JAPAN OPEN R16 – 3 World #1s out on Day 3

World #1s Chen Long and Saina Nehwal joined the injured Misaki Matsutomo and partners in sitting out the rest of the tournament as the upset-ridden Japan Open continues. By Miyuki […]

World #1s Chen Long and Saina Nehwal joined the injured Misaki Matsutomo and partners in sitting out the rest of the tournament as the upset-ridden continues.

By Miyuki Komiya, Badzine Correspondent live in Tokyo.  Photos:  Badmintonphoto (live)

The exit of first world #1 from the Japan Open was foreseen long before the women’s doubles top seeds were due on court Thursday.  In their first round match Wednesday, Misaki Matsutomo had sprained her ankle but she still appeared on the court early the next day for her mixed doubles match with partner Kenichi Hayakawa (pictured).

However, her match was stopped by her coach and partner and they decide to retire and forfeit the match, which also meant her women’s doubles appearance, scheduled for later in the day, would also end up as a walkover, one that put team-mates Shizuki Matsuo / Mami Naito into the quarter-finals.

On the other hand, Thursday’s most highly anticipated was the match between the greats Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei.  The crowd was looking forward to a close match, but instead it was as one-sided as were the other four matches that pitted former world #1s against each other.

Men’s singles minus world’s top 4

World #1 Chen Long (pictured above) faced his team-mate and world #11 Tian Houwei.  Tian made good start and maintained his focus throughout the match.  Chen seemed to be having trouble.  He let his concentration lapse in the middle of each game and gave Tian 6 consecutive points in each.  Tian kept his pace till the end and won 21-16, 21-17 to record his second career victory over a reigning world #1, adding to his upset of Lee Chong Wei in Australia two years ago.

After the match, Tian Houwei (pictured below) said, “Today I got a win from him.  It has often happened in domestic tournaments so it is not so special.

“You know, Chen is strong and is the world #1 player but all players always have a chance of beating him.”

Chen said, “I couldn’t play well today.  As you know, I think men’s singles players’ level has risen recently.  Sometimes I get beaten in the early rounds.  Tian played well today so this result is not surprising.”

Tian is set to play Lin Dan (pictured below) in Friday’s semi-final.  Lin trounced his long-time rival Lee Chong Wei in straight games.

Japanese favourite Kento Momota, now ranked a career-high 3rd in the world, lost to world #16 Tommy Sugiarto 21-16, 13-21, 19-21.  Sugiarto has enjoyed two Grand Prix tournament victories on either side of a disappointing showing at home at the Worlds and he is in the quarter-finals of a event for the first time since the India Open this past spring.

“I regret that I wasn’t able to show up in top condition,” Kento said in the press conference after the match.  “I am very sorry not to have shown a good performance in this tournament.  I still have a fever today.  I needed to stay in my best condition but I couldn’t.”

With world #2 Jan having withdrawn on the eve of the tournament due to illness, and world #4 India Kidambi Srikanth having been beaten by team-mate Parupalli Kashyap in straight games, Momota’s exit meant that the tournament would proceed without the entire top four in the world.

The victor between Lin Dan and Tian Houwei is also assured of facing an Indonesian opponent in the semi-final.  Tommy Sugiarto’s opponent on Friday is world #77 Mustofa Ihsan Maulana.  The 20-year-old followed up a win over world #14 Marc Zwiebler of Germany on Wednesday by outplaying Hong Kong’s Hu Yun, the world #13 and runner-up at last year’s Japan Open.  The Indonesian kept his pace from start till the end and stamped his authority on the match with 10 consective points in the first game.

“I was fortunate to win,” said Mustofa after his match.  “I was tired due to my last match yesterday but my opponent looked more tired and couldn’t play his best.  I could play well and with confidence.”

All Danes down in men’s doubles

Wednesday had been a great day for Denmark in men’s doubles.  Their 2nd and 3rd pairs had scored big upsets, knocking off seeded pairs and the world #3 Mathias Boe / Carsten Mogensen had scored a rare victory over nemeses Liu/Qiu of China.

Thursday could not have been worse for the Danes, however.  The biggest upset came when Boe and Mogensen went down to world #17 Korean Kim Gi Jung / Kim Sa Rang (pictured).  The Koreans may be the 2012 champions in Japan and two-time World Championship bronze medallists, but one of those bronzes was a result of suffering the last of four straight losses to the Danes.  The two Kims finally turned the tables on Boe and Mogensen in Tokyo, however, and advance to take on 6th-seeded home favourites Hiroyuki Endo / Kenichi Hayakawa.

Boe and Mogensen were actually the last hope for Denmark in the discipline.  Earlier, world #11 Indonesian Annga Pratama / Ricky Karanda Suwardi beat world #9 Dane Mads Conrad-Petersen / Mads Pieler Kolding in straight games and world #15 Kim Astrup / Anders Skaarup Rasmussen failed to convert a match point in their second game, allowing world #13 Malaysians Goh V. Shem / Tan Wee Kiong to take it in three

Japan’s world #20 pair Takeshi Kamura / Keigo Sonoda (pictured) were on familiar ground on Thursday in that they scored their third career victory over 2014 World Champions Ko Sung Hyun / Shin Baek Cheol.  However, the win gives them the brand-new experience of playing in the quarter-final stage of their home Superseries.

The Koreans played with their usual pace with strong attacks but the Japanese pair changed their tactics in the second and third games and grabbed the close final game to win it 9-21, 21-15, 21-19.

“We believed we had to win when we could play as usual,” Kamura said.  “In the first game, we didn’t have many chances to attack so we lost.  We changed our thinking and decided we needed to play aggressively even if it meant we might make mistakes.  This change in mindset worked better for us and we were able to play well.”

Sonoda said, “We felt the shuttles didn’t fly well at this tournament so we prepared to play long rallies and we knew we had to have a lot of patience until the end of the match.”

“When we play against top players, we can’t win without patience.  It means what we must keep the rally going until we can make the rally match our pace,” added Kamura.

Ko Sung Hyun said, “From the 2nd game, their net play was better and gave them many chances to attack.  They were better than us today.”

Home favourites upset world #1 and former World Champion

World #18 Minatsu Mitani (pictured) caused a big upset when she took down world #1 Saina Nehwal.  Mitani, who won the only Superseries title of her career so far by beating Nehwal in the 2012 French Open final, again had an easy win in the first game, winning 21-13.

In the second, Saina Nehwal (pictured) enjoyed an early 6-point run and led 11-5.  Mitani kept up her concentration and with a lot of speedy running, she made the game match her pace, caught Saina at 14 points, and finally pulled her own six-point run to finish off the match.

“I made a lot of mistakes,” Saina said after the match.  “My opponent played aggressively with push shots and half smashes.  She managed the game until the end.  Her performance was really good today.”

“I’m happy to win against the world #1 player,” Mitani said.  “I am satisfied with my performance today.  I believed I could play with patience.  Actually, I have often lost in the 1st round in Superseries tournaments.  Maybe I might feel too much pressure and think I have to win.  This is my home country so I wanted to change something here with a good result.”

Meanwhile, world #10 Nozomi Okuhara also pulled off an upset, scoring her second victory of the year against world #5 Ratchanok Intanon (pictured).  Nozomi lost the first game but tried to control shuttles to all four corners and stay stable in the second.

After nailing the decider 21-3, Okuhara confirmed that the two Japanese shuttlers would face off Friday for a spot in the semis, while their compatriot and 2013 champion Akane Yamaguchi takes on Olympic gold medallist Li Xuerui.

Click here for complete Thursday 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