Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Yonex Voltric 80

I have noticed something a bit fishy about the new Yonex Voltric 80 and it is the pricing for it here in the UK. Funny thing is, the racket is almost exactly the same price at every single online store i have looked at. This price is £161 GBP. Is this price fixing? Oh yes it is, and many major racket brands, not just yonex, have been at this for years, not just in badminton but in squash and tennis. I did a little searching on the internet and found a very good story of this price fixing from a very successful racket store in California called The Racket Doctor and if you follow the link it tells the story of their battles with the big racket manufacturers over the years.

The sad part is that those of us who buy rackets are being ripped off by the big companies. The retailers have their hands tied because they have to sell the latest offerings at a certain price, or else they will find their supply being cut off and therefore will not be able to sell any rackets or other equipment. The guy from racket doctor actually challenged this in court, as he believed he should be able to sell rackets for whatever price he wanted to, the free market is what i am talking about. He lost, so we all get ripped off legally.

This price fixing means that the voltric 80 is the same price no matter where you look, or at least it has the same minimum cost, some retailers may take the piss and sell it at £170 or £180 for a short while until they realise they have failed to sell any because they were greedy. So what we are left with is about 50 online stores all selling for the same price because Yonex will dump them if they try to go below this magical £161.

This forces the online badminton retail stores to be more creative, or at least it should if they have any sense. Being creative means offering little extras to the deal so the customer gets something more than just the £161 Voltric 80. This comes in a few different forms such as free delivery, free stringing or free grips, or a free t-shirt, or free towel, or free whatever they can think of. Ok, so lets take a look at what deals there are out there in the UK online market for this Voltric 80.

Of the main players in the Uk market we can take a quick look at who is advertising on google for this racket, and who ranks on the first page of the organic listings for "yonex voltric 80". Here are the main retailers..

central sports
uk rackets
direct sports e shop
tennis nuts
millet sports
advanced rackets
maurice robinson sports
pro sport uk
badminton warehouse

The last on the list, badminton warehouse is a US based retailer that appears to be advertising themselves in the Uk market, and after looking at their site they do ship internationally. So lets see what their price is for the voltric 80, well it says it is on sale for $229.95 and when you click through for more details they also offer a stringing service, however this is only free if you choose yonex BG65, all other types of string will cost you extra. If we take todays pound dollar exchange rate which is 1.62 it works out that the price i would pay in GBP is about £141.94. This is about £19 cheaper than the £161 price from the UK retailers. Great, so i can save almost £20 if i buy from the US right? Wrong. You now have to look at the shipping cost as well. Badminton Warehouse do offer free delivery if you live in the US but after entering my post code and country it turns out the shipping cost is a whopping $66.50 for UPS global express, or an extra $89.95 for UPS mail international. WTF! So now my bargain racket is no longer a bargain at all, in fact if i choose the cheapest delivery option of $66.50 or £41 in GBP, this puts the total amount payable to £182 GBP, which is an extra £21 more than i could get it for here in the UK. This begs the question of why the hell are badminton warehouse advertising for this racket here in the UK market? Those of you in the US are going to paying about £20 less for the Voltric 80 than us here in the UK.

Going back to the list i will take the first retailer which is central sports, the biggest badminton racket retailer here in the UK. If you go to the All England championships you will see them there, in fact they are the only retailer allowed to actually sell anything there as they are the approved yonex retailer for the All England. Yonex sponsor the All England and have a monopoly on all the retail equipment as well, as they do not allow any other merchant or brand to sell anything there. This is nothing new, and in all honesty without Yonex there would probably not be an All England championships, so i guess we must be grateful for their support. Central Sports have a great time every year at the All England, and they get lots of exposure as well so all the badminton players know their name. They also have a close relationship with badminton england, and if you are a member you can get a discount at central sports.

