Top Seeds Tumble – Day 3: BCA Indonesia Open 2017

The wretched fortunes of Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi took another twist this morning as the top seeds and defending Women’s Doubles champions were felled in the first round of the BCA Indonesia Open 2017.

In the day’s opening fixture, the Japanese – whose best result on tour this season has been runners-up in Singapore – were knocked out of the Superseries Premier event by Huang Yaqiong and Yu Xiaohan, 21-7 22-20. The Chinese grabbed control of the match in the first game and, though the points were closer in the second, dug in at the critical moments to ensure they took the honours at Jakarta Convention Center.

Once again, Matsutomo and Takahashi were left pondering how their results have plummeted compared to a year ago when they were Olympic champions and winners of five Superseries events, including Superseries Premiers in England, Indonesia and Denmark. While three other Japanese pairs romped into the second round, they were at pains to explain what happened, conceding they made a lot of errors and that, right now, their best is simply not good enough.

On the adjoining court, a similar fate was unfolding for Men’s Doubles top seeds and one of Indonesia’s prime hopes for a title at this tournament, Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon. The star pairing, winners of three Superseries already this year, cut a picture of shell-shocked dejection as they trudged from the court while Denmark’s Kim Astrup and Anders Skaarup Rasmussen (featured image) celebrated victory, 21-16 21-16 in 34 minutes.

“We played one of our best matches ever. Kevin and Marcus are a world-class pair. We knew we would have to step up our game and control the match and also have good defence,” said Rasmussen, adding that shifting drift in the arena heightened their challenge.

“We wanted to defend our semi-final points from last year but we got a tough draw so we just focused on this match.”

The vanquished Sukamuljo and Gideon acknowledged “we were not on top of our game” and Sukamuljo revealed a recent shoulder injury hampered his shot-making.

“I got injured in training last week and every time I tried to smash I felt pain,” he told media.

Though buoyed by this result, Danish fans were stunned in the evening by the demise of No.7 seeds, Mad Conrad-Petersen and Mads Pieler Kolding, who seemed to have command of their match with a 19-15 lead in the decider, only to perish in the end. The outcome was even a surprise to winners Vladimir Ivanov and Ivan Sozonov; the latter bluntly stating “We don’t know how we made that comeback”.

The Russians had pulled away at 12-12 to win the opener to which their rivals answered emphatically by leading the second game from the outset and yielding only ten points. The Danes continued in that authoritative vein in the decider, speeding ahead 7-0 and maintaining a good buffer at 17-12. However, Ivanov and Sozonov began to narrow the gap, with a 7-2 run levelling matters 19-19 before the Danes earned match point. It was not to be though as the next three points went Russia’s way, ushering them into the second round: 21-16 10-21 22-20 in 57 minutes.

Denmark’s disappointment was tempered by the progression of two of its other Men’s Doubles pairs (Mathias Boe/Carsten Mogensen and Mathias Christiansen/David Daugaard). China’s Liu Cheng/Zhang Nan, Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen, and Chai Biao/Hong Wei, all advanced though their compatriots, Lu Kai/Zheng Siwei were sidelined due to Lu being injured. Thailand’s Bodin Isara/Nipitphon Phuangphuapet and Kittinupong Kedren/Dechapol Puavaranukroh are also into the second round while hosts, Indonesia, have three pairs to fight their cause (Ricky Karanda Suwardi/Angga Pratama; Fajar Alfian/Muhammad Rian Ardianto; and Hendra Aprida Gunawan/Markis Kido). Another Indonesian son, Hendra Setiawan and his Malaysian partner, Tan Boon Heong, survived a dramatic test by Japan’s Hiroyuki Endo/Yuta Watanabe.

Apart from the top seeds’ departure, Women’s Doubles suffered no other upheaval with the remaining seeds advancing. China’s No.7 seeds (Huang Dongping/Li Yinhui) withdrew yesterday due to Li’s back injury. One of the category’s most exciting encounters today was the clash between Greysia Polii/Apriyani Rahayu of Indonesia and Korea’s Chae Yoo Jung/Kim So Yeong. The local pair earned a hard-fought 15-21 25-23 21-14 win.

