Bringing It Home! – Doubles Finals: BCA Indonesia Open 2017

Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir today rectified a glaring deficiency in their enviable honours roll, finally being crowned champions of their home Superseries tournament.

Unbridled celebrations broke out in Jakarta Convention Center as Natsir pounced at net for the winning smash that secured a memorable 22-20 21-15 triumph over China’s young guns and world No.1 pair, Zheng Siwei and Chen Qingchen, in the Mixed Doubles finale of the BCA Indonesia Open 2017.

It had long been a failure that niggled the Rio 2016 Olympic gold medallists – how could they win almost everything else in the badminton world but not conquer their own backyard?

Together they had stomached runners-up disappointment in 2011 and 2012. Natsir had also fallen short on finals day in 2007 with her previous partner, Nova Widianto. They had vowed this occasion would be different – that they would get it right. They would summon every ounce of energy, every bit of skill and all the lessons learnt from countless on-court battles to deliver the prize which their people wanted most.

They knew it wouldn’t be easy. Zheng and Chen have risen to the top quickly, proving themselves steely competitors – and they had already defeated Indonesia’s star act. Much of the match was contested on knife-edge, particularly the crucial first game. Neither pair could get free with a run of points. The action at net was riveting. The experienced Natsir – shrugging off knee problems – staring down the lightning-quick Chen who was leading China’s charge as Zheng struggled to find his usual sharpness. At 20-18, Indonesia had two game points but their rivals struck back. It was then 20-20 and fans were nervous but their heroes held their nerve to grab the lead.

The second game was equally tense but, at 14-14, Indonesia found an extra gear and went clear to seal a victory they will cherish for a long time as the Chinese challenge dwindled.

“This is so emotional for me. We have won so many titles but we had not won in our country. We prepared well and we had the right strategies. We went all out and thank God, we won,” declared a beaming Ahmad.

Boasting Olympic gold and silver, three World Championship titles, an All England hat-trick and much more, there’s not a lot Natsir craves but the 31-year-old was equally ecstatic to deliver in front of her home faithful.

“I am pleased to give this prize to Indonesia. This was a hard match. They are younger than us and stronger than us. The points were tight but we stayed focus. The first game was the key and it was important that we won it,” said Natsir.

Meanwhile, Zheng and Chen conceded they lost crucial points and were somewhat thrown off by the loud spectators, saying they could feel the vibrations from the noise. Like true champions, they promised to return better prepared next time.

Meanwhile, Chen consoled herself with the Women’s Doubles crown, in partnership with Jia Yifan. They withstood Korea’s Chang Ye Na/Lee So Hee, 21-19 15-21 21-10, to clinch their first Superseries Premier title.

There was a similar pattern to the Men’s Doubles final as Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen dropped the second game versus Mathias Boe/Carsten Mogensen of Denmark but rebounded to take the decider with a barrage of big hitting. The imposing Chinese won 21-19 19-21 21-18 over their elder opponents who reclaimed the world No.1 ranking last week.

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Tested and Triumphant – Singles Finals: BCA Indonesia Open 2017

Sayaka Sato savoured the sweetest moment of her winding, and sometimes rocky, career this evening in a badminton heartland that saluted her with a standing ovation in appreciation of all she overcame to triumph at the BCA Indonesia Open 2017.

As Sung Ji Hyun’s shuttle drifted over the baseline to confirm Sato as the new queen of Women’s Singles in Jakarta, the 26-year-old Japanese shrieked in celebration and fell to the court to absorb the magnitude of her achievement – seven years after she was runner-up at the same event and having fought her way back from serious injury and surgery.

As the 21-13 17-21 21-14 scoreline glistened in neon, Sato rose to accept congratulations from her coaches as well as from noisy Indonesians packed inside Jakarta Convention Center; reputed to be among badminton’s most discerning audiences.

“This means a lot to me. In my heart I really wanted to win this title today. I knew it would be tough and it was. In the third game, I was feeling nervous and exhausted but my coaches kept encouraging me, telling me I could do it,” said the first-time Superseries champion.

“In the last 20 minutes, I remembered all the things I have practised and that gave me confidence to fight until the end.”

Sato signalled her determination to get her hands on the title from early, leading the first game from start to finish, moving energetically while Sung – who later admitted fatigue – looked lethargic and unable to come to terms with the conditions. Just when Sato appeared on course for a straight-games victory at 17-14 in the second game, Sung came to life and strangely Sato made a series of errors that helped her Korean rival enormously. Sung snatched the second game with seven unanswered points.

