SINGAPORE OPEN 2011 R32 – Tough day for defending champs

It was a day chock full of surprises at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, with unexpected victories and nail-biting three setters galore. Top seeds and defending champions especially found the going […]

It was a day chock full of surprises at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, with unexpected victories and nail-biting three setters galore. Top seeds and defending champions especially found the going tough, no thanks to the widely-acknowledged challenging conditions of the stadium.

By Pearlyn Kwang, live from Singapore. Photos (live): Badmintonphoto

In one of the last few matches of the day, defending women’s singles champion Saina Nehwal had to battle hard to see off the challenge of a resurgent Lu Lan.  The former Chinese world champion managed to put up a credible resistance, nabbing the second game quickly, before succumbing 16-21 in the third.

As with Saina, Singapore’s first Super Series champions Yao Lei and Shinta Mulia Sari (pictured left) were also given a fright earlier in the morning by England’s Heather Olver / Mariana Agathangelou, but managed to turn the tide in their favour with the vociferous support from the Singapore team, eventually triumphing 19-21, 21-18, 21-16.

“We were too anxious,” Yao Lei explained of their first-game stumble. “So we changed our tactics later and played more patiently, which worked well.”

When asked to rate their chances in defending their title with the presence of team China in the draw, Yao and Shinta unanimously replied, “We are unseeded, so we try not to think too much and put unnecessary pressure on ourselves.”

Close shaves for India’s young heroine and the Singaporean duo, but for the other defending champions, it was an entirely different story.

Defending dreams crushed in Round One

Seeded fifth in the mixed doubles draw, Thomas Laybourn and Kamilla Rytter Juhl (pictured right) were shockingly dumped out of the tournament by Sato Shoji and Matsuo Shizuka – a far cry from their performance last year, which saw them claiming the crown without dropping a game. The sprightly Japanese duo needed just two games, 21-18, 21-19, to dispatch the Danes, combatting the Danes’ hard-hitting play with their agility and clever deceptive shots.  Sato / Matsuo were constantly switching positions and seen sprawling all over the courts, thereby proving that hard work does pay off.  As the petite Matsuo put it, “I feel good!”

This is, however, not the first upset created in their mere four months as a team, having beaten Thailand’s Sudket Prapakamol and Saralee Thoungthongkam en-route the quarter-finals in the India Super Series. 28-year-old Sato, who switched to doubles in 2009 after a reputable singles career, commented, “Our opponents made many mistakes, but I think we played good today too. We hope to play good tomorrow as well!”

Also ousted are Chinese Taipei’s Fang Chieh Min / Lee Sheng Mu, who stunned everyone last year to capture the Singapore men’s doubles title as the unseeded and unheralded underdogs. This year, however, proved to be not so lucky for the pair as they bowed out 13-21, 16-21 to the in-form Alvent Yulianto Chandra / Hendra Aprida Gunawan, runners-up of last week’s Thailand Open.  Though seeded fifth this time, Fang / Lee stood absolutely no chance against the Indonesians, as they were blasted with relentless attacks that crumbled their usually solid defence.

2009 vs 2010 winner

In what was previously deemed the highlight of the day, defending men’s singles champion Sony Dwi Kuncoro took on his counterpart of the 2009 edition, Bao Chunlai (pictured below). It was a fairly-matched first game, but Bao managed to clinch it 21-19. The second game was, however, more of a formality as Bao stomped into the next round with an easy 21-13 win. It is known that the Indonesian has been troubled with an injury for the past year, which saw his ranking plummet to an all-time low of 38th in March and he stands currently in the #34 position.

Said Sony after the match, “My injury was very bad, and my condition was not good in the beginning. It did improve in the Malaysian Grand Prix Gold and I felt better in Singapore. So, I thought I did quite well in the first game, but then Bao Chunlai took more risks in the second game and I couldn’t keep up with the pace. As the defending champion, of course I hope to win again, but it’s a pity.”

Nevertheless, Bao Chunlai (ironically) felt he did not perform up-to-par today. “I don’t think I played very well. I just played at my usual standard. There were times when I thought I played really badly during the match.” He added that it was his patience and consistency that contributed mainly to his triumph. “It’s very important to perform well since it’s the Olympic qualifying period, so I’ll definitely do my best in Singapore and in future tournaments.”

The seventh-seeded Chinese will next face Viktor Axelsen, 11 years his junior, and the reigning World Junior Champion. The young Dane avenged his Thailand Open loss last week to Wong Choong Hann, an achievement he was proud of. “When the score was so tight and I was losing, I came back strong, I kept my head cool, so yes, I’m really proud of the mental aspects of my game today. I was very strong mentally today and I’m proud of that.”

For full results, click here.

For all LIVE PHOTOS of the event, click on the Facebook Page of Badmintonphoto, Official Photo Agency of BWF.

About Pearlyn Kwang