At the central sports website the advertised price for the voltric 80 is? Yep its £161.50, and rather annoyingly you have click a few buttons to actually see the price. Why do all these retailers do this? They all sell it for the same damn price! Ok so we have the price, but what about the little extras? Well this is where central sports raise the bar from the others because you can customise this racket, which gives you the choice of a free yonex grip and a free stringing upgrade at your chosen tension. There are 7 different yonex strings to choose from, and more importantly you can have the tension up to 28lbs. Central Sports do tell you that they cannot guarantee any tension that is above their recommended tension, which for the voltric is about 24lbs. We all know that the voltric can be strung above 30lbs without too much trouble, but they have to have this disclaimer to avoid returns from customers who may very well snap the strings after a few mis hit shots at 28lbs tension. Still, credit to central sports for stringing to 28lbs, which is my own preferred tension. They also offer free delivery on 2-3 working days. So with central sports i get the racket, free grip which they also fit for you, and my chosen string at my chosen tension, all for £161.50. In addition, they have an offer of another 3 free grips with this racket.

Next up we have UK rackets, and their price is also £161.50, with free delivery. Unfortunately there is no mention of any extras with the voltric 80, no free grips and no stringing upgrades, so the racket would come with the factory string and tension. Oh dear.

Direct sports e shop are next up, and the price is £161.50 funnily enough. What extras do they have? Well they offer a free grip upgrade, and also they offer 3 free grips, which is identical to what central sports offer. You can also choose your string and the tension up to 28lbs, and this is also free, and is the same as central sports. You get free delivery as well, so up to now the best deal is with direct sports e shop and central sports. Both have an identical offer.

Sweatband are next up, and they are selling it for £161.49 which is 1p less than the others. You also get a free yonex grip, but sadly they do not have any restring offer so you will get the factory strings at factory tension, which is just fine if you are not bothered about the strings, however i suspect that most badminton players who are going to buy the voltric 80 are pretty serious players who will be concerned with the strings so they will be looking for these upgrades, i know i would be. Sweatband also offer free delivery, so they only fall down on the strings.

PWP come up next, and they advertise quite heavily in the badminton magazine that gets sent out once every few months. Once again the price is £161.50 however we soon run into a problem. There is no free grip offer, and whilst they do have a string upgrade, you have to pay for it. PWP offer yonex BG65 for an extra £3.99, or £4.99 for BG65Ti. Worst still they will only string up to a maximum of 24lbs, so i would be out of luck if i wanted my usual tension of 28lbs. You do get free delivery, but this offer is not as good as the others.

Tennis Nuts are next on the list, and again, they advertise in badminton magazines, but obviously their main focus is on tennis rackets and equipment. Still, they have all the latest badminton rackets on sale at the website, and after a quick look we find the Voltric 80 on sale for £161.49. The extras are either 3 free grips or a string upgrade in yonex string at a max tension of 26lbs. Delivery is also free, so their deal is just a little short of the best so far.

Millet Sports are a more general sports retailer, but they are currently advertising on google for the Voltric 80. The price is once again £161.50 but there are no extras, just free delivery on orders over £79, so Millets are offering less than the rest. I suppose that Millets are not badminton specialists, so their focus is on other sporting equipment.

Advanced rackets are also selling for £161.50 and you get a free grip and restring option with a good variety of yonex strings, with the max tension at 28lbs, so this deal is right up there with the best so far. Delivery is also free.

Maurice Robinson have the Voltric 80 at £161.50 with free grip and free restring upgrade, but the max tension is set at 24lbs, so not ideal for those who like their tension higher. Free delivery is also included.

Pro Sport UK surprisingly have it on sale for £161.50, but have no other upgrades so they are down near the bottom of the list for extras. One thing that made me laugh was the little comment box that came up when i had to click to see the actual price of the Voltric 80. It says "It is important to ProsportUK.Com and Yonex that as much technical information about the product is available, so that an informed decision can be made when choosing a racquet that will suit your technique and playing style rather than just on price". How daft is that comment?

