Tai Digs Deep – Day 4: CROWN GROUP Australian Open 2017

Tai Tzu Ying battled through patchy form and past a difficult opponent to enter the semi-finals of the CROWN GROUP Australian Open 2017 today in Sydney.

The Chinese Taipei Women’s Singles star – not at her best as she is still recovering from flu – dug deep in the face of fast-moving and hard-hitting Indian opponent Pusarla V Sindhu, eventually hitting her stride in the home stretch: 10-21 22-20 21-16.

It was the athleticism and power of Pusarla versus the versatility of Tai, who showed only glimpses of her famed trickery. For the early part of the match Tai was under the gun as Pusarla’s power and reach dominated the exchanges; the Indian had a match point in the second but blew her shot wide.

The Indian once again took control and at 14-10 in the third appeared to have things under control. It was at this point that Tai (featured image) shifted gears; Pusarla was dragged to the corners and dealt sudden flashes of deception – Tai picked off five straight points, and finished the match with a held-back drop shot that left her opponent stranded mid-court.

“She was playing very well today, all I could do was to keep working hard,” said Tai. “She had some unlucky misses in the second game. I wasn’t 100 percent, my throat still feels itchy and I have a runny nose, but it’s okay.”

The top seed will face No.3 seed Akane Yamaguchi (Japan), who powered past China’s Chen Yufei, 21-15 21-14.

Chinese Taipei had a day to savour, with Yang Po Han and Lu Ching Yao’s dream run continuing in Men’s Doubles. The duo made their first World Superseries semi-finals, beating Korea’s Choi Solgyu/Kim Dukyoung in a fast-paced encounter, 21-16 21-18.

“It feels great, we’re very excited,” said Yang Po Han. “We’ve been working very hard together… it’s all about trusting each other and keeping our focus.”

Yang and Lu face Japan’s Takeshi Kamura/Keigo Sonoda, who prevented an all-Chinese Taipei semi-final by beating Wang Chi-Lin/Chen Hung Ling 21-18 21-19.

In Men’s Singles, Kidambi Srikanth’s recent form continued to blossom as he won only his second match in seven encounters against compatriot Sai Praneeth. After a close first game, Praneeth faltered in not maintaining the pressure on Srikanth, who steadily grew in confidence and closed out the match 25-23 21-17.

“The first game was very close, I lost four game points. That’s been the pattern every time I’ve lost to top players, I’ve missed my opportunities,” said Srikanth. “I have to avoid that. We know each other’s game pretty well. You just have to be patient. He’s a tricky player, he has variety. You have to be steady and take those special shots and retrieve them.”

The Indian is in his third straight Superseries semi-final, a turnaround from his modest form of last season. “It’s going great so far, not really thinking too much,” he said. “I just want to play well, because I missed six-seven tournaments last year, I just want to play as many games as possible.”

In Mixed Doubles, Wang Yilyu and Huang Dongping set up an all-China semi-final against top seeds Zheng Siwei/Chen Qingchen after beating England’s Chris Adcock/Gabrielle Adcock 22-20 21-15.

The England pair had everything doing well for them at 20-18 in the first, but missed both game points and their game declined rapidly from that point.

“Obviously it was tough, we are good at being resilient, but today losing those game points did affect us,” said Gabrielle Adcock. “We beat ourselves today and that’s a tough one to take. It was frustrating for us, I think we did lose our spirit in the second game.”

Yang/Lu Surprise Second Seeds – Day 3: CROWN GROUP Australian Open 2017

Yang Po Han and Lu Ching Yao created the upset of the day at the CROWN GROUP Australian Open 2017 yesterday, taking out second seeds Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen.

The Chinese Taipei Men’s Doubles pair kept their nerve in a tense finish, with Yang in particular having a standout game, as he dominated the net to see the challengers through to a 21-15 15-21 21-17 victory.

Yang and Lu ran away to a 12-4 lead in the third, but with the experienced second seeds steadily pulling themselves back to within a point at 16-17, it looked like the Chinese had things under control. It was Yang (featured image) who stepped up to the plate at the crucial moment, and his sharp left-handed interceptions put the Chinese under pressure and saw the challengers through at the end.

Yang/Lu face Korea’s Choi Solgyu/Kim Dukyoung, who prevailed in an even closer finish, over Japan’s Hiroyuki Endo/Yuta Watanabe, 21-15 11-21 22-20, after saving a match point.