If fans thought that momentum shift would prove decisive, they were again surprised in the third game as Sato regained her composure and took charge with an attacking assault that left a wilting Sung trailing hopelessly. It was clear the No.5 seed had nothing in reserve, having given her all just to push the match the distance. The end came quickly and with it the ultimate validation for Sato’s hard work and commitment to regaining her status among badminton’s best since a serious knee injury that saw her tearfully retire from the quarter-finals of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

A pensive Sung rued her missed opportunity but, as one of the tour’s most consistent performers, she vowed to be back – as soon as this week’s Australia leg of the Superseries in Sydney.

“I am upset I didn’t win. I just didn’t have the necessary endurance today. Sayaka was really fit and very fast. That was the difference,” noted the 25-year-old who has reached the semi-finals of all five Superseries so far this year.

In the Men’s Singles final, Kidambi Srikanth announced his return to near top form, capturing his first Superseries crown since winning on home turf in Delhi in 2015.

Though playing down his chances throughout the rounds, the 24-year-old’s commanding performance, especially in attack, spoke resoundingly – 21-11 21-19 in 37 minutes to dismantle the threat of Japanese journeyman, Kazumasa Sakai. Srikanth took the first game at a canter but he had to work for the second as his opponent showed he merited his place in the signature showdown.

However, utterances of a third game proved premature as Srikanth, who had been 7-12 down, drew level at 13-13. Sakai eked out a few more leads but he could not hold on as Srikanth bore down on the finish line. The Indian would not be denied and completed his mission with his trademark aggression; a smash at net that cannoned into a helpless Sakai.

“This is good for me. It’s been a long time since I won a Superseries event,” declared an exuberant Srikanth, who was sidelined from top-flight badminton for almost six months due to an injury last September.

“It was a fantastic match. I started well and my attack was working well. It’s one of the best things that happened for me in the last week. Sakai has been playing well and has understood the conditions here better than many players. This was a tricky match and I am happy to come out on top.”

Though disappointed to lose, Sakai said he would take the positives from his successful run through the qualifying rounds into the final. Having trained for two years from age 18 at Tangkas badminton club in Indonesia, the 27-year-old was pleased to have his best result in a country that embraced him as a teenager.

“I appreciated all the support I received. It was great to play here,” said the runner-up.

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Intriguing Doubles Await – Day 6: BCA Indonesia Open 2017

Chen Qingchen has a shot at two titles in the BCA Indonesia Open 2017 finals today – but hometown heroes, Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir, stand between her and the Mixed Doubles crown.

The Women’s Doubles championship is not a foregone conclusion either as in-form Korean duo, Chang Ye Na and Lee So Hee fancy their chances of adding a second Superseries Premier honour to their 2017 trophy haul, having won All England bragging rights in March.

In yesterday’s semi-finals, the latter calmly defeated Japan’s Shiho Tanaka and Koharu Yonemoto, 21-14 12-21 21-11, to book their place in the final. Later in the night, Chen and Jia Yifan (featured image) took care of their semi-final 21-12 21-17 despite a valiant effort by Indonesia’s Anggia Shitta Awanda and Ni Ketut Mahadewi Istarani.

“We are happy to reach the final. We don’t feel any pressure though the Chinese are very good. We work together and we are confident on court,” said Chang of their recent run of success, including a significant role in Korea’s victory in last month’s TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2017.

The Koreans defeated Chen and Jia in straight games in the final of that tournament in Gold Coast, giving them a mental boost when they battle at Jakarta Convention Center this afternoon. However, regardless of their previous results, Chang noted that “each match we start from scratch so we have to be ready”.

Meanwhile, in Mixed Doubles, Chen and Zheng Siwei will be up against the whole of Indonesia as supporters come out in their numbers hoping to see Olympic champions, Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir lift a title that has so far eluded them – their home Superseries championship.

The Indonesian stars progressed to the final thanks to a 21-13 21-14 rout of Malaysia’s Chan Peng Soon and Peck Yen Wei.

“We are thrilled to be in the final and we will give our all tomorrow. We want to win and bring the trophy to Indonesia but it is not going to be easy,” said Natsir.

Top-seeded Zheng and Chen resisted a challenge from their team-mates, Liu Yuchen and Tang Jinhua, to win their semi-final over the qualifiers, 21-10 21-23 21-16.

The Men’s Doubles finale should also be a cracker with the vintage duo of Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen across the net from China’s heavy hitters, Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen; the latter making up for his Mixed Doubles disappointment by beating fellow Chinese, Liu Cheng/Zhang Nan, 21-17 18-21 21-18. The wily Danes shot down another pair of young guns in Indonesia’s Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto (21-17 18-21 21-12) and would love nothing better than to celebrate their return to the No.1 world ranking by taking Superseries Premier glory.

