Srikanth, Okuhara Sizzle – Singles Finals: CROWN GROUP Australian Open 2017

The dream held it spell into the second straight week for Kidambi Srikanth as he won the CROWN GROUP Australian Open 2017 against Olympic champion Chen Long.

His Men’s Singles triumph today capped a stellar run that began with his runner-up finish at the OUE Singapore Open, followed by the title triumph at the BCA Indonesia Open last week. In the final today Srikanth delivered another perfect performance: judicious attack, tight net control and a willingness to stay the course in the rallies.

One point early in the second game defined the match: Srikanth challenged Chen with long clears, on and on, until he rose to hammer a down-the-line winner. Chen, a master of playing error-free for long spells, had been hustled on his own turf, and he had faltered.

Srikanth later acknowledged that point had swung the match his way:

“I was not challenging him; I was challenging myself, about how long I can last. It was a critical point, I think it changed his attitude maybe, if he had won that rally he would’ve kept playing that way. But not many like those rallies happened in the second game after that. So I think that really changed the attitude of both of us.”

The Indian was lost for words while talking of his second straight Superseries win:

“It’s just that I was not thinking of winning or losing. I missed competitive badminton during my break last year and wanted to enjoy the match. These conditions are such that you can’t really attack, it’s a bit slow, you have to be prepared for a long match. In all the breaks today I had the advantage, (coach) Mulyo told me to keep it going, not to make simple mistakes and allow him back into the match.”

While Srikanth barely put a foot wrong, Chen appeared below par, unable to stay in the rallies and making far too many errors. A short serve gave Srikanth match point; a wayward clear on the next rally handed the Indian the title.

Chen, who had played two long matches before the final, said he was still recovering from gastroenteritis.

“As a whole I played very well, but since I arrived in Sydney I have had gastroenteritis and diarrhoea, so I haven’t been at my best physical condition,” said Chen. “But since I made the final I wanted to continue to play as well as I could. After I go back to China I am going to compete in the National Games immediately so it is going to be tough.”

In the Women’s Singles final, Nozomi Okuhara won her first World Superseries title since the Yonex All England 2016, displaying the full measure of her indefatigable retrieving style in getting the better of Japanese compatriot Akane Yamaguchi. Having clinched the match 21-12 21-23 21-17, Okuhara dedicated the win to her home city of Nagano, which experienced an earthquake this morning.

The Okuhara-Yamaguchi rivalry has produced many a memorable match; Okuhara led 7-4 going into the final, but Yamaguchi had the edge, having won four of their last five encounters. Today’s final wasn’t up there with their best matches, but it featured a great fightback from the brink by Yamaguchi.

Uncharacteristically, Yamaguchi looked tentative through the early part of the match, so unlike her bustling self during her fine semi-final victory over top seed Tai Tzu Ying.

Yamaguchi’s tentative play, coupled with Okuhara’s relentlessness, saw Okuhara sit pretty at 14-5 in the second with the first in her bag.

It was at this point that Yamaguchi rediscovered herself; the tentativeness was gone and the bustling attacking play returned. Yamaguchi’s courage under pressure saw her climb back steadily, pouncing on narrow openings to steal the second game.

With both having hit their rhythm, it was neck-and-neck in the third until 17. Okuhara’s greater consistency proved to be the match-winner; Yamaguchi overhit a couple of shots and suddenly it was all over for her.

“This morning my home town had an earthquake so I wanted to send good news to my home town. Yesterday I said that I wanted to show that Women’s Singles in Japan is at a high level so in this match when Akane Yamaguchi really fought in the final game, we showed that,” said Okuhara.

“I received messages from my friends in Tokyo saying I would be fine if I stayed confident. So I was thinking of what I could do from here because they have been good to me. I thought the only thing I could do for them is bring good news to them. So I worked hard for everyone who supported me to make them be happy.

“After the Olympics I had an injury and was a bit nervous. But this year my target tournament is the World Championships and step by step I am getting better. I wanted to see how far I could go so I played the game hard and I am happy about the result.”