So there we have it. It is impossible to buy the volrtic 80 for less than £161.49 in the UK. The best deal comes from central sports and direct sports e shop. I suspect that central sports are buying more voltrics than any other UK retailer as they have the most customers. The exposure from the All England and from badminton england means central sports are well known here in the UK. Of course when you buy more rackets you can expect to pay less for each unit, so central sports will making more profit on every voltric they sell. They have got very big, so they can offer a free restring and extra grips, and still make a decent profit on each racket sold. Credit to direct sports e shop for matching this deal. If i ran an online badminton store i would be looking to try and match this deal, especially if i was paying to advertise with google for this racket. To me it just makes sense to have the best deal if you want to actually sell more stuff. However, you would then need to buy a stringing machine and a stringer to upgrade the rackets sold, adding extra cost to your bottom line.

There is one more store that i have not mentioned yet, and that is my badminton who are based in Hong Kong and have been trading since 2004. The big deal with this store is that they offer free delivery worldwide, so i went and checked them out about the Voltric 80. First of all the site looks a bit jumbled up and the layout is a bit messy, but what i am looking for is the price. I clicked through to the page on the voltric 80 and was confronted with 3 results. The first offer was for a JP version which costs $239 US dollars. Me being from the UK i want to see that price in GBP, and there is a currency converter on the site, so after pressing this i get the prices in GBP, and the JP voltric 80 comes in at £147.52. Hmm this is cheaper than in the UK. However, further down the page is an SP version which is only £122.83 which is a £24.69 difference. Why is this? Why does the JP (japan) version cost more than the SP (singapore) version? Is there a difference in quality or something? After digging a little deeper i found the answer on the site which states that JP country coded yonex rackets are more expensive in Japan than the rest of the world, and my badminton (MBS) import them to Hong Kong to their store at this premium price, hence they retail at this higher price. Now who on earth would pay extra just for the JP version when, as MBS state on the site, that yonex themselves claim there is no difference in quality between the JP and all the other country coded rackets? Why would MBS even bother to import them in the first place? I have no idea either, but it seems to add extra confusion for no reason.

Ok so now i go and click on the buy button for the SP voltric 80 which is the cheapest option. I am now faced with a few things to fill in. The first is the shipping option. Here is where things get a bit confusing. You can get free shipping, but MBS recommend taking out the EMS shipping option if you are buying expensive rackets, which the voltric 80 certainly is. I have never used MBS before so it would be a bit of a guess as to whether i should choose this EMS shipping option. If i do choose this option it costs an extra £7.41 for tracking and 3-5 day delivery. However this is what is recommended so i would choose it to be safe. I can also choose my string and tension, so i would choose yonex BG65Ti which adds another £6.17 to the price. I can choose the tension by leaving a comment in the box at the checkout. If we add all this up the price is now £136.41. Look at the shipping charge of just £7.41 and compare that to the whopping £41 shipping charge from badminton warehouse in the US. How can there be such a huge difference in price? Are badminton warehouse overcharging for international delivery? It certainly looks like it from these figures. So what we are left with is a total price of £136.41 with strings and my chosen tension, and tracked delivery to arrive in 3-5 days, which is a saving of £25.08 if i import this racket from Hong Kong. If i choose free delivery i would save an extra £7.41 on top of that making a saving of £32.49.

If i was to go and buy this racket from MBS i would email them and find out what the best delivery option was and how reliable the free shipping actually is before deciding. I do know that they are legitimate and sell authentic goods. So basically the best option of buying a yonex voltric 80 in the UK is to get it from Hong Kong. If i was the owner of MBS i would be advertising on the UK google results just like badminton warehouse are doing. The difference is that MBS are the cheapest option by far.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Evolution of Mens Singles Badminton

You may want to grab a cup of coffee for this post because it is going to be very long. I have been playing badminton since i was 14, and i began watching professional badminton, by going along to the All England Chamionships a few years later. This was when the All England was at Wembley Arena. Living in the UK, there was hardly any badminton on television, unfortunately badminton is a minority sport here in the UK, so coverage of it back in the late 80's was restricted to one hour shows at midnight, and this was for the All England Open only. If you were lucky, you would perhaps get some coverage of the English Nationals and if you were even more lucky, you may get coverage of the Grand Prix Finals on Grandstand on a Saturday afternoon. So for me, and all us English badminton fans, television coverage was virtually non existent back then.

