- The 23-year-old manages to keep his composure despite riot police and protesters battling outside the Coliseum
- He becomes the second Hong Kong player to win the men’s singles crown after Angus Ng
Amid the incredible scenes outside the stadium as tempers flared between protesters and riot police, youngster Lee Cheuk-yiu kept his cool on Sunday.
The vicinity of the Coliseum, which hosted the US$400,000 Yonex-Sunrise Hong Kong Open, became the scene of one of the most fiercely fought battles the city has seen since the anti-government protests raged last summer, yet 23-year-old Lee kept his composure.
And even when he faced one match point against Indonesia's Anthony Ginting, the home favourite battled back from adversity to become only the second home player to lift the men's singles title at the World Tour 500 tournament.
With backing from a strong partisan crowd, Lee defeated Ginting 16-21, 21-10, 22-20 to complete a fairy-tale run in becoming the second man after Angus Ng Ka-long to win the Hong Kong Open. Ng won the title in 2016.
While warming up for the biggest match of his life, Lee knew the fiery situation outside the Coliseum was getting out of hand as protesters set fire to the bridge linking City University and Hung Hom Stadium and tear gas was continuously fired by police.
Badminton ace Zhang Beiwen experiences 'terrible scenes' as protesters set fire to toll booths at Cross Harbour Tunnel
"I was preparing for my match (at the time of the clashes) and my mood was definitely affected," said Lee. "But since I am here to play badminton, I had to focus on my game and give it my best. Hong Kong is my home. Add oil."
Lee caused controversy after his first-round victory on Wednesday by holding both his hands up in a gesture that was interpreted by netizens as the "Five Demands, Not One Less" slogan, which has been the protesters' rallying cry since June.
Lee was not alone in his rhetoric as some fans at the stadium chanted "Liberate Hong Kong, the Times of Revolution" during the prize presentation.
Hong Kong player Lee Cheuk-yiu earns plaudits for 'protest' gesture at Hong Kong Open
At 5pm, the atmosphere inside the Coliseum became tense as riot police were spotted outside the entrance normally reserved for staff and the media. Tear gas was then fired near the venue.
Yet Lee overcame it all and said victory would boost his hopes of qualifying for next year's Tokyo Olympic Games, which is his biggest target.
"It will definitely help (winning the Hong Kong Open) so I can have a better chance of joining my teammate Ng Ka-long and representing Hong Kong at the Tokyo Games," he said. "But there is still a long way to go as qualifying ends in April.
"I still have to challenge many tough opponents before I can reach my target. In fact, I don't know if I can beat the same opponents when I meet them in another competition next time. We are all very close."
Lee is currently ranked 22nd in the qualifiers. Vincent Wong Wing-ki is one place behind. Ng is Hong Kong's top-ranked player in sixth place. A team can send two singles players to 2020 Tokyo if they are both ranked in the top 16 and both Lee and Wong will have to compete against each other for the coveted spot.
Lee's Hong Kong Open triumph was not altogether a major surprise. The promising star stunned the field last year by reaching the semi-finals, but this year, he managed to go all the way and win the prestigious title.
"I really look forward to the 2020 Hong Kong Open but the pressure will be much bigger," he admitted. Meanwhile, Chen Yufei became the first Chinese to capture the women's singles title in Hong Kong in six years after beating Ratchanok Intanon, of Thailand, 2-1 (21-18, 13-21, 21-13) in the final. The result also gave the 21-year-old mainlander a perfect record this year, sweeping to her sixth title in six finals, including the prestigious All England Championships.
Wang Yihan was the last Chinese female player to win in Hong Kong following her victory in 2013.
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