Yamaguchi admitted her mistakes in the beginning had cost her dear:

“To be honest I wondered today if I could make a good match. But there was no use thinking like that, so I just wanted to play hard and from the perspective of the points, I just wanted to give the audience a good match that they could enjoy. But from the perspective of the result, although this was a good match, I am not satisfied with myself. I did work hard, did all that I could do.

“I made a lot of mistakes at the beginning. I would rather say this was about my own mistakes. I had a feeling that this maybe wouldn’t end well. I troubled myself a lot with thinking about whether I could make the game a good one and win the game.”

Tan/Setiawan in Title Bout – Day 5: CROWN GROUP Australian Open 2017

Tan Boon Heong and Hendra Setiawan achieved a rare feat on Saturday at the CROWN GROUP Australian Open 2017, becoming one of the few trans-national partnerships in a World Superseries final.

The Malaysian and the Indonesian, partners since January this year, showed glimpses of their heyday as they stormed past China’s Liu Cheng/Zhang Nan 21-15 14-21 21-17. They became the first trans-national pair in a Superseries final since Setiwan himself combined with Russia’s Anastasia Russikh to reach the Indonesia Open final in 2010.

With Setiawan in his customary role making sharp interceptions at the net, and Tan unleashing big lefty smashes, the Indonesian-Malaysian combo got off to a strong start and found their way back after losing the second game. It was a Tan Boon Heong special – a 391 kph smash – that set up four match points at 20-16, and it was converted on the second opportunity.

“It’s good that pairs like ours can reach the final of a Superseries – I hope the national teams allow players (to pair up),” said Tan. “I can’t remember the last time I reached a Superseries final. We have been training well together and we hope we can fight it out well tomorrow.”

Tan and Setiawan will have to get past Japan’s Takeshi Kamura/Keigo Sonoda. The Japanese ended the run of giant-killers Lu Ching Yao/Yang Po Han (Chinese Taipei) 21-15 21-15.

Japan’s having assured themselves of the Women’s Singles crown, have a shot at the Men’s Doubles and the Women’s Doubles. Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi reversed their recent run of losses to Chen Qingchen/Jia Yifan, getting the better of the Chinese today in surprisingly easy fashion: 21-17 21-11.

The Women’s Doubles final will see Matsutomo/Takahashi face Denmark’s Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl. The Danes shook off the disappointment of a blown second game to fight their way past Japan’s Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota and make their third World Superseries final this year.

The Danes, who hadn’t lost a game in three previous matches to the Japanese, missed three match points to let their opponents into the contest and make it a sticky affair for them in the third. From 15-all, however, the experienced Danes were able to sting up a sequence of points that gave them the match at 21-16 20-22 21-18.

“The second set was tough to lose,” said Rytter Juhl. “Losing after three match points is hard. In the interval we talked about letting it go and being ready for the third and I think we managed that really well.

“We talked about going onto court in to the third with a lot of energy to show the Japanese that they are not on top even though they won the second set. So we really had to show that both mentally and with our body language. It was important for us to have a good lead because we had a little bit of difficulty playing on one side. It was a great match and great to have the crowd behind us.”

Olympic champion Chen Long gave himself a shot at his first Superseries title this year, struggling to combat the finesse of Korean veteran Lee Hyun Il, but coming away victor in 68 minutes: 26-24 15-21 21-17.

Lee played with the demeanor and control of a monk, pinning Chen to the lines and keeping things tight until he chose his moment to attack. Unusually for Chen, even his airtight defence was frequently blown as he struggled to read the lines of Lee’s attack. The Korean dominated the Olympic champion but failed to convert any of four game points in the opener; unruffled, he took the second and had his chances in the third until a late surge by Chen left him with too wide a gulf to conquer.

“I wasn’t perturbed at missing four game points in the opening game as I’d come in prepared to play a long match,” said Lee. “I’m quite satisfied with my performance this tournament. I feel lesser pressure now as an independent player, that’s why my performances have improved in recent times.”

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Chen Wins All-Star Battle – Day 4: CROWN GROUP Australian Open 2017

Chen Long survived three match points to get the better of Lin Dan in the Men’s Singles quarter-finals of the CROWN GROUP Australian Open 2017 today.