“We weren’t settled in the first game but we were determined not to lose. Thank God we won the second game and eventually the match. The drift made the shuttle difficult to control so we had to be patient and not rush to beat our opponents,” said Polii.

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Indonesia Reignites Superseries!

Fans are revving up for the resumption of the MetLife BWF World Superseries tour next week with one of the calendar’s most popular – and definitely most noisy – tournaments: the BCA Indonesia Open 2017!

This season, however, the decibel level will be fever pitch, not at the accustomed Istora Senayan, but at the Jakarta Convention Center as the regular venue is undergoing refurbishment ahead of next year’s Asian Games.

Nonetheless, when badminton’s big guns reignite ther battle in the Indonesian capital, they will be zeroing in on the top eight spots to enhance their qualification chances for the the Dubai World Superseries Finals. The season’s eight highest-ranked singles players and doubles pairs will compete in the desert showdown for a share of the US$1million jackpot from 13-17 December this year.

In Men’s Singles, Chou Tien Chen (Chinese Taipei) leads the standings after four out of 12 events, followed by Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen and Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia. Chinese superstar, Lin Dan; Ng Ka Long of Hong Kong; Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk (Thailand); Wong Wing Ki (Hong Kong) and young Chinese ace, Shi Yuqi, round out the top contenders in that order.

Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying – riding a wave of unprecedented success – has been victorious in three of the four Superseries events held this season so far, to sit atop Women’s Singles in the Destination Dubai Rankings. Unbeaten since last November in Hong Kong, Tai has won five Superseries in succession; with only the India title eluding her as she did not compete in Delhi.

Close on her heels is Carolina Marin, with Spain’s Olympic gold medallist having been runner-up three weeks on a stretch in India, Malaysia and Singapore. The consistent Sung Ji Hyun of Korea is third overall, thanks to semi-final runs in every Superseries this season.

Akane Yamaguchi (Japan), Pusarla V Sindhu (India), Ratchanok Intanon (Thailand), Nozomi Okuhara (Japan) and Sun Yu (China) round out the elite eight.

Men’s Doubles supremos, Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo/Marcus Fernaldi Gideon (featured image), will enjoy deafening support when they take to home court next week. Having blazed to the top of the podium in three Superseries this season, the Indonesians head the standings followed by China’s twin towers, Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen, and Takeshi Kamura/Keigo Sonoda of Japan.

Another Indonesian pair – Angga Pratama and Ricky Karanda Suwardi – are in fourth place, with Mads Conrad-Petersen/Mads Pieler Kolding (Denmark), Goh V Shem/Tan Wee Kiong (Malaysia), Bodin Isara/Nipitphon Phuangphuapet (Thailand) ranking fifth to seventh respectively. Meanwhile, Denmark’s evergreen masters, Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen of Denmark, have moved into reckoning with their victory in the OUE Singapore Open 2017 to be in eighth position currently.

YONEX All England Open 2017 champions, Chang Ye Na and Lee So Hee, are the leaders of the Women’s Doubles pack. Having starred in Korea’s recent Sudirman Cup success, they will be keen to continue their strong form in Jakarta. Their compatriots, Jung Kyung Eun and Shin Seung Chan are in third place but the big headline in this category is that Japan has four pairs in the top seven of the Destination Dubai Rankings!

Celcom Axiata Malaysia Open champions Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota are in second place. These Japanese came of age rapidly this season, with a quarter-final in Birmingham, followed by a semi-final in Delhi, before winning in Kuching. Their team-mates, Naoko Fukuman/Kurumi Yonao, are in fifth while another Japanese pair, Shiho Tanaka/Koharu Yonemoto – champions in their first Superseries final in India – are sixth. Japan’s Rio 2016 gold medallists, Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi are seventh, having lost their only Superseries final this season  (Singapore) to Denmark’s Christinna Pedersen/Kamilla Rytter Juhl who are fourth overall. China’s recently-paired Huang Yaqiong/Tang Jinhua are beginning to make inroads and sit in eighth at the moment.

