JAPAN OPEN 2011 QF – Applause for stars’ last laugh in Japan

Knowing that several top players have hinted retirement after next year’s Olympic Games, about 6800 Japanese fans stormed Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium to watch their badminton heroes live, on Japanese soil, […]

Knowing that several top players have hinted retirement after next year’s Olympic Games, about 6800 Japanese fans stormed Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium to watch their badminton heroes live, on Japanese soil, for what could be the last time.  The crowd’s wild cheers echoed loudly within the walls of the arena as the hugely popular Lee Chong Wei, Peter Gade and Lin Dan played in front of the rapt crowd.

By Miyuki Komiya, Badzine Correspondent live in Tokyo.  Photos: Yves Lacroix for Badmintonphoto (live)

The much-awaited match between Japan’s Kenichi Tago and WR1 Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei promised excitement and anticipation among the local fans. To the delight of the crowd, Tago found himself leading 11-9 at the first game interval.  Chong Wei, however, countered with 7 consecutive points and reversed the situation to 16-11.

Cheers got very loud when Tago was able to keep up at 19-19.  Chong Wei advanced with two game points first but oddly sent the shuttle out twice at the side.  Tago found an opening and smashed into Chong Wei’s body. The crowd went wild as Tago bagged a surprising win in the first, 23-21.

Lee Chong Wei completely dominated the second game with 21-7 breakaway win and continuing in this vein, in the first part of the final game, Chong Wei dictated the pace most of the time, finding himself comfortably ahead 19-10.

Even the crowd was almost ready to give up but not Tago. He managed to save 4 match points and surprised everybody even Chong Wei when the scoreboard displayed TAGO 18 LEE 20.  Chong Wei’s final smash ended Tago’s hopes and the World #1 ended deciding game 21-18.

“I think the second game made the big difference,” Tago offered as explanation for his loss.

“The shocking defeat to Lin Dan in the 2011 World Championship finals hindered me from participating in the China Masters. Although I’m not in my best condition, I participated in the Super Series because my sponsor Yonex is having it’s 30-year anniversary.  Today I’m still not in my best form but I’m doing my best to reach my prime condition in time for next year’s summer Olympics,” said Chong Wei afterward.

Peter Hoeg Gade, the Dane veteran hugely popular with local Japanese fans, effectively utilized the ‘wind’ to earn himself a straight-game against Indonesia’s Simon Santoso 21-14, 21-15.

“Today my old legs moved very fast.  This is my last and my original goal was to be in the best 4. I’m happy that I am now able to accomplish it!” Peter Gade said after the match, happily chatting with the reporters.

“Tomorrow will be with Lee Chong Wei.  It will probably be my last match against him so I want to give my best.”

“My condition wasn’t bad,” said Simon, “but I really felt Peter was faster than before.  I couldn’t play at my best.”

Friday also saw the second edition of Chen Jin vs Lin Dan in the month of September, after the China Masters semi-finals.  Chen Jin had good start in the first game, leading 7-2, but Lin Dan countered with the next 6 points to turn the lead around 8-7.  Chen Jin, however, was more determined and won the first game 22-20.

The second was Lin Dan’s game but in the third, Chen dictated the pace with 18-13 lead.  But Super Dan fired another 6 consecutive winners to once again turn the lead around 19-18. Chen responded with the next two points to reach the match point 20-19 but Lin Dan answered back with the next 3 points to win the game 22-20 and keep the possibility of a Lin Dan-Lee Chong Wei re-match.

“It’s hard to play against someone from the same country, but I was able to stick to my style of play,” says Lin Dan.

“We both gave our best today.  It was my misfortune to lose,” Chen commented.

The first discipline on Friday to see an all-Chinese final sabotaged was the mixed doubles, where Germany’s Birgit Michels / Michael Fuchs took on Hong Wei / Pan Pan.  The German pair started off well in the first game, leading 7-3.  China took 4 points and levelled up at 7-all, but the German mixed pair stuck to their game plan and took the first game 21-12.

A reversal of fortunes in the second game saws China take a 14-7 lead and everyone thought that the Chinese pair would win. However, the persistent Germans caught up to 18-18 and their mental toughness allowed them to weather a couple of game points, capitalize on a couple of mistakes from the Chinese, then take four consecutive plays to win the second game 22-20.

“The first game start was really good.  We had good strategy going for us, but I think we also got lucky,” Michael Fuchs said of the match.

“In Germany the badminton environment is getting better.  They now have more exposure to international tournaments, they have a coach and therapists and their training venues are also good.  I think these are also starting to pay off now.”

Japanese pair Shoji Sato / Shizuka Matsuo had what it took to enter the best 8 against Danish veterans Joachim Fischer Nielsen / Christinna Pedersen.  However, they couldn’t find what they needed to get past the world #4 pair.

The first game saw the Japanese pair off to good start, with them leading11-5 at the interval.  However, the lead slimmed when the Denmark pair played better snatching the lead from the Japanese and eventually taking the first game 21-13 after an astounding run of 13 points!

In the second as well, Joachim’s deep smashes went inside the Japanese court and there was nothing much the Japanese pair could do to stop their opponents as they bowed out 10-21.

“I am satisfied to reach the quarter-finals.  Denmark’s service is really good, it was hard for the receiving end to create an attacking situation,” said Sato.

“I am aware that Japan’s mixed doubles level is going up,” said Joachim Fischer Nielsen after the match.  “Yesterday, we studied them and devised strategy against them.

“At the beginning of the first game, we couldn’t get our rhythm together, as opposed to the Japanese pair, who had a good start.  In the latter half of the first, we sped it up and our movements also started to get better, so we were able to shift the game to our style.”

The Danes now prepare for the only all-European semi-final at this year’s Japan Open.

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If you are to visit Tokyo for the Japan Open, you should stay in our partner hotel, the Chisun Grand Akasaka, a classy and modern hotel just a few minutes away from the venue, the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. Click HERE to find out more about our partner hotel.

Miyuki Komiya

About Miyuki Komiya

Miyuki Komiya is Badzine's correspondent in Japan. She joined the Badzine team in 2008 to provide coverage of the Japanese badminton scene. She has played badminton for more than 30 years and has been a witness to the modern history of Japanese badminton, both watching players become stronger on court and hearing the players comment on their increasing success over the years. Contact her at: miyuki @ badzine.net