HONG KONG: Lee Cheuk-yiu gave his protest-wracked home city something to cheer on Saturday as he upset India’s Kidambi Srikanth to reach the Hong Kong Open badminton final.
The 23-year-old, who caused a stir earlier in the tournament by appearing to show support for the months-long pro-democracy protests, beat Srikanth 21-9, 25-23.
Earlier, Thai former world champion Ratchanok Intanon overcame Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi in three games to set up a women’s singles final against Chen Yufei of China.
The tournament is taking place against the backdrop of escalating protests that caused widespread disruption and violence across Hong Kong this week.
Lee, world-ranked 27th, is now into the biggest final of his career after extending a dream run that includes victory over Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen in the last eight.
On Sunday he will play Anthony Ginting, who won an all-Indonesian clash 22-20, 13-21, 21-18 against Jonatan Christie.
Lee made headlines after his opening match when he held up an outstretched right hand and his left index finger, in a gesture interpreted as supporting ‘Five demands, not one less’ – a slogan chanted by the protesters.
“Those who understand will understand, those who don’t, just forget it,” Lee said this week when asked to explain his celebration, according to the South China Morning Post.
“We don’t only show our determination on the badminton court, we can also show it in other aspects,” he added.
Earlier Ratchanok fought back from a game down to beat Yamaguchi 21-23, 21-15, 21-12 and set up a final with Chen, who appeared to be feeling the pace after her title run last week in Fuzhou.
“She will be a bit tired from last week, and here also she looked tired. She has a good defence. I will try to do my best, I won’t think about my weakness,” Ratchanok said, according to the Badminton World Federation website.
Chen laboured to a 21-18, 14-21, 21-15 win over Chinese-born American Zhang Beiwen, who spoke of her astonishment at the scenes she had witnessed in Hong Kong, where protesters blocked major routes and set fire to toll booths.
“I have travelled on tour for many years and this is the most serious incident I have ever come across,” said Zhang, according to the Post.
“The fires were so terrible while the protesters in full gear look like those found in video games. It was quite scary.”