Huang Yaqiong’s name has featured prominently in Mixed Doubles though, as she and partner, Lu Kai, have reached all four Superseries finals – capturing three of them. They are comfortably ahead of the competition in the Destination Dubai Rankings, with Chinese peers, Zheng Siwei and Chen Qingchen, who defeated them in the Kuching finale, currently in second place. The blossoming partnership of Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai has been reaping handsome rewards and the Thai tandem are third in race for the desert classic.

England’s Adcock household – Chris and Gabby – are fourth with Malaysia’s Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying in fifth. The remainder of the top eight is completed by Joachim Fischer Nielsen/Christinna Pedersen (Denmark); Olympic gold medallists, Tontowi Ahmad/Liliyana Natsir (Indonesia); and Korea’s upcoming duo, Choi Solgyu/Chae Yoo Jung – fresh from clinching the Sudirman Cup for their country.

The BCA Indonesia Open 2017 will be followed by the CROWN GROUP Australian Open 2017 in Sydney. These two events will bring the MetLife BWF World Superseries to its halfway mark and fans will get a better picture of how fortunes are shaping up. Exciting times and more surprises are certainly ahead with stops in Japan, Korea, Denmark, France, China and Hong Kong in the second half of the season.

Korea Light Up Gold Coast

As one of the most remarkable badminton stories played out in Gold Coast yesterday, the question on most minds was – how had the Koreans done it?

A team that was, on paper, the weakest of the traditional powerhouses, and with several of their great doubles stars having either retired recently or chosen to stay away, had pulled off one of the biggest surprises in badminton history. The TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2017 couldn’t have hoped for a more climactic finish on its debut in Oceania.

New head coach Kang Kyung Jin had given a hint at the beginning of the tournament of what he expected of his team.

“We’re hoping to make the final,” he’d said, but few took notice. After all, there were other teams with greater depth, balance, and more crucially, experience. The Koreans had arrived in Gold Coast with a clutch of teenagers. The vehicle essentially had to move on three wheels – Son Wan Ho in Men’s Singles, Sung Ji Hyun in Women’s Singles, and Chang Ye Na/Lee So Hee in Women’s Doubles. Any other victory would be a bonus.

And yet, with Son Wan Ho unavailable for the final, it was a tribute to the Koreans’ spirit that Choi Solgyu and Chae Yoo Jung turned the tables on the super-achieving Mixed Doubles Chinese pair, Lu Kai and Huang Yaqiong, who flailed about in a torrent of nervous errors.

“When we started we were asked about our Men’s Doubles, and we were called a weak team, said Kang. “We tried to build our team spirit. We were in it together, and we believed we could do it.”

At the other end of the spectrum, China’s doubles coach Zhang Jun struggled to make sense of the abject collapse of their two heralded pairs.

“I think it was a combination of pressure and tiredness,” Zhang said. “Chen Qingchen played two matches in the semi-final; the second match finished quite late and there was no time to recover. We finished our team meeting only by 2am. But we decided to persist with Chen and Jia Yifan because they had good results against the Korean pair (Chang and Lee).”

China’s singles coach Xia Xuanze sought to explain the outcome as a result of the ongoing changes in the management of the team.

“We have a new structure and a new approach, with a lot of young players,” said Xia. “We tried some new strategies. We’re facing stronger opponents than ever before. We were pushed hard in the semi-final by Japan. It’s a good thing for us, as we will motivate ourselves to work even harder.”

Korea’s victory of the World Mixed Team Championships after 14 years promises the start of a new chapter for the country and for world badminton. It has been long since Korea savoured success in a team event, or even in multiple categories at the World Superseries or BWF World Championships. Head coach Kang and his team got the best possible start they could have hoped for with a young squad.

“This is a miracle,” Kang said. “Perhaps we will get more attention and more funding now. This can be a turning point for Korean badminton.”

‘Seoul’ Satisfying! – Final: TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2017

Korea sensationally snapped China’s 14-year vice-grip on the Sudirman Cup, coming from behind twice to shock the ten-time champions in a 3-2 upset in the finale of the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2017.

