BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) - World champions Chen Long of China and Spain’s Carolina Marin were tested as they got the defence of their singles titles underway with contrasting wins at the All-England Championships on Wednesday.
Chen took 57 minutes to beat Japanese qualifier Kenta Nishimoto 21-18 21-12 while Marin held off Bae Yeon Ju of Korea in a marathon 88-minute, error-prone encounter.
“The first game was challenging and I’m glad I stayed really calm,” said Chen, aiming to win his third title in four years.
Unlike his chief rivals for the men’s title – compatriot Lin Dan also eased into the second round – Chen was playing his first major match of the season.
The opening salvos mirrored his first round match last year when he nearly exited the sport’s oldest event against compatriot Xue Song, who he will now play in the last 16, blaming a bad night’s sleep on a hotel pillow.
This time it was a determined Nishimoto who the Chen had to battle against before he mixed his game cleverly with drops and lifts to stifle his opponent.
“I played some matches in the national league but it’s very different to playing international matches,” added Chen, who also noted how cold it was in the auditorium.
“That’s why we sometimes take a bit of time to settle into our first overseas matches,” he added.
In a titanic battle of left-handers, Marin, who has broken China’s domination to reach world number one with her game of precision, skill and passion, made several uncharacteristic mistakes at the net when well set in the rallies against Bae.
She had to save three game points in the opener, failed to finish the contest with two match points in the second, and then came from 9-6 down in the decider to win through.
“It’s been a long time since my last Superseries event and I’ve just recovered from a shoulder injury,” Marin said after a 25-23 20-22 21-15 victory. “I have to cut out the mistakes.”
Lin, the five-time champion, had relatively few problems in overcoming Korea’s Lee Dong Keun 21-17 21-17.
“The All-England has so much tradition and I’m excited at what I can do here,” the double Olympic champion told reporters.
Lin’s clear ambition is to make the Chinese team for this year’s Rio Olympics so he can bid for an unprecedented third gold medal.
With two places on offer there is still much at stake and Lin acknowledged it will be a tough with only a few months left before qualifying ends in May.
Editing by Ken Ferris