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.”

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.”

Click here for results

 

Three-in-a-Row for Srikanth – Day 4: CROWN GROUP Australian Open 2017

Immaculate. Kidambi Srikanth’s third World Superseries final in a row happened with a perfect execution of tactics, as the Indian’s dream season extended into the CROWN GROUP Australian Open 2017 in Sydney today.

With his demolition job of China’s Shi Yuqi (21-10 21-14), Srikanth became the first Men’s Singles player since Lee Chong Wei in 2015 to make three straight World Superseries finals.

There was little for him to say at the end of his 37-minute rout, for it had been against an opponent who did little wrong, but who could find no answers to the smooth skills of the Indian. Srikanth caught Shi in quicksand at the front court, and when he rose to fire in his smashes, the shuttle invariably whistled past the outstretched racket of the Chinese.

“Yes, it’s a dream performance,” said Srikanth. “I played a World Superseries final (Singapore Open) after two years, and then to play the next two finals is a dream for sure. I was in control of the whole match, I didn’t give him any easy points at the start. It’s just that I had to stay there, he’s someone who wants to keep the shuttle in play and goes for the odd shot, so I wanted to stay there and not give him easy points. I was in control at the net.

“I have no thoughts about the final, no thoughts about winning or losing. (If it is Chen Long) I’ve played him four or five times. Most times it was close. I played him twice this year, I lost 21-19 or so.”

(To be updated)

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).

Click here for results