Before an increasingly boisterous crowd in Gold Coast, Australia, the underdogs – packed with young and relatively inexperienced players – produced a courageous, soul-stirring revival of Korean badminton less than a year after the powerhouse limped out of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games with one bronze to its name.

What an amazing result for Kang Kyung Jin mere months after assuming the mantle of head coach of a squad depleted of its core of star athletes who exited the international scene late last year. The sight of this father-figure storming centre court and bear-hugging his young warriors was truly a tear-jerker.

“Before the event we were asked about our Men’s Doubles players, and we were called a weak team,” said Kang. “We tried to build our team spirit. We were in it together, and we believed we could do it.”

The bare facts first: Korea won the World Mixed Team Championships for the first time since 2003 – their fourth title overall. China were on a streak of six straight victories; with ten titles overall and an assembly of stars. They were red-hot favourites to add an eleventh title.

Few – if any – gave Korea a chance of topping the podium on Sunday.

“A miracle,” declared Kang after his side made the final yesterday.

That his team would surpass China in such dramatic fashion was perhaps something that even he dared not express.

Korea staged rear-guard recoveries both times they were down. As the tie entered the fifth match – the Mixed Doubles – China seemed to have the upper-hand, with Lu Kai and Huang Yaqiong – winners of four events this season – facing Choi Solgyu and Chae Yoo Jung.

However, it was Choi and Chae who were unfazed and inspired. The Koreans barely did a thing wrong. After losing a close first game, the Chinese started to falter – with even the normally composed Huang being outplayed by the sharp Chae at net and making elementary mistakes. Choi kept soaring high, converting half-chances with blistering smashes and leaving the Chinese ashen-faced with every point lost. The winner came on the 51st minute – 21-17 21-13. A jubilant Korean team stormed the court and Chae and Choi were buried under a heap of bodies.

“I was nervous,” said Chae, who was actually the steadiest player on court. “We hadn’t played well earlier, but it was the last match, and I thought there was nothing to lose. I was thankful to my team-mates for keeping us in the tie and taking it to the last match.”

None of this drama appeared likely with the tie beginning as expected: China held all the aces in the opening Men’s Doubles encounter between Fu Haifeng/Zhang Nan and their Korean challengers Choi Solgyu/Seo Seung Jae.

The Chinese were always assured of victory with Fu’s bludgeoning smash in their hands. Korea had nothing in their arsenal with which to hurt their opponents. Fu and Zhang, the tandem that has delivered so frequently for China on the biggest stages, once again combined with instinctual precision that left no room for Korea to manoeuvre. China had the lead in 42 minutes: 21-14 21-15.

Sung Ji Hyun had been Korea’s solitary flag-bearer in Women’s Singles this tournament, but if the exertions had weighed her down, she didn’t allow it to affect her against He Bingjiao. The Korean, relying upon the steady game that she is known for, barely made a mistake in spinning a web that entangled He Bingjiao. The Chinese was made to run endlessly, and when she attempted to inject pace, the Korean’s exemplary footwork was well in place as she calmly returned the shuttle to prolong the rallies.

It was smooth sailing for Sung until a brief spell in the second game saw some jittery play. He Bingjiao inched to within four points of her rival, but a slice of luck for Sung saw her get to match point, and she closed it out: 21-12 21-16.

Against a lesser player than Chen Long, Jeon Hyeok Jin might have come away a winner in the Men’s Singles. The Korean did everything right. Unruffled by the enormity of the challenge, he showed courage and his game was on target – tight net shots; judicious attack; no hesitation in taking Chen on in the rallies.

Chen is the Olympic champion though and made of a different steel – and nothing that Jeon threw his way could rattle him. Always a split-second ahead, there was an assured calmness about him that left no room for an upset. His vicious smashes homing in on the lines; his footwork always in place no matter the power or angle at which Jeon smashed, Chen gave nothing away. Jeon fought gamely, and though defeated 21-10 21-10, he didn’t come away disgraced.

Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan had delivered the semi-final tie for China against Japan with a power-packed performance against Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi. Korea’s Chang Ye Na and Lee So Hee, however, delivered a masterclass in countering the aggressive Chinese. Defending astutely and dragging their opponents into long rallies, the Koreans sniped off points; having lost a close first game, the frustrated Chen and Jia fell apart and the Koreans surged home, 21-19 21-13.