In Women’s Doubles, Denmark’s Christinna Pedersen/Kamilla Rytter Juhl made their way past Korea’s Kim So Yeong/Chae Yoo Jung 21-15 21-11 and will face another Korean pair, Kim Hye Rin/Yoo Hae Won. The Danes admitted the match was tougher than the score suggested, but were happy with their form:

“The score looked easier than it was. We have respect when we face Korea. We were well prepared, that’s the reason the score looked good. We had to work hard in the rallies,” said Pedersen.

“It’s a new combination,” added Rytter Juhl. “We haven’t played them as a pair before. The Koreans are doing great at the moment. We’re happy with the win; we’re happy we’ve still got it.

“So far it’s a really good season for us. It’s hard to believe that we can still manage to find this level. We enjoy being on court, playing together, travelling around the world, sometimes when it’s tough, it’s about finding the positive things outside the court and we’re good at that. We enjoy being here.”

The other quarter-final in the bottom half of the draw will see two World Superseries champions this year face off – Korea’s Chang Ye Na/Lee So Hee against Japan’s Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota.

In Women’s Singles, defending champion Saina Nehwal was surprised by the combativeness of Malaysian newcomer Soniia Cheah but recovered in the third game to prevail 21-15 20-22 21-14.

The tall Cheah troubled Nehwal with her speed and steep half-smashes; the Indian had to dig deep to stonewall the sharp angles of the Malaysian, and her counter-attacking game eventually broke Cheah’s resistance.

Nehwal was all praise for Cheah after the match: “My first round (against Sung Ji Hyun) was quite tough, it took a lot of energy, the rallies were fast and I felt the effect today. Soniia has some good sharp shots, she’s a tricky player the first time you face her. She’s moving well, and she was picking up a lot of shots. She was playing like a doubles player – very fast parallel shot, very fast from her backhand. She had the tendency to take four-five points at a stretch. I think she will come up.”

In the top quarter, No.1 seed Tai Tzu Ying held off a late challenge from Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon, 21-11 21-18, to book a quarter-final against India’s Pusarla V Sindhu. The other quarter-finals feature Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi against China’s Chen Yufei; China’s Sun Yu against Saina Nehwal, and an all-Japanese clash between Sayaka Takahashi – who beat China’s He Bingjiao 21-14 21-17 – and Nozomi Okuhara.

Click here for results

Nehwal, Okuhara Progress – CROWN GROUP Australian Open 2017: Day 2

Two Women’s Singles seeds lost high-profile opening round battles in today’s evening session at the CROWN GROUP Australian Open 2017.

Spain’s Carolina Marin and Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun have both been consistent this season, but today they faced difficult opening round opponents. Second seed Marin lost her way early against Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara but fought back gallantly. Her effort was to prove inadequate, however, as the Spaniard, champion here in 2015, narrowly fell short 21-12 21-19.

Marin joined No.4 seed Sung Ji Hyun out of the event – the Korean having fallen to her earliest World Superseries exit since November last year. Sung, finalist last week in Indonesia, was all at sea against defending champion Saina Nehwal (India), who powered past her 21-10 21-16.

“My ranking has dropped; I have to face top players in the first round,” said Nehwal. “I have the game, I just need to get these matches. My condition is not at its best. In the second game my stamina was coming down, but I still managed to pull it out. Beating Sung 10 and 16 means I have played well today. I didn’t expect to cross the first round, now I’m looking forward to the next one. I haven’t looked at the draw, so I have no idea who I’m playing next.

“My feel was good, the smashes were sharp. She was getting to the net quickly and keeping it tight at the net.  I had to be alert for that. She’s also very smart rally player. I’m surprised to beat her with this score. I’m quite happy.”

Nehwal’s compatriot Pusarla V Sindhu also progressed – stopping BCA Indonesia Open winner Sayaka Sato in a tense match, 21-17 14-21 21-18.

Pusarla admitted to succumbing to nerves in the second game before pulling herself together.

“I was confident in the second game but I made a few mistakes and then I got nervous,” Pusarla said. “I didn’t know what to do, nothing was going right. I was blank when she got the 17-13 lead. She was ahead early in the third game as well. My coach asked me to forget about my mistakes and to focus on the third game. There were a lot of rallies in the third and I managed to catch up with her.”

