It’s Japan’s Day! – Doubles Finals: CROWN GROUP Australian Open 2017

Japan enjoyed heady success at the CROWN GROUP Australian Open, clinching two doubles titles in addition to the Women’s Singles crown.

Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi and Takeshi Kamura/Keigo Sonoda made it three out of three for Japan; both Japanese doubles pairs won their first World Superseries title of the year after Nozomi Okuhara had earlier won the all-Japanese Women’s Singles final. Zheng Siwei and Chen Qingchen won the Mixed Doubles for China.

The Women’s Doubles final saw Matsutomo and Takahashi overwhelm Denmark’s Christinna Pedersen/Kamilla Rytter Juhl 21-10 21-13.

Whether it was the strain of their long semi-final, or the fact that their Japanese opponents were just that much sharper in the final, the Danes were shut out in the opening phase of play and couldn’t find a way back. Both Pedersen and Rytter Juhl struggled to stay in the rallies, and with Matsutomo and Takahashi defending with solidity and picking off winners at will, it was mostly a one-sided contest.

Rytter Juhl was all praise for their opponents: “Today they were better than us in all aspects. Physical, mentally; they moved well, they could see what was happening faster than us. There was not much to do today.

“We’ve been using a lot of energy the last two matches. We started here with me lying in bed for two days as I was ill, but to be in the final is really awesome. We had to be more than 100 percent to beat the Japanese today.”

“I’m not sure we could’ve won today even if we won in two sets yesterday,” added Pedersen. “But to play extra 30 minutes hard fight yesterday, we used a lot of energy, but I know it would still have been difficult for us today.”

Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda too had things pretty much under control for most of the Men’s Doubles final against Tan Boon Heong (Malaysia) and Hendra Setiawan (Indonesia). The second game was closer than the first, but at the death, it was the Japanese who grabbed the first chance at attack, and the title was won on the 37th minute: 21-17 21-19.

“We didn’t expect to win this one, so that is why we feel so happy about today,” said Kamura.

“As this tournament is just before the World Championships, we now need to seriously think about how to compete there. It’s great that Japan won three titles here – our level has been improving, which makes us feel really happy and we have a lot of young people in our team. We work hard to respond to the expectations and dreams of our people.”

Praveen Jordan and Debby Susanto let slip a handy lead in the final game of their Mixed Doubles final against Zheng Siwei and Chen Qingchen, and the Chinese pounced on the opportunity to claim their second Superseries crown this year.

The Indonesians were looking totally assured in the final game, with Susanto defending brilliantly and Jordan easing the shuttle into vacant spaces as they worked up a 10-3 lead.

Chen’s astute serving at this point helped the Chinese climb back out of the hole they were in; the Indonesians didn’t do themselves any favours with a few return errors, and suddenly the Chinese had the bounce back in their step. Zheng’s sizzling smashes once again started to punch holes in the Indonesians’ defence, and the final point was won on the 58th minute: 18-21 21-14 21-17.

“There were a lot of ups and downs in this match,” reflected Zheng. “In the first game we were leading and they caught up. In the third game we were behind 1-9 but then we managed to catch up. So it would help us a lot to reflect why we were able to catch up and why we were caught up.

“To lose one game is normal and we expected it before the match, however even though we lost the first game and during the third game our points were way behind, we didn’t want to give up and we believed that we could catch up.

“We need to adjust our mentality and I was always the more anxious one. We need to change that.”

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.

Steely Survival – Day 7 (Session 2): TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2017

Perennial title-holders, China, withstood all that Japan threw at them tonight to advance to tomorrow’s finale of the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2017 in Gold Coast, Australia.

The defending champions reached their 12th final with a sterling semi-final effort that blended the old guard, in Men’s Singles supremo Lin Dan, and the new generation of athletes entrusted with upholding their nation’s badminton legacy, in Men’s Doubles pair Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen and Chen Qingchen/Jia Yifan in Women’s Doubles.

Displaying the mettle for which they are well known, the Chinese rebounded from the shock demise of Zheng Siwei and 19-year-old Chen in the opening Mixed Doubles match to triumph 3-2 against long-time adversaries, Japan; runners-up two years ago in Dongguan. Chen shook off her failure in the Mixed discipline admirably to sound the death knell in the decisive Women’s Doubles match. She and Jia Yifan outgunned Olympic gold medallists, Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi, 21-12 21-19; the latter evidently far from their best when their country most needed it.

“We are very excited to win the most important point for China. We prepared well and we asked our coaches to give us this chance tonight. Now we want to get a good’s night rest and get ready for the final,” said an exuberant Jia as her team-mates celebrated.

China will now clash with Korea, who defeated Thailand 3-1 earlier in the day, for the BWF World Mixed Team Championship at Gold Coast Sports & Leisure Centre which has hosted an absorbing week-long tournament. Tonight provided another thrilling instalment as fortunes see-sawed one way and then the other with the challengers striking first, thanks to exciting young duo, Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino’s upset victory over the world No.1 partnership of Zheng and Chen.

Down to their last of five match points in a nail-biting decider, the Japanese composed themselves to face serve. Watanabe’s firm return straight at Zheng seemed to catch him by surprise and he parried it erroneously. Watanabe flung himself into the air and then hugged his partner at the 21-12 14-21 21-19 result.

