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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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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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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