It was up to Choi and Chae to carry the flag. Fifty-one minutes later, what had seemed almost impossible transformed into concrete reality: Korea, champions of the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2017!

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Korea Storm into Final – Day 7 (Session 1): TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2017

When Korean head coach Kang Kyung Jin predicted at the start of the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2017 that his team would likely make the final, only the team’s staunchest supporters would’ve expected that to come true.

And yet, that’s exactly what happened as the three-time champions, having arrived in Gold Coast with a clutch of teenaged players, surged into the final beating Thailand 3-1.

When Women’s Singles ace Sung Ji Hyun (featured image) extracted an error after a nervous spell against Ratchanok Intanon in the fourth match of the semi-final tie, it marked a special chapter in Korean badminton – for the Asian powerhouse had arrived in Gold Coast without their biggest names. For Sung, it was a battle to prove herself – for, as she later admitted, she had often faltered in crunch semi-final and final matches. The destination is still in sight, but for Korea, to make the final itself was a herculean task at the beginning of the Sudirman Cup.

For a while on Saturday, though, it looked like it was going to be Thailand’s day in the sun.

Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai, their talismanic Mixed Doubles combination of recent times, were top-notch against Choi Solgyu and Chae Yoo Jung in the opening match. Puavaranukroh was a picture of frenetic energy and creative shotmaking, opening up the court with some acute angles from the deep, while Taerattanachai overshadowed her opposite number Chae Yoo Jung by disallowing her any leeway at the net. All through the match, Chae barely exerted her presence at the front, with the Thais successful in pushing the Koreans back and surging forward at the first opportunity. The Thais finished off the job in 41 minutes, 21-16 21-12.

All the pressure was on Korea’s Men’s Singles spearhead Son Wan Ho –  his opponent Suppanyu Avihingsanon, despite losing five previous matches to the Korean, flew with the momentum his compatriots had created. The tall Thai was all aggression and pace as he pocketed the first game, and it took all of Son’s defensive brilliance to rein him in. The Korean gradually found his tempo, and yet it was a tight match until 17 in the third, after which Avihingsanon made four soft errors to hand Son the match: 18-21 21-10 21-17.

“My legs felt heavy because of the matches I played this week,” said Son. “I felt tired in the first game, but knew I had to win. I’ve beaten him five times before, but in February it went to three games. Also, today is the semifinal and I was under greater pressure. He is an attacking player, I had to focus on my defence and cut down on my errors.”

After his exuberant display in the Mixed Doubles, it was a deflated Dechapol Puavaranukroh who turned up for the Men’s Doubles with Bodin Isara against Choi Solgyu and Seo Seung Jae. There was little spark in the Thai combination – Bodin was unusually leaden-footed, while Puavaranukroh’s touch let him down. At the opposite end, it was youngster Jae who stood out, both for his nearly error-free play as for his stunning winners off unusual angles.

There were some terrific, fast-paced exchanges in the opening game, and once the Koreans had it sewn up, they were mostly in control in the second. The 21-13 21-16 victory for Choi and Seo meant Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon had a rescue job on her hands.

The Thai however was way below her best, unable to stick in the rallies that Sung forced her into and erring with the fine placements that she is usually masterly at. With a 16-5 lead in the second, Sung was cruising, but some late jitters saw Intanon creep up to within three points before the Korean converted her third match point.

Intanon said nerves had gotten the better of her: “I didn’t feel good at all today, and I was nervous. I had no trouble with injury… it took me a while to find my rhythm, but it was too late by then.”

Korean head coach Kang beamed from ear to ear.

“It is just amazing,” he said. “We’ve made history. This year our team was called weak. At the last minute our senior Men’s Doubles players left the team. We targetted the quarter-final. Now we are so happy. This is my third happiest moment – the first time was when I got married, the second when I got my child. This is the third memorable occasion.

“The last two years have not been good for Korean badminton. Now we’re trying to set up a new generation and looking ahead at Tokyo 2020. ”

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