JAPAN OPEN 2014 Finals – Lee Yong Dae returns to capture 1st Japan Open gold

Lee Yong Dae and Yoo Yeon Seong stood resilient against world #1s Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan to finish on top of a nail-biting Yonex Japan Open final and to […]

Lee Yong Dae and Yoo Yeon Seong stood resilient against world #1s Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan to finish on top of a nail-biting Yonex final and to produce the best possible comeback result for Lee Yong Dae.

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

Some of the most exciting rivalries in world badminton have been in a period of stasis in the past while.  After Lin Dan went back into hibernation following his incredible World Championship final against arch-rival Lee Chong Wei, the international men’s doubles game got interesting again last autumn when a brand new pair emerged to challenge the supremacy of World Champions Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan (pictured below).

Like bookends to their dream year were the Indonesians’ three straight wins over Ko Sung Hyun and Lee in the first half of 2013 – even as the Koreans moved up to #1 in the world rankings – followed by three straight losses to the newly-formed pairing of Lee Yong Dae with Yoo Yeon Seong (pictured above).  With the rivalry temporarily put on hold due to Lee’s 3-month suspension, it got an exciting revitalization in Tokyo this afternoon at the Yonex Japan Open.

Lee and Yoo startled their opponents with a deadly combination of aggression and very good defense to easily take the first game 21-12.  The Indonesians regained their composure in the second game as both pairs put the crowd at the edge of their seats with magnificent performances retrieving seemingly irretrievable shots.

In the end, it was the steadier Korean pair that came through after a hard-fought second game, 26-24 earning themselves their first ever Japan Yonex Open title.  Before today, it was one of only 3 that Lee Yong Dae had never had occasion to win.

Yoo Yeon Seong surprised the crowd when he spoke in Japanese to thank the audience for the support they provided.  He also acknowledged the leadership provided by Lee Yong Dae towards the end of the nerve-wracking second game.

For Lee Yong Dae’s part, he felt grateful to be competing again and said at the press conference: “I was a bit nervous because this is my first tournament in several months and our opponents are currently the best in the world.  But I’m very happy to be back.

“This win is special because it is my and my partner’s first Japan Open title.  I have put behind me the doping issue and now that I know how hard it is to be out of competition I now value more the chances I have on court to fight and win.”

Opposed to Ahsan/Setiawan’s disappointing result, the other world #1s had better fortunes with Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei taking the podium for the 5th time as China’s Li Xuerui took her first.

The arena went thundering with “Boleh!” and wild applause as the umpire officially announced Malaysia’s hero Lee Chong Wei the victor of this year’s men’s singles finals. After losing the first game, Hu Yun (pictured) threw everything he had at the world #1, briefly holding the advantage in the early stages of the second game.  Lee, however, got back stronger after the mid-game interval and cruised to his fifth Japan Yonex Open championship title.

“The final is always the hardest match as the best usually is the last one standing although this time, it was a little easier than I anticipated,” said Lee Chong Wei afterward.  “Yonex is a big sponsor of mine so I really try my best to keep this title.”

Asked if he originally anticipated the final to be him against Lin Dan, Lee responded, “An athlete’s life is a cycle of winning and losing.  Lin Dan is just coming back to active competition and I’m sure he’s preparing himself to reach his best form so I expect him to come back stronger in the coming tournaments.”

Just like Hu Yun, Tai Tzu Ying still found beating the world #1 to be too much of a task.  As in the 2013 Superseries Finals where Tai faced Li Xuerui, the Chinese simply proved too strong, too fast and too dynamic for the younger challenger Tai.

“I had a very difficult time in the first game as it was a seesaw battle with me leading at times and my opponent at other times,” said Li Xuerui (pictured) afterward.  “Winning the first game was a great relief and I was able to relax and thus was able to move around better.  In contrast, I think it was the opposite effect for my opponent.”

Li also expressed satisfaction with her performance in this tournament, dropping only one game against last year’s champion Akane Yamaguchi of Japan, whom she acknowledged as her toughest match of the week.

In an all-Japanese women’s doubles final, higher ranked Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi (pictured below) took on fellow Japanese rivals Reika Kakiiwa / Miyuki Maeda to assure Japan of its first ever women’s doubles title for this tournament.  The former took to their favoured formation, Takahashi attacking from the back and Matsutomo orchestrating from the net and emerged the eventual winner taking two straight games.

“Our goal this year was to win a Superseries event and we did it.  The added bonus is that we also became the first Japanese to hold the Japan Open title,” said Matsutomo, alluding to the fact that they had come up short in four previous finals at the Superseries level.

Reminiscing about the start of their partnership, back in their high school days, she added, “When we started to play together 8 years ago, we could never have imagined achieving this much.”  The pair however has now clearly set their next goal, which is a World Championship medal this coming August.

“Last year we lost in the first round.  Watching Wang Xiaoli / Yu Yang in the final was an eye-opener.  We realized that we needed to be ‘like them’ in order to achieve our ultimate dream which is the Olympic gold medal.  This year, we started to work on fixing our problem areas, and I think our efforts are starting to pay off,” said Takahashi.

The final match was the mixed doubles, where yet another world #1 Zhang Nan / Zhao Yunlei marched to their third title, and second in a row.  They defeated surprise finalists Michael Fuchs / Birgit Michels 21-12, 21-16.

Final results
WS: Li Xuerui (CHN) [1] beat Tai Tzu Ying (TPE) [6]  21-16, 21-6
WD: Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi (JPN) [3] beat Reika Kakiiwa / Miyuki Maeda (JPN) [4]  21-13, 21-17
MS: Lee Chong Wei (MAS) [1] beat Hu Yun (HKG) [8]  21-14, 21-12
MD: Lee Yong Dae / Yoo Yeon Seong (KOR) [5] beat Mohammad Ahsan / Hendra Setiawan (INA) [1]  21-12, 26-24
XD: Zhang Nan / Zhao Yunlei (CHN) [1] beat Michael Fuchs / Birgit Michels (GER) [8] Germany  21-12, 21-16

Click here for the complete final results

About Emzi Regala