HONG KONG OPEN 2013 R16 – And then there was one…

With three rounds of play remaining at the 2013 Yonex-Sunrise Hong Kong Open, only one spot in the Superseries Finals remains to be clinched.  Minatsu Mitani clinched her own spot […]

With three rounds of play remaining at the 2013 Yonex-Sunrise , only one spot in the Finals remains to be clinched.  Minatsu Mitani clinched her own spot while leaving opponent Tai Tzu Ying hanging by a thread.

By Renee Yang, Badzine Correspondent live in Hong Kong, and Don Hearn.  Photos: Badmintonphoto (live)

Amongst a host of upsets and other hard-won matches, five Round of 16 contests at the 2013 Yonex-Sunrise Hong Kong Open Superseries served to whittle down the number of berths at the Superseries Finals to just one as Tai Tzu Ying is now without the threat of being caught by Ratchanok Intanon but can only get a ticket to Kuala Lumpur if Juliane Schenk is stopped in Friday’s quarter-finals.

Japan’s Minatsu Mitani (pictured above) came back from 12-19 down to take the first game from the 19-year-old Tai before leading from start to finish in the second game.  Playing in the 2nd round put Tai in 8th place in the Superseries rankings and the losses by Ratchanok Intanon and Eriko Hirose mean that only Juliane Schenk can catch her now, to do which she will need to beat Series leader Wang Shixian on Friday.

Mitani was the sixth women’s singles player to clinch a berth in the finals this week.  Sung Ji Hyun and Saina Nehwal had done so on Wednesday merely by showing up, Bae Yeon Ju and Li Xuerui clinched theirs by winning on Wednesday, and Porntip Buranaprasertsuk (pictured) clinched her spot Thursday when she beat Saina to advance to the quarter-finals.

In addition to the less surprising upsets of Saina and Ratchanok by the always dangerous Porntip and Bae, three Chinese shuttlers only scraped through after being pushed to three tough games but Busanan Ongbamrungphan, Sayaka Takahashi, and Aprilia Yuswandari each came up short against Li Xuerui, Wang Yihan, and Wang Shixian respectively.

Home team sends one to KL, one to the quarters

The Hong Kong team’s fans had little to celebrate on Thursday but there were a couple of highlights.  Top men’s singles shuttler Hu Yun was just shy of taking the longest match of the day, when he blew an 18-12 lead and two match points in the deciding game, allowing Japan’s Kenichi Tago to win after 90 difficult minutes.

Hu already had reason to celebrate, however, as Marc Zwiebler’s outside chance of overtaking him for a Superseries Finals spot was removed when the German was unable to win his own decider against China Open runner-up Wang Zhengming (pictured).

Asked whether being the only Chinese player remiaing gave him extra pressure, Wang replied, “Yes, in this kind of situation I felt more pressure, but on the other hand, I also felt I should take more responsibility.

“In the past three months, I have played in the China National Games, the CBSL [China Badminton Super League] and BWF Superseries tournaments. The matches were crowded together, and I have felt exhausted so sometimes in the second game, my stamina has run low and that has cost me the game.”

Mixed doubles aces Lee Chun Hei / Chau Hoi Wah are attempting to cap off their season in the best fashion.  Winners of back-to-back Grand Prix titles in July, Lee/Chau have reached only their Superseries quarter-final, beating the new pairing of former world #5 Chai Biao and current #3 Tang Jinhua (pictured below, with Chau).

In fact, all of the biggest upsets and near-upsets in doubles on Thursday involved Chinese pairs.  First, Chai Biao and Hong Wei needed three games to get past the brand new international pairing of Japanese veteran Shintaro Ikeda and Indonesia’s Alvent Yulianto Chandra.  Then 2010 World Junior Champions Liu Cheng / Bao Yixin barely came through against Russia’s Evgenij Dremin / Evgenia Dimova.

Finally, Vladimir Ivanov and Ivan Sozonov got the better of Olympic champions Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng (pictured below) in an hour-long contest that ended 21-16, 18-21, 22-20.

“Actually I don’t think our opponents have outdone themselves today,” said Fu Haifeng after the loss.  “They are good players and are always difficult to handle.  Over the past two years, they have kept making progress and have become better and better.

“Before the Hong Kong Open, Cai Yun and I were separated during training and I worked with Hong Wei mainly.  Actually, we haven’t had systematic training in the past one or two months due to the China National Games and the CBSL, along with 4 BWF Superseries tournaments.

“It doesn’t seem there is any plan right now, for any intensive systematic training.  Next month’s time will be occupied by CBSL. And soon in January next year, we’ll have Korea and Malaysia Opens.”

This was followed immediately by the in-form Lee Yong Dae and Yoo Yeon Seong  beating All England champions Liu Xiaolong / Qiu Zihan (pictured below).  If Fu did not seem overly surprised by the Russians’ performance, no one should have been surprised to see the Koreans, winners of the last two Superseries Premier events, finish ahead of the #3 seeds.  However, there is the fact that Lee and former partner Ko Sung Hyun had struggled this year against the Chinese contenders and on top of that were the devasting scores in the 2nd and 3rd games, where the favourites scored in only single digits.

“The speed of the shuttle using in this tournament is relatively slow compared to other tournaments,” said Qiu Zihan after the match.  “In the first game, we played very fast and both of us stood in the front and middle court to maintain the attack and that cost us lots of stamina.

“In the second game, our opponents changed their tactics and forced us to play along with their favourite mode, defending and attacking.  They tried to hit the shuttle to the side line and backcourt to slow down the pace and we lost patience.  Especially when we lost a run of points, our mental state changed and we became even impatient, started making errors.”

“I was not patient enough,” added Liu Xiaolong.  “When we were overwhelmed in the second game and beginning of the third game, my confidence was shattered a little.”

“I injured my knee in April, the recovery progress is quite slow, I could not train with my partner for quite a long time until recently,” said Qiu, by way of explanation for the duo’s wavering form in the latter part of the season.

“But since I have just recently recovered, we didn’t have much match training before this tournament, and you know, lack of match training will cost you many unforced errors during high-level competitions.”

Click here for complete Thursday results

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