PETALING JAYA: Mohd Hafiz Hashim produced a scintillating performance, including a magnificent fightback in the first game, to stun top seed and defending champion Chen Hong of China 17-14, 15-10 and end Malaysia’s agonising 37-year wait for the All-England men’s singles crown at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham yesterday.
Chen Hong looked set to claim the first game when he led 14-9. But the Malaysian saved three game points in a golden spell to snatch the advantage from the Chinese and then raced away to clinch the title in 53 minutes, thus becoming the first Malaysian to be crowned All-England champion since Tan Aik Huang back in 1966.
Hafiz’s win is also one of the biggest shocks in the 104-year history of the All-England championships. Not only did it make him the first unseeded player in 15 years to lift the crown, it also ended China’s hopes of equalling their own Open era record of winning four of the five titles.
It also completed what has already been a remarkable tournament for the Kelantan-born shuttler, who had previously beaten two other seeds and now avenged his elder brother Mohd Roslin’s defeat in the semi-finals to Chen Hong the day before.
Unfortunately Roslin didn't see all of Hafiz’s triumph because he had to leave mid-way through to get a flight home, but Hafiz sent him a text message on his mobile which Roslin received at the airport.
“This is certainly the happiest day of my life. Winning this title is definitely better than my Commonwealth Games victory last year,” said the 20-year-old Hafiz.
“The All-England is packed with most the world’s top players while I only had my teammates as my closest rivals in the Commonwealth Games.
“I dedicate this victory to my parents and thank my coach Misbun (Sidek) for helping make this moment come true.”
As for the game itself, Hafiz said he was initially a little nervous. “When I was trailing 9-14 in the first game, I knew it would be tough to fight back but I never gave up. I played my own game and Chen Hong became nervous.
“In the second game I knew he was down mentally and I pushed my attack to the left side and it worked.”
His coach Misbun could hardly contain his excitement. “It was my vision to have one of my players win the All-England title. And today, my dream came true,” he said.
Aik Huang, the last Malaysian to have triumphed at the All-England, was also delighted with Hafiz’s feat.
“This is very good. My congratulations to him and I’m happy for him and for Malaysia,” said Aik Huang.
“This is one record I didn’t want to keep for a long time.”
Hafiz is only the fourth Malaysian to have won the All-England men’s singles title. Wong Peng Soon won it four times from 1950-1952 and 1955. Datuk Eddy Choong won it four times – back-to-back – in 1953-1954 and 1956-1957. Then came Aik Huang's heroics in 1966.
Hafiz has now succeeded where five other Malaysians had failed since Aik Huang’s victory. Punch Gunalan fell to Rudy Hartono in the 1974 final.
Then Hafiz’s mentor Misbun lost in 1986. Foo Kok Keong, Rashid Sidek and Ong Ewe Hock were also on the receiving ends in the finals in 1991, 1996 and 1998 respectively.
For Hafiz, the amazing victory earned him US$10,000 (RM38,000).
England seems to be Hafiz’s favourite hunting ground for it was in Manchester that he won the Commonwealth Games singles gold medal last year.