My first taste of live badminton was when i went to watch the Carlsberg Classic in Preston in 1988, just 10 miles from my home. The main man at this time was Morten Frost, so i was keen to see him play live. I went to all the sessions on all of the days, and i can tell you that watching badminton live is so much better than watching on television. Frost just glided through his opening rounds, dropping hardly any points in the games. I remember watching one match and his opponent had played a nice tight spinning net shot, and Frost was moving to the net with his racket back, ready to lift the shuttle to the back of the court. His opponent was already anticipating the lift and was inching back into court and at the very last second, after this huge back swing, Frost stopped the swing and played a return net shot, with his opponent totally baffled by what had just happened. Everyone watching was also amazed, i had never seen anyone do this shot, the racket head control to pull off a shot like that was unbelievable. To this day i have still not seen a professional player do this.

Frost went on to win the final against a young Indonesian by the name of Ardy Wiranata. I actually sat next to him and his mother when we all got evacuated from the hall after a fire alarm went off.

So what made Frost so good? He was as steady as a rock, had fast feet and smooth footwork, superb fitness, excellent net play and one of the best defences of any badminton player. His weakness was probably his lack of a winning smash, but he could move his opponents around the court to wherever he wanted. I also watched Frost lose the 1988 All England Final to Ib Fredrikson, and no-one predicted that outcome. I then wanted to see what Frost had done previous to this, as he had already won the All England in 1982, 1984, 1986 and 1987. I managed to find a video if him playing Liem Swie King in the 84 final. What a great match that was, Swie King smashing and Frost defending. At one point Frost had his arms in the air, getting frustrated at not being able to get Swie Kings smashes back. Another great moment in that final is when Swie King took a towel down break and he had a flask to drink out of. This was when play was continuous, so there was hardly any towel downs, which is spoiling the sport these days. Too many interruptions and gamesmanship goes on in modern badminton.

I also found a video of the 1987 final against Icuk Sugiarto, and i remeber one of my friends telling me to watch this final as there was a 100 shot rally in it. The first game was 15-10 to Frost, and some of the rallies were brutal, with Sugiarto just clearing with his backhand on many points, trying to wear Frost down. It didn't work like he used to do when they played in Asia, with the climate being much cooler in England, and after winning the first game Frost battered Sugiarto 15-0 in the second. The 100 shot rally was great to watch, and right after that rally was another epic one, and Frost won it with a simple block to the net off a Sugiarto smash. What most people don't realise is that Sugiarto had broken a string in his racket, so he had to try and win the point with a smash, which had less power than normal, hence the easy winner for Frost.

I then wanted to see the video of the 1985 final which Frost lost to a young Chinese player called Zhao Jianhua. I had seen some pictures from this match in one of the badminton magazines from that year and i could not believe the action shots of this Zhao guy. I never got to watch that game until many years later, this was after i had seen Zhao play live at the All England in 1990, 1991, 1992 and at the world championships in Birmingham in 1993 playing mixed doubles only. I have also seen coverage of him playing and winning the 1991 world championships, and i have seen footage of him playing in the Thomas Cup losing to Rahid Sidek in the semi finals, and losing to Ardy in the badminton World Cup i think it was called. There is also footage of Zhao beating Yang Yang in the Asian Games in 1990 on youtube.

In my opinion Zhao is the best badminton singles player to pick up a racket. He was a badminton prodigy, with the best technique of any player then and since. If you want to see the perfect badminton match then watch the All England 1990 final against Joko Suprianto.