It was a session that almost saw two veteran stars overshadow their younger rivals. While Lin nearly pulled the plug on Chinese compatriot Chen, fellow-veteran Lee Hyun Il of Korea made no mistake in shutting the door on China’s Tian Houwei, 17-21 21-15 21-18. Lee and Chen face off in the semi-finals; the other half will feature India’s Kidambi Srikanth against China’s Shi Yuqi.

The Lin-Chen battle was a cagey affair for the most part, both wary of the other’s great skills, and worked hard to create openings. With both Lin and Chen showing iron control over the shuttle, explosive bursts were few and far between. Lin finally opened up in the third game with big crosscourt smashes that homed in on the lines. A couple of wayward shots by Chen saw Lin nearly home at 20-18.

The World champion however got back into the match with some alert play at the death, and he took the first chance that he got to clinch the 78-minute encounter to improve his career record against his compatriot to 4-8.

While Lin was involved in the titanic battle with Chen, Lee Hyun Il handed the much-younger Tian Houwei a lesson or two. The Korean’s silken strokes and sublime control saw him orchestrate the play to his liking, and despite Tian throwing his biggest punches, Lee calmly placed the shuttle where he willed to come away a 17-21 21-15 21-18 winner.

Earlier, in Women’s Doubles, Denmark’s Kamilla Rytter Juhl and Christinna Pedersen pulled off an escape act against hard-hitting Koreans Kim Hye Rin and Yoo Hae Won, saving three match points en route to victory: 21-11 15-21 23-21.

Kim and Yoo showed no sign that they had paired up only recently, attacking and defending in sync to frustrate the second seeded Danes. With Yoo spotting an empty corner to earn two match points in the third, the Danes looked out of it, but to their credit, stuck at their task. It was Rytter Juhl who raised her game at the critical moment, cracking smash winners to set up match point for the Danes, which she converted at the first opportunity by dropping the shuttle in front of the stranded Koreans.

“We were really struggling after winning the first, maybe they stepped up and it was difficult for us to find the right length in our defence in the second set and that made us uncomfortable,” said Pedersen. “Because when you don’t find the right length in defence against these strong Koreans, it’s difficult, as they have a good attacking game.”

“When it’s close in the end, the Koreans always want to play the front court and won’t stand in defence, and we said we had to move forward and try to find the attack, and Christinna made some rushes at the net, and I got some good smashes,” added Rytter Juhl. “I felt the Koreans could feel the victory in front of them, it would be a good result for them to reach the semi-finals, so we talked about that, that it was important for them, so they would get a little nervous. So just stay close and maybe we could do it in the end, and we did!”

The Danes take on Japan’s Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota, while in the top half, No.1 seeds Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi face familiar rivals Chen Qingchen/Jia Yifan (China). Matsutomo/Takahashi had a hard time getting past compatriots Shiho Tanaka/Koharu Yonemoto, 21-16 18-21 21-16, as did Chen/Jia over their compatriots Bao Yixin/Tang Jinhua, 21-17 20-22 21-18.

Women’s Singles saw China’s Sun Yu burst into inconsolable tears after winning a hard battle against India’s Saina Nehwal, 21-17 10-21 21-17.

“I haven’t reached a single semi-final this year, that’s why I feel so emotional,” said Sun, even as the tears freely flowed.

Two Japanese made the semi-finals. Nozomi Okuhara stands between Sun and a repeat final place at the Australian Open, while Akane Yamaguchi will have the task of stopping top seed Tai Tzu Ying (Chinese Taipei).

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Adcocks March On – CROWN GROUP Australian Open: Day 3

Chris Adcock and Gabrielle Adcock’s bright form of 2017 showed no sign of letting up as they made the quarter-finals of the CROWN GROUP Australian Open 2017 today in Sydney.

The England pair, semi-finalists at the Yonex All England and the Yonex-Sunrise India Open, and quarter-finalists at the BCA Indonesia Open last week, held off a strong challenge from Korea’s Choi Solgyu and Chae Yoo Jung in the Mixed Doubles second round. The Adcocks were in a neck-and-neck battle with the Koreans, only managing to break free at the very end to seal the match 21-14 17-21 21-18 in 62 minutes.

