee’s determination and his ability to battle back earned high praise from his coach Tim He Yiming.

“It’s amazing to see a player come back from 20-16 to win the match by taking six successive points at a crucial stage,” said He. “It happened not in the early part of the match but when Lee was under pressure to lose the title.

A silver for singles star

“But he stayed calm and his ability to read the game was excellent. Once he had found the weak points of the opponent, he was able to fight back until he got the desired result.”

Starting from the round of 64, Lee gained sufficient momentum for the title match after overcoming four seeded players on his way to the final. His victims were third seed Jonatan Christie, of Indonesia, Misha Zilberman, of Israel, the 13th seed, India’s seventh seed Sourabh Verma and sixth seed Hsu Jen-hao, of Taiwan, in the semi-finals.

“It’s not easy working all the way through as an unseeded player but the hard work also paid off by providing him adequate confidence along the way,” said He. “His previous best result was third place at the Thailand Open in 2016 and if the youngster can build on this success here, he will have a bright future with more international exposure.”

The promising Lee turned full-time when he turned 16 and represented Hong Kong at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, where he reached the quarter-finals before losing to finalist Lin Guipu of China.

Hong Kong also had Wei Nan in the grand prix gold series but the 10th seed was stopped in round three by his Indian opponent, fourth seed HS Prannoy, who won 21-18, 21-19.

In the women’s singles, top seed Ratchanok Intanon, of Thailand, also needed three games before the former world champion beat Saena Kawakami, of Japan, 21-14, 15-21, 21-16 for the title.

Top seed in the women’s doubles final, Vivian Hoo and Woon Khe-Wei, of Malaysia, were fully stretched before defeating Ayako Sakuramoto and Yukiko Takahata, of Japan, 18-21, 21-16, 21-19 after 96 minutes.