So what was so good about Zhao Jianhua? On his day he could beat any player, make them look like amateurs. The only person who could beat Zhao was Zhao. It has been reported he didn't like training, and his mind often wandered during games. He did not win as much as he should have with the talent he had because his mental approach was not good enough. This does happen with prodigious people, everything seems to easy so they don't seem to put in as much effort or have to will to win, like lesser players do. Having said that, when he was in the mood, like in that 1990 final, and in the 1991 world championship final against Kusuma, then the shots he plays are out of this world. His overhead technique was the most deceptive i have ever seen, and you can tell how good it was by watching his opponents movement. I remember sitting in the front row at the 1993 world championships when Zhao was playing mixed doubles against an Indonesian pair and the shuttle was up in the air about 3/4 court length. Zhao got behind the shuttle and i was at right in line with him at the other end of the court. His whole body and arm was in a perfect line with shuttle before he hit it. I guess i had the perfect view of what his opponents were seeing. He played a drop shot and nobody knew what shot he was going to play until the very last second. His opponent just stood rooted to the spot and i remember smiling and shaking my head in disbelief at how good this guy's technique was. They always had to wait until the last second to move as they didn't know where the shuttle was going.

His speed around court was smooth and came in bursts, much like how Lin Dan plays. Frost used to describe him as "a ticking bomb" and when he went off there was not much you could do. His smashes were pin point accurate, from both forehand and from round the head. His jump enabled him to find angles that no-one else could. He is the most talented player of all time, but his inconsistency let him down. Still, when he did decide to play he could beat anyone. When Zhao played, all the other badminton players would come out to watch, and i think that is the biggest compliment you can get. Some people say Zhao would be no match for the likes of Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei. I doubt that, i think on his day he could hold his own against them, but i guess we will never know, however it would be a fascinating prospect.

Zhao was the successor to Yang Yang in a way. He carried on playing for a few years more than Yang Yang, although their careers were around the same time. Yang Yang enjoyed more success because he was much more consistent, and he won the world championships in 1987 and 1989. I remember watching the video of the 1987 final against Frost, and the drift in the hall was crazy. Yang Yang won in 3 games, and his attack eventually got the better of Frost. The 1989 final was against Ardy on his home court, and again Yang Yang won in 3 hard fought games. It looked like Yang took the edge of Ardy, who won the first game and came out of the blocks on fire, but slowly got more tired as Yang upped the pace. It seems the best Chinese players have been lefties, with both Zhao and Yang Yang, along with Lin Dan all being left handed. Yang also beat Frost in the All England final of 1989 in 2 straight games, with Frost making all sorts of unforced errors, probably due to the pressure he felt when playing Yang Yang. What was so good about Yang Yang? He had a very powerful jump smash, especially from round the head, excellent stamina to keep playing a fast pace, he also had a great wrist on him. After the 1989 final, Frosts career came to a virtual end, and a new Dane, Poul Erik Hoyer Larsen was now improving rapidly to take over the mantle for the Danes.

The Indonesians were also beginning to come to prominence, with Ardy leading the way. This was the start of a golden era for Indonesian mens singles, and other players were also coming up the rankings including Alan Budi Kusuma, Joko Suprianto, Bambamg Suprianto, Hermawan Susanto, Fung Permadi, and a young Heryanto Arbi. The Malaysians had Foo Kok Keong, and Rashid Sidek. The Chinese had Zhao at his peak, Yang Yang, and Xiong Guobao. And what about the English players? Well we had Darren Hall and Steve Baddeley. Hall had already had the best win of his Career, beating Frost in the final of the European Champs in 1988, when Frost was in his prime. He used to train with Frost every day, so that may have helped him, and it certainly brought his game on leaps and bounds. He regularly reached the latter stages of important tournaments, and he always used to play at 100 miles an hour, with a very good net game. Sadly, Hall has been the last truly world class singles player that we have had. The results for English mens singles players since he retired have been dismal to say the least. I don't think we have had any male player reaching beyond the first few rounds of the All England since about the mid 1990's.