“Very close match,” said Chris Adcock. “We had patches where we felt good and comfortable, but the thing about them is that they never give you anything.  If we lose our concentration slightly, they can come back at you; we showed great resolve and resilience in the game to keep fighting back.”

A couple of flick serves by Chris Adcock caught Choi by surprise and titled the match in their favour at the very end.

“Tactically the flick serve is a big weapon, people don’t use them (often enough). In this hall we know our defence is good and we were able to get the girl to the back and defend on the counter-attack really well. I’ve been working hard on the flick serve,” said Chris Adcock.

The England pair take on China’s Wang Yilyu/Huang Dongping, 21-10 23-21 winners over Japan’s Kenta Kazuno/Ayane Kurihara.

Seventh seeds Praveen Jordan/Debby Susanto also had it easy, getting past Singapore’s Terry Hee/Tan Wei Han 21-6 21-12. The Indonesians face Malaysia’s Chan Peng Soon/Cheah Yee See who had little trouble disposing off the challenge of Indonesia’s Hendra Tandjaya/Sekartaji Putri 21-10 21-5.

Chan acknowledged that the new pairing had had the luck of the draw, but their next opponents would be a difficult proposition.

“Today our opponents were not so strong,” Chan said. “We just have to continue to build our combination. It’s a good start for us in Superseries. She (Cheah) was very excited but also nervous. Our next match is against Praveen Jordan and Debby Susanto. We don’t want to think too much. There are no expectations on us, we’ll just try to do our best.”

The other two quarter-finals will see top seeds Zheng Siwei/Chen Qingchen (China) against Japan’s Yugo Kobayashi/Misaki Matsutomo and Thailand’s Dechapol Puavaranukroh/Sapsiree Taerattanachai against Korea’s Kim Dukyoung/Kim Ha Na.

India enjoyed a good day in Men’s Singles, with BCA Indonesia Open champion Kidambi Srikanth and OUE Singapore Open champion Sai Praneeth booking their quarter-final places against each other.

Srikanth put out top seed Son Wan Ho (Korea) 15-21 21-13 21-13, while Sai also needed three games to get past China’s Huang Yuxiang 21-15 18-21 21-13.

“In the third game I thought I have to get the extra shuttle, that worked for me,” said Srikanth. “He’s someone who doesn’t attack too much, just keeps the rally going. You have to be more steady than him or you have to crack him. In these conditions it’s hard to go on all-out attack. My training is paying off. I’m really confident about my fitness.”

The two Chinese superstars – Lin Dan and Chen Long – also booked a quarter-final clash with wins over Indonesian opponents. Chen looked relaxed in a 21-10 21-13 decimation of Anthony Ginting, while Lin timed his explosive bursts to perfection as he held off a combative Jonatan Christie 21-14 21-19.

Denmark’s Hans-Kristian Solberg Vittinghus stayed in the hunt to defend his title, beating Hong Kong’s Ng Ka Long 21-9 21-13 and next faces China’s Shi Yuqi, a 21-13 21-18 winner over Japan’s Kanta Tsuneyama.

Jindapol Stops ‘Super’ Streak – Day 5: BCA Indonesia Open 2017

Tai Tzu Ying’s unbelievable Superseries streak ended today at the hands of a player to whom she had never lost before – Nitchaon Jindapol.

An athlete who, on her best day, has upended some of the top Women’s Singles stars, Jindapol (featured image) rose to the challenge at Jakarta Convention Center; keeping pace with her Chinese Taipei rival in the decider and pulling off some huge shots at critical moments to thwart Tai’s title defence and quest for a sixth straight victory on the MetLife BWF World Superseries circuit.

