JAPAN OPEN 2013 SF – Japan writes history, clinches first ever gold!

For the first time in the 32-year history of the Japan Open, a title will stay with the host country as against all odds, unseeded Japanese shuttlers have taken both […]

For the first time in the 32-year history of the , a title will stay with the host country as against all odds, unseeded Japanese shuttlers have taken both spots in the women’s singles final.

By Emzi Regala, Badzine Correspondent live in Tokyo.  Photos: Badmintonphoto (live)

For 31 years Japan has tried and failed.  But on its 32nd attempt, the host country not only produces its first ever title – already a done deal by virtue of an all-Japanese women’s singles final – but also holds a glimmer of hope for yet one more gold, that in the men’s singles.

Underdog Shizuka Uchida (pictured) shocked the Chinese contingent by taking total control of her semi-final against Olympic silver medallist Wang Yihan in an inspired straight-game performance.  A little bit of luck and lots of perseverance steered her young compatriot Akane Yamaguchi to overcome defending champion Tai Tzu Ying.  In the men’s singles, Kenichi Tago’s total domination of Gao Huan is itself a proclamation that the Japanese prince of badminton is indeed back in form.

Uchida’s strategy was obvious at the start of the opening game, that is to slowly push 3-time champion Wang Yihan (pictured) to the far ends of the baseline and then quickly follow up with soft blocks at the net.  The Chinese shuttler had never played the Japanese qualifier before and thus had problems reading her opponent’s shots.  Uchida’s seamless movements worked wonders as she took the first game 21-17.

In the second, the much taller Wang adjusted her own tactics and tried to move Uchida out of position by alternately putting pressure on her left and right sides but Uchida was quick to get to the shuttle and her own impressive steep cross-courts smashes did the damage.  Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium roared in applause when the ex-national team backup player earned her final point.

“I lacked the proper preparation and that is why I was totally outplayed,” explained Wang Yihan on her loss.  “I also had too many unforced errors.  You cannot expect to win with that.”

“My weakest point used to be that I lacked the stamina and therefore my speed decreases towards the end of a match,” the soft-spoken Uchida commented.  “In these past 2-3 years I have been training hard to improve my technical skills and stamina.  I think this is the reason why I have produced very good result today.

“I’ve had all sorts of injuries since high school but thanks to this training, I am healthier and excited to come back to international competitions again.”

On her thoughts about tomorrow’s finals with compatriot Yamaguchi, “I lost in straight games to her in the semi-finals of last April’s Osaka International Challenge so I have to remember what I did wrong so as not to make the same mistake again.”

Uchida’s win over Wang Yihan provided the extra motivation needed by 16-year-old compatriot Akane Yamaguchi (pictured) whose match was being played on the adjacent Court #2.  Defending champion Tai unleashed her trademark tight cross-court net shots early, registering 11-6 at the mid-game interval of the first game.

“Honestly I think I was going to lose but after the mid-game interval,” said the very relaxed Yamaguchi.  “I realized that I had to work harder and I just have to keep with the rallies.  When I reached 20-20, I started to believe that maybe I could win this.”

Tai though went ahead at game point 23-22 when the umpire produced a very controversial reversal, overruling the line judge who signalled “out” when the shuttle dropped at the sideline on the far side from the umpire’s chair.  Tai Tzu Ying (pictured) protested the call and even pointed to the replay on the big screen, but to no avail.  The point was crucial, as it could have won Tai the first game.

“That overruling by the umpire affected me a lot.  I lost my concentration and played really badly after that.  I wanted to end the match in 2 games because I’m injured,” the still visibly upset Tai Tzu Ying said after the match.

“This past year, I have been given the great opportunity to join the national team.  The training level there is so much harder, plus I get much exposure to international tournaments,” explained Yamaguchi on her steady improvement over the past year.  “All of these have helped improve my skills.

“Although I won the mixed doubles at the recent Asian Youth Games, I lost in the finals of the Japan Junior Nationals.  I was told that I lost because I was not patient enough to win rallies.  I have been trying to learn to be patient and I think today I was able to achieve that.  Being a finalist in a definitely increases my confidence level.

“I honestly don’t want to think about very serious matters such as possibly being the first ever Japanese gold medallist.  Please remember that I am just barely a high school freshman,” smilingly adds the 2012 World Junior Championship runner-up.

Tago’s renewed pursuit of a dream

Kenichi Tago (pictured) threw his racket high up in the air to celebrate his first ever appearance in a Yonex Japan Open final.  He did so at the expense of the unseeded Chinese Gao Huan, who in 2007 was Tago’s successor as World Junior Championship runner-up but was playing in his first ever Superseries semi-final.  Tago controlled the pace from start all the way to the end and there was little Gao could to do stop the rampage.

“I have dreamt being in the Japan Open finals since I can’t remember.  Since I was around 3-5 years old, my mom, a player herself, used to play this tournament and she would take me here so I could watch her play.  I remember dreaming that one day I’d enter this tournament and play all the way to Sunday,” recalls Tago.

“Several years ago, I reached the semi-finals and at that time I was contented with the result because I was thinking that I did my best and being in the top 4 was enough.  Between then and now, I have experienced so much that changed my overall outlook.

“Tomorrow, I will go there to give my best, believing that I can win the title.  It will not be easy, but hey, Lee Chong Wei is also human.  And let us not forget that the scoreboard starts with 0-0,” added the fired up Tago during the post-match conference.

Click here for complete semi-final results

About Emzi Regala