So onto 1990, and that All England final with Zhao and Joko. In his semi final. Zhao beat Rashid Sidek, who was now challenging in all the major tournaments. I sat there and watched Rashid dismantle Frost in the quarter finals, and he gave Zhao a great game in the semi final, going to setting in the second game. The 1991 final saw Ardy beating Foo Kok Keong in the final, with Foo beating Zhao in his semi final. Ardy had a little bit more attacking flair than Foo, but the final was a war of attrition which Ardy won and took the title. The 1991 world champs saw Zhao at his best again, beating Alan Budi Kusuma in the final, with the second game being very much like the 1990 All England final, with Zhao hitting top form and playing some brilliant shots to beat Kusuma. You can see the second half of the second game here, enjoy..

1992 saw some great matches between all these great players. The one that sticks out in my mind was the Thomas Cup Final between Malaysia and Indonesia. I manages to get hold of a video of that final from the IBF many many years ago, and what a match it was. The crowd was going totally nuts all the way through, with the prime minister leading the way.

Rashid beat Ardy in 3 games, and after looking like he had run out of steam in the second game, he came back even stronger in the 3rd game to set Malaysia on their way. The match ended with Malaysia winning 3-2, and the crowd going wild.

The All England final was between Zhao and another Chinese player called Lui Jun. I was sat there in the crowd watching this final, and as everyone knows, it was fixed. With 1992 being Olympic Year, and the first time badminton had been included as a full Olympic sport, ranking points counted, and China wanted Lui Jun to be competing in it. Basically he had to win the All England to qualify, and that is what happened. The reality is that Zhao was denied another All England Championship because he was by far the better player. He looked like he was messing about in that final, and he was. He did play all out for a few rallies, then made simple errors to give Lui the match. The Olympic final was between Ardy and Alan Kusuma, with Kusuma winning in 2 straight games. Hermawan Susanto beat Zhao in the quarter finals, and effectively ended his career. Zhao was top seed and expected to win the whole thing, but things don't always work out to plan do they? Rashid Sidek also went out in the quarter finals losing to an up and coming Danish player by the name of Thomas Steur Lauridsen. Indonesia were the big winners, taking gold silver and a bronze. This was when there was no bronze medal match, with the losing semi finalists both getting a bronze medal. Also, there was no mixed doubles in the 1992 Olympic event, a bit sexist i think.

Onto 1993 and this was the start of more Indonesian domination in world badminton. China began a lean period for the next few years as they had up and coming stars who were not yet internaional class, most notably Dong Jiong and Sun Jun. The All England final in 1993 was between Heryanto Arbi and Joko Suprianto, who was back in the final after that 1990 hammering. I had seen Arbi play at the previous All England and you could see his potential. He played very much like Liem Swie King, with an attacking game and a big jump smash. He had a good semi final win over the improving Steur Lauridsen, whose tricky style always caused the Inodnesians problems. He was very good at flat clearing to the forehand corner, and this caught out many opponents, but in the end Arbi won the tight points and went on to win the final. This win set him on his way to many more big victories, usually against his fellow countrymen, as the Indonesains were so strong with good strength in depth.

The 1993 Workd Championships were in Brimingham at the national indoor arena, so off i went on the first 3 days. The All England would move there in 1994, and has been there ever since. On the opening days the entire arena was used, and at the All England you never see the whole arena as half of it is closed off with a big black curtain, although last year they did make the viewing area a bit bigger. Joko won the 1993 title beating Susanto in the final. The quarter finals featured 5 Indonesians, and the semis had 3 out of 4 being Indonesisan, highlighting this strength in depth.

