In a scenario reminiscent of the 2010 Worlds in Paris, Lee Chong Wei was shown the exit from the 2013 Yonex French Open with a first-ever loss to Kenichi Tago.
By Thomas Piauley, live from Paris. Photos: Badmintonphoto (live)
Although Lee Chong Wei is a two-time French Open champion, Paris is still a place where the world number 1 has experienced his share of bad luck. Indeed, top-seeded at the Paris World Championships in 2010 he suffered an early defeat in the quarter-finals just before his arch-rival Lin Dan was to be eliminated.
That Lee should be denied a third French Open finals appearance was not quite as surprising about yesterday’s match as was the fact that the Malaysian was shown the exit by Kenichi Tago (pictured), a player to whom he had never lost before.
The game was scheduled in the last round of matches on the courts of the Coubertin hall, and the arena was packed and quite excited as the two players entered the courts. The Parisian aficionados obviously remembered the final of the 2011 edition of their local Superseries when Lee Chong Wei had also been up against Kenichi Tago. The head–to-head record said it all: 14 to none in favour of the Malaysian.
Never expect Kenichi Tago to let it go. Never Ever.
Everything seemed to go as planned as the world number 1 took the opening 21-17. But the Japanese struck back in the second game. Chong Wei saved 2 game points but couldn’t stop his opponent’s momentum, and we entered the decider.
Kenichi took an early lead, up to 11 – 6. The game appeared more and more tense, and the Japanese displayed his great attack in style, outshining the world number 1’s defense. Chong Wei tried to block at the net to force Tago to play high shuttles, but his net-play wasn’t efficient enough.
In the crucial moment, the Malaysian managed to save 2 game points again but Kenichi played very aggressively and finished the game with a very sober celebration, 21-12. The Japanese reaches his second final since the Worlds, after being a runner-up on his home soil at the Japan Open Superseries.
A new chouchou?
In the final, Tago will face Jan O Jorgensen (pictured), who perpetrates a tradition of Danish success in Paris. After Peter Gade’s appearances on the podium in the Coubertin Hall, and after Viktor Axelsen’s runner-up performance last year, Jan has reached his first French Open Superseries final after beating Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk of Thailand.
Danes always have been cheered by the Parisian crowd. Peter Gade was the public’s favourite – or chouchou, as French people say – for years. But the man decided to retire last year. Coincidentally, apart from a demonstration game in Copenhagen in the winter, Gade’s last official appearance on court was in Paris, where he lost to…Jan O Jorgensen, exactly one year ago, on 26th October 2012. How symbolic is that!
When you ask him how he remembers it, Jan describes “a feeling between happiness and a bit of sadness,” with much respect to his elder.
Today’s match was a 50-minute run that started with two tense games. But in the rubber game, Tanongsak looked upset, with Jorgensen serenely controlling the rallies. The Thai looked tired and without his great speed, he was no danger anymore to Jorgensen, who just had to keep calm and manage his lead, to finish it with a scoreline of 21-18, 18-21, 21-10.
Even though he has certainly improved his game a lot since he took the role of European #1, the last time the tattooed Dane had reached a final was at the Denmark International Challenge in 2011, where he took the title.
On his opponent in the final – whose identity was unknown at the time we spoke with him – Jorgensen said: “It doesn’t matter. I’ll focus and definitively go for the win,” possibly keeping in mind his loss against Lee Chong Wei in the quarters of last week’s Denmark Open.
Finally, Lee Chong Wei’s country-fellows Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong (pictured) have shown some inconsistency again. After grabbing the first game, the controversial pairing looked totally upset in the second one, playing a defensive game and showing a pretty low level of involvement. Finally after they let the end of the game go, Koo and Tan woke up again in the third to take it 21-18.
WD: Tian Qing / Zhao Yunlei (CHN)  vs. Bao Yixin / Tang Jinhua (CHN)
MS: Kenichi Tago (JPN)  vs. Jan O Jorgensen (DEN) 
WS: Wang Shixian (CHN)  vs. Porntip Buranaprasertsuk (THA)
XD: Zhang Nan / Zhao Yunlei (CHN)  vs. Xu Chen / Ma Jin (CHN) 
MD: Koo Kien Keat / Tan Boon Heong (MAS)  vs. Gideon Markus Fernaldi / Markis Kido (INA)