“It will be tough. They are extremely fast players so we will need to have fast legs. It’s fun to play these new pairs. We need to play our best every time,” said Mogensen.

“It’s our second final in Indonesia and hopefully the crowd will support us.”

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Redemption Time – Day 6: BCA Indonesia Open 2017

Four players with redemption stories of varying degrees battled into the singles finals of the BCA Indonesia Open 2017 this eve at Jakarta Convention Center.

On the men’s side, Kidambi Srikanth – once as high as world No.3 and already a winner of some impressive honours – continued his journey back to badminton’s bright lights following a lengthy injury lay-off. The other contender for the title, Kazumasa Saka – a 27-year-old who came through the qualifying rounds – has not had a lot to write home about in his career, mostly spent toiling in lower-level tournaments with an occasional win or two in the early rounds of Superseries events.

The Women’s Singles finale brings together one of the tour’s most consistent performers – Sung Ji Hyun – and Sayaka Sato; an athlete who has endured bitter disappointment at the pinnacle of sport and whose comeback has been achieved the hard way.

Sung – who has reached the semi-final of all five Superseries so far this season – has frustratingly fallen short on countless occasions and been overshadowed by the likes of China’s Big Three (Li Xuerui, Wang Shixian and Wang Yihan) and, more recently, the likes of Tai Tzu Ying, Carolina Marin and Ratchanok Intanon. The Korean has been in danger of being tagged “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” or whatever the badminton equivalent may be.

Sato’s saga resonates even stronger. At London 2012, a horrible knee injury forced her to not only retire from her Olympic quarter-final but also to take a significant break from badminton. Ranked 16th in the world before her injury, Sato was outside the top 200 when she returned; having to start from scratch and change her playing style in the aftermath of her injury. In the meantime, junior team-mates have been reaping rewards and headlines.

Today, it was Sato’s turn to shine, coming from a game down to overwhelm Thailand’s Nitchaon Jindapol, 13-21 21-18 21-14; giving Japan an interest in both singles showdowns.

“I was motivated to come back after seeing other players winning. I had lots of rehab and exercise. I am happy,” recalled the 26-year-old.

Meanwhile, having defeated Las Vegas-based Beiwen Zhang, 21-10 8-21 21-10, Sung basked in the relief – and glory – of getting past the semi-finals.

“Finally,” she declared, smiling as she exited the court.

“After so many semi-finals, it’s a great improvement to reach the final. I have played Sayaka and she covers the court well. I will have to focus on every point tomorrow.”

Srikanth, too, gave himself a shot at redemption, outlasting world No.1 Son Wan Ho to reach his second successive World Superseries final. Runner-up in Singapore two months ago, the 24-year-old Indian came wrested a compelling semi-final with Korea’s top gun to earn a crack at the Men’s Singles championship. Srikanth edged through 21-15 14-21 24-22; saving a match point and then seizing his third opportunity to take the honours with a reflex tap into an open court with Son hopelessly stranded close to the net.

Joyously flinging his arms wide and screaming, Srikanth celebrated another milestone in his comeback. Disappointed to lose out to his compatriot B. Sai Praneeth in the Singapore final, the unseeded player has the chance to make it right tomorrow.

“To be frank, I am shocked to be playing back-to-back Superseries finals. I had a bad injury and it was tough when I came back,” said Srikanth.
“It was a very close match. I was lucky to pull off that last point. I was just that one per cent luckier than him. I am happy with how I played.”

Having taken the first game and sitting comfortably in the second, the Rio 2016 quarter-finalist lapsed in concentration and let slip a 13-10 lead as Son enjoyed an 11-1 run in points that ensured a decider. The third game was neck-and-neck all the way, with the intensity of the exchanges and the anticipation of fans growing as it came to a climax. Son, who has succumbed to mental fragility previously, attacked with conviction to grab match point but sent the next shuttle beyond the baseline. The Korean would not get another chance as Srikanth sealed their respective fates in dramatic fashion.

“I prepared well but Srikanth’s attack is very good and he was also good in defence. The last game was close. I am disappointed to lose,” said 29-year-old Son.

The final of the prestigious Superseries Premier event will be a first-ever meeting between Srikanth and Sakai. That the Japanese player denied Srikanth’s team-mate, HS Prannoy, the honour of joining his training partner in Sunday’s showpiece adds a spicy tidbit to the storyline. Sakai fought back bravely, surviving five match points in the second game, to claim the biggest win of his career: 17-21 28-26 21-18.

He would surely surpass that tomorrow if he topples the one player in his path.

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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