Arbi won the 1994 All England as well, beating Ardi in the final. His attack finally got through against Ardi's defensive play. Ardi used to just grind opponents down, wear them out and then play winners. He had great court coverage and steady shots as well as the ability to inject pace and power when he saw the chance. Arbi then went on to win the World Championships in 1995 but he lost the 1995 All England to Hoyer Larsen, who was beginning his remarkable run of form somewhat late in his career. I used to enjoy watching him play because he was so good at the net and also being a leftie he was very deceptive overhead. He used to dominate his opponents and force them to play his game. His tight spinning net shots were the best of any player, and from the weak returns he would play his winners. He wasn't the fastest mover around but he had great stroke production and was very accurate, so he usually had his opponents running around and not them moving him. Singles is very hard when you are chasing the shuttle all the time, and sooner or later you run out of steam and start taking the shuttle a little bit later.

1996 saw Hoyer Larsen take a second All England title, this time beating Rashid Sidek in the final. Rashid had sufered with injuries in the past few years, but he came into some great from in the 1996 chamionships. I think without the injuries he suffered from he would have won many more tournaments than he did. You could see he had problems moving in the final, and Hoyer Larsen always made players twist and turn all over the place. 1996 was also Olympic year, and Hoyer Larsen took this title as well, beating Dong Jiong in the final. Joko Suprianto was the top seed, with Hoyer Larsen seeded 2. The semi final line up had Rashid Sidek playing Dong Jiong, won by Dong Jiong. Rashid had earlier beaten Joko in the quarters, but Dong took him out in straight games. In the other semi Larsen beat Arbi in straight games. The bronze medals now had to be fought for in all play off match, which Rashid took after beating Arbi in 3 games. In the final Larsen used good tactics to stop Dong Jiong attacking, and frustrated him throughout the match. Dong had a very powerful jump smash, so Larsen hardly ever lifted to him, and Dong tried to take him on at the net, which Larsen won and subsequently the gold medal.

1997 saw Dong Jiong win the All England, giving Sun Jun a lesson in attacking badminton. And then we come to the 1997 World Championships in Glasgow, which i went to for 3 days, watching the round of last 16, quarters and semis. I watched the finals on tv. That week in Scotland was roasting hot and it was even hotter inside the venue. Hoyer Larsen was the top seed, with Arbi and Ardi and Sun Jun the other highly seeded players. The first semi final had Hoyer Larsen playing Sun Jun, and i was right at the court edge for this match. Sun Jun eventually beat Larsen in 3 games, and when i say tough i mean really tough. Sun Jun covered more court in that semi than i have ever seen a human being do. His retrieval during that match was unbelievable, and Larsen seemed to run out of ideas. The seond semi had Arbi up against Peter Rasmussen from Denmark. I was court side for this match as well, sat in the middle of a load of Malaysian fans, who were banging the seats and making loads of noise. The atmosphere was superb, and they were all waiting for Cheah and Yap to play Ricky and Rexy in the mens doubles semi final. Arbi won the first game after being about 10-1 up, with Rasmussen looking very nervous indeed. Rasmussen did get some points back near the end of the first game, and then took control of the match. He had a very deceptive overhead forehand slice and straight smash, and Arbi just could not read these shots.

So the final was Sun Jun playing Peter Rasmussen, and it will be remembered for Sun Jun cramping up in the third game after leading about 10-3. It was a brutal match all through, with very long rallies played at a very fast pace. I know why Sun Jun cramped up, it was that brutal semi final, and those first 2 games in the final which both went to setting, along with the heat in the hall. The rallies went on and on, and Rasmussen just kept on going till Sun Jun cramped up in the third. It was live on tv and you could see his thigh muscle all cramped to hell. A great final, and a great win for Rasmussen, who came out of nowhere to win. I felt a bit bad for Sun Jun, but professional sport is brutal and cramping up is just tough luck i suppose. He did learn a valuable lesson from this match though, which was to improve his attacking game so he could finish off rallies quicker.

The new improved and rested Sun Jun came back to win the 1998 All England, by demolishing Ong Ewe Hock in 2 straight games. He hit top form all through this tournament, hammering everyone through the rounds, culminating in a great performance in the final. Ong tried his best but was outclassed on the day.