Top seed Tai Tzu Ying (Chinese Taipei) booked her second round place against Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon, while another in-form player, Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi, also eased into the second round, where she will face Singapore qualifier Yeo Jia Min.

Women’s Doubles fifth seeds Shin Seung Chan/Jung Kyung Eun lost a close battle to China’s Bao Yixin/Tang Jinhua 21-17 21-18; Bao/Tang will take on compatriots Huang Yaqiong/Yu Xiaohan in the second round.

Japan had a good day with their four pairs progressing. Naoko Fukuman/Kurumi Yonao had the stiffest test of the four, getting past Thailand’s Puttita Supajirakul/Sapsiree Taerattanachai 21-16 21-16.

Men’s Doubles saw a surprise result, with young Indian pair Satwiksairaj Rankireddy/Chirag Shetty beating Hong Kong’s Law Cheuk Him/Lee Chun Hei 20-22 21-19 21-11.

The Indians take on Chinese Taipei’s Wang Chi-Lin/Chen Hung Ling in the second round.

Second seeds Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen had a few hiccups in overcoming the challenge of Denmark’s David Daugaard/Mathias Christiansen, but the Chinese duly completed the task in 43 minutes: 21-18 23-21.

Click here for results

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.


Click here for results

Teen Topples Marin – Day 2: BCA Indonesia Open 2017

A Chinese teenager who had, until now, done nothing remarkable in the top flight, derailed World and Olympic champion, Carolina Marin, in today’s opening round of the BCA Indonesia Open 2017.

Facing a situation in which more experienced players have crumbled on countless occasions, Chen Xiaoxin (featured image) simply refused to be beaten, producing a stunning 21-12 10-21 22-20 upset of the No.2 seed at Jakarta Convention Center this evening.

When Marin rebounded from the loss of the first game to level the battle and prompt a decider, there could hardly have been a fan who did not expect the usually clinical Spaniard to motor into the second round, leaving Chen behind her. That familiar scenario certainly appeared to be unfolding as Marin carved out leads of 13-8, 14-10 and 18-15 – but somehow she could not shake off her 19-year-old opponent who kept finding a way back into reckoning.

At 20-18, two match points also came and went as Chen sped past the left-hander with four unanswered points to clinch a memorable success.

The outcome bore echoes of Marin’s recent, if unusual, fragility in tense circumstances. In Malaysia, the 23-year-old had rapidly receded into Tai Tzu Ying’s rear-view as the current leading lady of Women’s Singles seized control of the decider in a gripping final. A week later in Singapore, Marin melted down uncharacteristically against Tai again. Her steely resolve which had been the hallmark of her rise to fame, her back-to-back World titles and her Rio 2016 coronation was once more glaringly absent – and now today’s shocker versus the world No.33 player.

Despite post-match comments about drift in the makeshift badminton venue and the “shuttle being impossible to control”, she acknowledged all players have to deal with the same conditions, adding she will have to shrug off this setback and prepare for next week’s leg of the MetLife BWF World Superseries tour in Sydney, Australia.

Meanwhile, India’s Saina Nehwal hinted at returning to her best form as she savoured a fine victory over the ever-dangerous Ratchanok Intanon.

Having suffered fluctuating fortunes since knee surgery last summer, the 27-year-old marked another milestone in her comeback. Having been reeled in after holding an early advantage in the first game, Nehwal fought back in the second before dominating the third to prevail 17-21 21-18 21-12. More than the win itself, the Indian ace was pleased with how she played.

“I am really happy to be improving. I want to focus and to get more strength in my legs. Today I could lunge and move properly. I was still having some problems last week and I wasn’t confident about my movement,” disclosed Nehwal.

A fatigued Intanon lauded her rival’s movement, stating it was better than hers and better than how the Indian moved during the recent SCG Thailand Open 2017.

Another result that raised some eyebrows was the defeat of World Junior champion, Chen Yufei, by 17-year-old Indonesian Gregoria Mariska Tunjung. The latter outlasted the promising Chinese, 17-21 21-19 21-19, exacting revenge for her loss to Chen in the final of last season’s Asian Junior Championships. Tunjung gets a crack at world No.1, Tai Tzu Ying, in the second round as the Chinese Taipei top seed breezed through 21-8 21-12 against Japan’s Minatsu Mitani.