“Yes, we did it! I thought we could upset them. I am so happy,” declared the compact Watanabe.

That joy, however, was short-lived as the iconic Lin Dan coolly put his team on level terms, winning Men’s Singles 21-16 21-19 versus Kenta Nishimoto. The 33-year-old star admitted feeling “nervous” as he badly wanted to deliver for China. Next up were his young compatriots, Li and Liu, in one of the key matches. The Chinese twin towers manfully imposed their power hitting on their opponents – Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda – in the second game, having eked out the first after saving a game point. Liu produced some sizzling kills at net while his partner proved equally lethal in attacking from deep. The barrage of shots wore down the Japanese who succumbed 23-21 21-16, sending China ahead 2-1 in the tie.

On to Women’s Singles where Akane Yamaguchi efficiently kept Japan’s chances alive with a controlled the 21-17 21-15 win over Sun Yu, again locking the scores 2-2. This left matters in the balance with both teams needing to clinch the Women’s Doubles match.

MORE TO COME

China, Japan to Face Off – Day 6 (Session 1): TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2017

Last edition finalists China and Japan booked a semi-final meeting at the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2017 with one-sided victories today in Gold Coast.

There were no surprises in either quarter-final – Japan versus Malaysia and China versus India – although India’s scratch Mixed Doubles combination Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Ashwini Ponnappa did create some flutters against World No.2 duo Lu Kai and Huang Yaqiong in the opening match before China took the tie 3-0. A short while later, Japan wrapped up their quarter-final against Malaysia 3-1.

Rankireddy, perhaps the find of the tournament, had the Chinese under pressure with his monster smashes, giving Ponnappa the openings she needed to put away the returns that came her way. Lu and Huang struggled to contain the rampant Indians, who played with great assurance and touch at the front court to deny their opponents any opportunities.

Lu and Huang, veterans of many a battle, seized the initiative early in the second and held their lead. The Indians went ahead briefly in the third but Lu and Huang had started to anticipate the Indians’ lines of attack and reeled in quick points.  Rankireddy and Ponnappa faltered on the delicate shots at net and the Chinese eventually came away winners at 16-21 21-13 21-16.

“We had a good chance, we had the confidence that we could pull it off,” said Ponnappa. “They’re very experienced, while we’re just starting off as a pair. Satwik has to get used to pressure situations. It’s kind of fun playing with him, because he’s strong and his game style complements mine. I’ve started moving into the net. In the past I’ve always run back and never taken charge. Having a promising player like Satwik to partner with is a huge confidence booster.”

World champion Chen Long had a 4-0 career record going into his Men’s Singles match-up with Kidambi Srikanth and nothing suggested that the Indian would get his first win, for the Chinese was at his fluid, powerful best.

Kidambi did little wrong; he varied the pace, worked the shuttle around and fired sharp winners through the narrow openings he crafted. The Indian stayed close but couldn’t quite wriggle free, for the quick-moving Chinese was invariably at the end of the flicks and half-smashes that Kidambi created. The frustration started to show in the Indian’s game and it was 2-0 for China in 48 minutes: 21-16 21-17.

“My opponent was very good, and he strongly challenged me in the second game,” said Chen. “We have to be our best tomorrow. The Japanese Men’s Singles players are quite young and have already got the opportunity to play at this level, so we have to be cautious. More than the pressure from outside, I will be putting pressure on myself to perform well.”

India’s Men’s Doubles pair were just not up to the level required to trouble Fu Haifeng and Zhang Nan. Rankireddy returned with Chirag Shetty and the duo were blown off court by the Olympic champions, 21-9 21-11, in just 29 minutes.

Japan’s victory over Malaysia followed the same pattern as in their sub-group 1C tie on Wednesday. For Malaysia, everything hinged on their Men’s Doubles pair of Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong getting past Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda (featured image), given Japan’s superior Women’s Singles and Women’s Doubles. Goh and Tan hit their stride mid-match against Sonoda and Kamura, but the Japanese kept up their high-intensity style, and the energy-sapping rallies started to tell on the Malaysians in the third as they fell apart in the hour-long battle: 21-17 16-21 21-11.

Soniia Cheah replaced Goh Jin Wei in Women’s Singles for Malaysia while Japan fielded Nozomi Okuhara. It was too vast a gulf for Cheah to cover, with the nimble Okuhara controlling the match from start to finish: 21-11 21-9.

Lee Chong Wei, as expected, delivered Men’s Singles for Malaysia over Kenta Nishimoto (21-15 21-13), leaving the burden of salvaging the nation’s hopes on Vivian Hoo and Woon Khe Wei. The Malaysian Women’s Doubles duo had taken only one game off Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi in nine previous matches. The Japanese duly made it ten wins in ten matches with a 21-7 21-14 result.

“We played Malaysia in the group stage as well, we weren’t sure who we would face today,” said Takahashi. “After we won the Men’s Doubles, we went in feeling good and there wasn’t any pressure.

“We lost the Sudirman Cup final to China two years ago. All the Chinese players are good. Our role is that of challengers. We always enjoy playing China and we have to prepare our best. They have won the Sudirman Cup six times in a row and we appreciate the opportunity to fight against them. It’s a big challenge in front of us.”

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