1999 saw Peter Gade claim the All England, beating a precocious young teenager called Taufik Hidayat in 3 games in the final. I watched Taufik beat Hoyer Larsen in the semi final, and everyone could see we had a new star being born. Gade was also coming into his own and was now a top singles player. Going into the 1999 World Champs he was one of the favourites along with Sun Jun and Hoyer Larsen. Sun Jun took the crown against the suprise finalist Fung Permadi. Sun Jun was probably at his peak at this time, and he hammered both Steur Lauridsen and Hoyer Larsen in the quarters and semis. He hung on to win the final in 3 games, as Permadi tried to wear him down. His better attacking game saw him win through, and Sun Jun was great to watch, with a great overhead action and a very accurate smash.

I think this post has gone on long enough, so i will pick up the story of mens singles from 2000 to present in the next post.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Apacs Slayer 95 Review

The last of the test rackets is the Slayer 95, so here is my review of it. I didn't take any pictures of it, but in the future as per Dave's request i will add photos of the rackets i review on here. Having been impressed with the other two Slayer rackets, namely the 88 and the 99, i had high hopes for the 95 as well. I didn't have a spec for this racket as it is not yet on the Apacs Sports UK website, so i have nicked one from another Apacs site that already sells it outside of the UK.

Frame : 30T HM Graphite + 3K Woven + Carbon Nano Tube
Shaft : 40T HM Graphite + 3K Woven + Carton Nano Tube
Head Shape : ISO, Extremem Power Frame, 72 holes
Length : 670mm
Weight : 82 ± 2g
Balance Pt. : 285 ± 3mm (Even balance)
Shaft Dia. : Ø 7.0mm
Max Tension : 33/36lbs ( Main/Cross )

The weight was not 82g i can tell you that, it was around 85g. As usual the tension was 28lbs with Apacs slayer string. The balance was even, and the flex was medium/stiff. I have to say with the grip added it felt a little head light.

First impressions were not that great at all. The racket felt unstable when i hit the shuttle. The head seemed to move around a bit on impact, and this is something i do not like or want from any racket. I also felt more vibration than with the other Slayer rackets. The overall head light balance meant i had more trouble performing basic shots such as clears from baseline to baseline. I am only talking a slight difference here, i could still hit the clears, but it just felt like this racket would be a high work racket.

I had the same feeling when smashing as well. The head moved on impact much more than the 99 and 88, and it took a bit of getting used to. Where this Slayer 95 is best is around the net and for those fast defensive shots. The head light balance made a difference as it should, so i would suggest this racket is more suited for defensive players, or those like to play at the net in doubles. From the rear court it is not that great, so the choice is yours.

In conclusion, i was not impressed with this racket. Unstable is not good for a badminton player, and by far the most important point for any badminton racket is how it feels to you. For me i didn't connect with it, i didn't get that feeling that i look for. Others may well disagree, and that is fine. If you choose the Slayer 95 and feel comfortable with it, then great, the racket has done its job. I will give it 7/10.

After testing this latest batch of Apacs rackets, i would give top marks to the 88 and 99, followed by the Lethal 100, and in last place comes the Slayer 95. The 88 and 99 are very good all round rackets, the 100 is very head heavy so i would say it is better for singles players, and the 95 would be best around the net in doubles.

I have also noticed a new racket from Apacs called the Lurid Power. There are 3 rackets in this range that i have seen so far, and the important point with them all is that you can change the balance of the racket with end cap weights. Right at the bottom of the handle is where this magic happens, and you get 2 weights, one is the default weight of 1 gram, the other is 3 grams. The original blance point is for a head heavy balance with the 1 gram weight in place, but add the 3 gram weight and you turn head heavy into even balance. This is the same effect as adding lead tape to the bottom of the handle, which i have done quite a few times in the past, but obviously it makes this process much easier and less time consuming. I would quite like to get my hands on these rackets to see if they actually do make a difference.

I am now on the hunt for more test rackets, so i will be sending a few specualtive e-mails to some retailers to see if they will loan out some rackets. I won't hold my breath on this!