SUDIRMAN CUP 2015 SF – Japan’s ladies steal the show

Sudirman Cup newcomer Nozomi Okuhara got Japan on the board in their semi-final against Korea while mixed doubles newcomer Ayane Kurihara looked like an ace as she and Kenta Kazuno […]

newcomer Nozomi Okuhara got Japan on the board in their semi-final against Korea while mixed doubles newcomer Ayane Kurihara looked like an ace as she and Kenta Kazuno dealt the winning blow.

By Don Hearn.  Photos: Yohan Nonotte for Badmintonphoto (live in Dongguan)

Saturday marked the first time in 24 years that Korea and Japan had met in the Sudirman Cup.  Korea came in as 2nd seeds and 3-time champions and they had top ten players or pairs in all but one discipline and in that one, they were represented by the runners-up from the most recent Superseries Premier event.

Japan came in looking confident but not as strong.  On one hand, they had won all of their ties so far in the competition.  On the other hand, they had just scraped by in the quarter-finals against a weakened Danish team.  What’s more, alongside their women’s doubles world #1, they had just their own second-ranked men in both singles and doubles, a newcomer to the top ten in women’s singles, and a scratch pairing in mixed.

Things started rather inauspiciously for Japan, too.  Hirokatsu Hashimoto and Noriyasu Hirata were able to stay close to world #1 Lee Yong Dae / Yoo Yeon Seong (pictured) in the first game of the men’s doubles but the Koreans pulled away to win it decisively in the second.

Women’s singles saw the momentum stay with Korea as world #7 Sung Ji Hyun had her way with 20-year-old Nozomi Okuhara (pictured top), taking their first game 21-11.  However, Sung seemed to have no idea how to beat Okuhara after changing ends, when the draught made pushing to the youngster’s backhand corner infeasible.

With her first game tactics neutralized, Sung’s net play also fell apart and once Okuhara stepped up her defense and started to attack more, the match quickly swung her way.  Sung still held the slight advantage at the mid-game interval in the decider but Okuhara ran away with it after the end change and soon was declared winner of the longest match of the day.

The tale of the tape

Men’s singles looked to be following the same pattern as Son Wan Ho (pictured above), starting against the draught as Sung had, destroyed Takuma Ueda in the first game.  The second was far closer but Son still got the edge back in the final points and took it on his second match point.

Unfortunately, Son’s win was marred with some controversy as his 22nd point in the second game came from Ueda being faulted for touching the net.  The sound was clearly audible on the broadcast and replays showed the tape fluttering slightly but side replays, which Ueda clearly saw looking up from in anguish from beside the umpire’s chair, seemed to show his racquet missing the net entirely.

With no recourse for Ueda’s protests, the only remedy for Japan was winning the last two matches.  Women’s doubles world #1 Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi (pictured) wasted no time in disposing of Korea’s new top pair.  With some uncharacteristically aggressive play from both players, the Japanese aces completed a completely one-sided rout of the Koreans to even the tie at two matches apiece.

Will the real mixed specialists please stand up?

If an uninitiated observer had been asked to watch the mixed doubles and guess which pair was the top ten team with a Superseries title to its name and which was the brand new pairing that included a woman in her third international mixed doubles appearance, there is no way they could have picked the Koreans as the former.  That’s how completely the Japanese pair dominated the world #8.

Interestingly, the last time Ko Sung Hyun and Kim Ha Na (pictured) lost to a completely unknown pair was just last year when Kenta Kazuno and his former partner belied their world #160 ranking to beat the Koreans at home, in the first round of the Jeonju Grand Prix where Ko and Kim were the top seeds.  Also interesting is the fact that Kazuno’s brand new partner this week, Ayane Kurihara (pictured bottom), has played mixed doubles in only two international tournaments since 2008, when she played just one match!  In both of these mixed outings in 2015, she happened to lose to Korean opponents.

Everything was clicking for the Japanese pair as the Koreans just could not avoid lifting the shuttle and they were severely punished for it again and again.  Ayane Kurihara in particular was just awesome.  Killing at the net or smashing from the back, she seemed completely in her element and her inexperience in mixed doubles was nowhere in evidence.  It was over in just 37 minutes and Japan was able to celebrate its first ever appearance in a Sudirman Cup final.

Sudirman Cup 2015 Semi-final 2 result: Japan 3, Korea 2

MD: Hirokatsu Hashimoto / Noriyasu Hirata (JPN) lost to Lee Yong Dae / Yoo Yeon Seong (KOR) 18-21, 16-21
WS: Nozomi Okuhara (JPN) beat Sung Ji Hyun (KOR)  11-21, 21-17, 21-14
MS: Takuma Ueda (JPN) lost to Son Wan Ho (KOR) 9-21, 20-22
WD: Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi (JPN) beat Jang Ye Na / Jung Kyung Eun (KOR)  21-17, 21-8
XD: Kenta Kazuno / Ayane Kurihara (JPN) beat Ko Sung Hyun / Kim Ha Na (KOR) 21-14, 21-15

Click here for detailed results

Don Hearn

About Don Hearn

Don Hearn is an Editor and Correspondent who hails from a badminton-loving town in rural Canada. He joined the Badzine team in 2006 to provide coverage of the Korean badminton scene and is committed to helping Badzine to promote badminton to the place it deserves as a global sport. Contact him at: don @