In a quarter-final that ebbed one way and then the next, the 26-year-old overcame the ailing world No.1 and last season’s Indonesia Open champion, 21-19 8-21 21-17, in an hour. Jindapol eked out the first game only to be blown away in the second as Tai’s stroke-playing prowess came to the fore. However, Tai could not string together a similar run of points in the decider, leading by a maximum of three points at any given time and making some uncharacteristic errors. Gritty Jindapol saw an opportunity at 15-17 down and she grabbed it, with six straight points to snap Tai’s seven-month record. The latter had not lost a Superseries tournament since China last November, though she was beaten by Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun in the round-robin segment of the season-ending Dubai World Superseries Finals before ultimately claiming that prize.

“It’s the first time I beat her and I am really excited. I relaxed and enjoyed the match. Though I lost the second game, I still felt I could win and I just focused on every point. My next goal is to reach the final,” said Jindapol, crediting her coaches for her success.

Tai who has been battling flu was not too ruffled by the defeat, though noting she was tired from earlier in the week. The 22-year-old, who was hoping to celebrate her birthday next Tuesday by retaining her crown, conceded she made more mistakes than usual.

In the semi-finals, Jindapol faces resurgent Japanese Sayaka Sato who beat her compatriot and No.3 seed, Akane Yamaguchi, 21-17 18-21 21-18. Two days older than Jindapol, Sato said she will need to match the Thai athlete’s speed and strength if she is to reach the final.

Meanwhile, Sung Ji Hyun of Korea continued her own remarkable run of reaching all five Superseries semi-finals this season and, with the opponents who have beaten her out of the reckoning, the 25-year-old is keen to land the big prize. Having overcome Chinese teenager, Chen Xiaoxin, in the quarter-final (21-6 21-23 21-14), the No.5 seed now tackles Beiwen Zhang of the USA for a place in Sunday’s finale. The latter impressed against another Chinese competitor, Sun Yu, winning 21-15 21-19.

“I was relieved to win the third game after losing the second game when I was leading. I keep getting to the semi-finals but I want to get to the final and win this tournament. I believe I can,” said 25-year-old Sung.

In Men’s Singles, Kidambi Srikanth and HS Prannoy are within one match of sealing the second successive all-India final of the MetLife BWF World Superseries tour as they progressed, in contrasting fashion, to the semi-finals.

Srikanth, runner-up to team-mate B. Sai Praneeth in April’s OUE Singapore Open 2017, controlled his fate against Chinese Taipei’s Wang Tzu Wei, attacking well en route to a 21-15 21-14 victory. His semi-final opponent is No.2 seed and world No.1, Son Wan Ho. The Korean polished off another Chinese Taipei aspirant, Chou Tien Chen, 21-15 21-17.

“I was tired after some tough matches but I am happy with how I am performing. My attack was strong and I was able to defend well. Those were the most important things for me,” observed Srikanth.

His room-mate Prannoy enhanced his giant-killing reputation at this event with a first-ever defeat of Olympic champion, Chen Long of China. The 24-year-old came up with the goods at the end of a fascinating 75-minute duel – including a miraculous, reflex return to go 19-17 up – to savour one of the finest moments in his career. The 21-18 16-21 21-19 victory was the result of a steely resolve which saw 24-year-old Prannoy lift his performance and take his chances at just the right time, almost catching Chen by surprise in the last few cat-and-mouse exchanges. As Chen’s shuttle flew wide on match point, the Indian exuberantly flung his arms skyward.

His reward: a Superseries Premier semi-final in one of badminton’s traditional heartlands.

“It was tiring but I am really happy with the way I fought. I believed in myself. Chen Long doesn’t make mistakes easily and he keeps the shuttle inside the court for long periods,” noted 24-year-old Prannoy, attributing his success to better fitness, good coaching and the odd dose of luck.

Chen Long saluted his rival’s performance, stating that Prannoy’s level has risen since their previous encounters. The vanquished star was satisfied with his own output, assessing his overall level at 90 per cent.

Across the net from Prannoy in the semi-finals will be another player with his own fairytale. Kazamasa Sakai, a 27-year-old journeyman from Japan, has negotiated his way from the qualifying rounds and today outgunned England’s Rajiv Ouseph, 13-21 21-16 21-10.

Given the demise of Lee Chong Wei, Lin Dan and now Chen Long, Sakai declared “everyone has a chance” and he will try to be atop the winner’s podium on Sunday.

 

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