JAPAN OPEN Final – 3rd time lucky for Danish mixed pair

Christinna Pedersen had 2 chances at titles today at the 2015 Japan Open but it was her 3rd appearance in a mixed doubles final that she and Joachim Fischer Nielsen […]

Christinna Pedersen had 2 chances at titles today at the 2015 but it was her 3rd appearance in a mixed doubles final that she and Joachim Fischer Nielsen finally converted, beating the Olympic and World Champions for the first time in 3 years.

By Emzi Regala and Miyuki Komiya Badzine Correspondent live in Tokyo. Photos:  Badmintonphoto (live)

Three players – Zhao Yunlei, Zhang Nan, and Christinna Pedersen – each had two chances to win gold medals on Sunday at the 2015 Japan Open, which kicked off with the mixed doubles final, immediately putting the three potential double-gold medallists in the spotlight.

China’s Zhang and Zhao looked very sharp at the start of the contest, taking the first game, but their relentless rivals Fischer Nielsen/Pedersen wouldn’t throw in the towel easily and managed to dictate the pace of the second game, putting the stage back to square one.

The latter part of the third game saw the Danish pair leading 16-11 and a temporarily lapse in concentration suddenly put the match back on track for the Chinese pair, setting it to a deadlock again at 20 apiece.  The Danish pair succeeded to channel their focus on the last points needed for them to finally get ahead of their Chinese rivals, finishing the final game 23-21.

“Finally we got the gold that eluded us twice before,” said the very ecstatic Joachim Fischer Nielsen, referring to the Danes’ runner-up performances in 2009 and 2011.  “We’ve always played well in this tournament, always reaching the semi-finals, but victory is very hard to get here.  So it feels great to finally get it, especially because we won against the World Champions.”

Runners-up Zhang/Zhao had already been seen exchanging a quick analysis of their match with each other as they received their silver medals.

“Because we’ve beaten this pair several times in the past, we did not prepare much tactically.  We will never take our opponent lightly again, whoever they are,” Zhang Nan explained after the match.

Pedersen and Zhao were soon back on-court against each other for the second time in the day.  Zhao’s debut in a partnership with Zhong Qianxin proved just the right combination to overtake the tall Danish ladies Pedersen and partner Kamilla Rytter Juhl.  The Chinese pair won in two straight games and with the victory, Zhao shut down Pedersen’s chance at double-gold, as Zhao Yunlei herself claimed the women’s doubles honour.

“This is the first time we paired together so I just tried to enjoy every match, without any expectations,” Zhao Yunlei said in the post-match interview.

Zhang Nan had the least luck as he fell short in the men’s doubles again to the very solid performing Korean pair, world #1s Lee Yong Dae / Yoo Yeon Seong.  Although Zhang with his regular partner Fu Haifeng could not find a way to break Lee/Yoo’s solid defense in the first game, they came out strong in the second game and, refusing to give up after the Koreans retook the lead on a five point run late in the game, turned it into a tooth-and-nail contest.

As if the rallies weren’t tense enough, the Koreans’ failure to convert their second of a whopping 8 match points came on a controversial third foot fault called against Lee Yong Dae on his service at 22-21.  This effectively brought the score again to a standstill but it did not dampen the spirits of the Koreans, who soon regained their composure and successfully defended their title through a climactic 29-27 second game finish.  As the championship point was called, Lee Yong Dae jumped in the air, ran and embraced his coach in exuberance.

“It was a very difficult match but we never lost the desire to win,” Lee Yong Dae said as he greeted his Japanese fans.  “It is great happiness to be able to win back-to-back here in Tokyo.  We will try our best to sustain our best form, so please continue to send us your cheers.”

After his men’s singles final, Lin Dan took his shirt off and threw it to the crowd in appreciation for the support he later confessed he badly needed.  He battled a thriller match that went into three gruelling games against Denmark’s rising star Viktor Axelsen.

Axelsen started off aggressive in the opening game, but the veteran Lin slowly worked his way to the match to overtake Axelsen.  In the second game, Victor upped the pace and managed to produce some magnificent strokes at the net that sent Lin’s feet the opposite direction.  Axelsen survived the second to keep his 4th try at gold in a final alive.

Just as in the first game, Axelsen aggressively started the deciding game, setting high hopes for gold at the interval with a huge margin 11-3.  Lin had other plans and slowly worked his way up, closing the gap to 3 points at 10-13. This was when a controversial service fault was called against Lin.  He however kept his composure and with the Chinese supporters egging Lin to go on with their loud.

Lin caught up at 13-all and from there it was a nail-biting see-saw scoring. Victor faced a match point and misjudged a shuttle, sending Lin to a gleeful celebration with the crowd.

“The crowd lent me the strength I needed to pull through to victory today.  My opponent was very good, and it was through the cheering that I borrowed the required stamina, I am very thankful to them,” said the all-smile Lin Dan at the post-match press conference.

“It’s been 9 years since I last won here, and been a while now since I last won a Superseries event.  As you know, Yonex Japan has been my sponsor since last year, so I am glad that I won this event.  I think this will also make them happy.

“On the 1st of April next year, China’s coaching team will select the players they will send to Rio.  My immediate goal is be part of that team, so I have to really try to earn the needed points from now on.  I can’t say anything after Rio except for the promise that I will be back here next year,” added Lin Dan.

The all-Japanese women’s singles contest produced a new champion, as Nozomi Okuhara prevailed in straight games. Okuhara, who was seen with both legs and her right shoulder heavily bandaged, said that it is just a preventive measure against injury especially knowing that she would have to run a lot against her local compatriot Akane Yamaguchi.

“I was ready to run after all the shots against Akane but today’s results were really inspired by the crowd who has supported me from the first round all the way to the finals.  I feel nothing but joy at this moment,” said Okuhara after the match.

“I know that my opponent is a good retriever so I tried to increase the pace and be more aggressive,” Yamaguchi coolly explained to the press after the match, “but after taking on the top Chinese players, I’m already short on stamina so I just couldn’t keep up with her.

“Stamina has been my weak point, and this is what I’m trying to work on with the coaches.  Reflecting on my results, I think I’ve improved a lot, because this is the first time I have consecutively won against top Chinese players.  This is proof that my stamina is rising.”

Most of the top players will be crossing the sea to Korea for the Korea Open, which begins on Tuesday.  Yoo Yeon Seong will be the only finalist from today who must see action in two days, however, as he and Jang Ye Na have a mixed doubles qualifying match to play.

Final results
XD: Joachim Fischer Nielsen / Christinna Pedersen (DEN) [5] beat Zhang Nan / Zhao Yunlei (CHN) [1]  17-21, 21-18, 23-21
WS: Nozomi Okuhara (JPN) beat Akane Yamaguchi (JPN)  21-18, 21-12
MS: Lin Dan (CHN) [5] beat Viktor Axelsen (DEN) [7]  21-19, 16-21, 21-19
WD: Zhao Yunlei / Zhong Qianxin (CHN) [8] beat Christinna Pedersen / Kamilla Rytter Juhl (DEN) [4]  21-12, 21-16
MD: Lee Yong Dae / Yoo Yeon Seong (KOR) [1] beat Fu Haifeng / Zhang Nan (CHN) [5]     21-19, 29-27

Click here for complete results

Miyuki Komiya

About Miyuki Komiya

Miyuki Komiya is Badzine's correspondent in Japan. She joined the Badzine team in 2008 to provide coverage of the Japanese badminton scene. She has played badminton for more than 30 years and has been a witness to the modern history of Japanese badminton, both watching players become stronger on court and hearing the players comment on their increasing success over the years. Contact her at: miyuki @ badzine.net