By Seria Rusli, Badzine Correspondent live in Singapore. Photos: Mikael Ropars / Badmintonphoto (live)
For the third time in Superseries history, the Singapore Open has become the first ever Superseries title for an aspiring men’s singles star. Like Boonsak Ponsana in 2007 and Tommy Sugiarto in 2013, India’s Sai Praneeth was playing in his first Superseries final, and like Ponsana, he was also coming off his first Superseries semi-final.
Sai Praneeth came back from a game down to dominate his deciding game against compatriot Srikanth Kidambi. Srikanth himself had won in his first Superseries Sunday appearance, back in 2014 but today was not to be his day in the spotlight.
“It’s the best feeling!” said Sai Praneeth after the match. “I have been waiting for a long, long, long time.
“I’ve always been playing well with top players, like last year with Lee Chong Wei, but I have not won any tournament. That feeling has always been uncomfortable in my mind. I worked hard the last time at Syed Modi, and I had a shoulder injury, so I had to skip All England and Swiss. So I have trained for a month and a half continuously. I think the way I train and my fitness have improved and I think it helped me.
“I didn’t have any advantage given my winning record against Srikanth because I think we always practice together and we used to practice long from past so many years, so the record is just a record but as long as we Indians play each other the record doesn’t matter. It’s just a day whoever wins the match. And today is my day.
“It’s a great feeling playing finals but I was not nervous because the opponent is Srikanth and I know his game and he knows my game. When the first game was going on I was just feeling down because my shots were just working on and he’s just playing in a very good pace and he’s catching up everything and I didn’t know something wrong was in my game. But later in the second game I went from 7-2 to 7-3 initially, and when the score was equal and once after I got all my strokes going good, then I got some rhythm then I thought ok the game is still on. In the third, I got a good lead at first and I think that helped me. I felt that he was under pressure.
Asked to say something about the passing of Badminton Association of India President Dr. Akhilesh Das Gupta, Sai Praneeth said, “My hearty condolences to his family, but we are struggling, we heard the news a few days back. What can I say? It’s very shocking news for all of us. I think he is the one who made Indian badminton so big and he brought the Premier Badminton League he brought the World Championships and he brought Superseries. I think he’s the man who has done a lot for badminton.”
Lu/Huang go 3 for 4
There was no such ‘beginner’s luck’ for Thailand’s Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai. In their first Superseries final appearance, they did get the first game from All England winners Lu Kai / Huang Yaqiong but after staying close through most of the second, they saw the Chinese pair pull away and then dominate the decider.
This will be the last Superseries outing for Puavaranukroh but the partnership continues to develop. Unfortunately, not even reaching this final is enough to move them back into the world’s top ten as the point total of #10 Tan/Lai remain just slightly out of reach.
“Last week, we got into quarter-finals, so this tournament is like a big achievement to us,” said Dechapol Puavaranukroh. “Although we didn’t manage to win, we will learn from this experience to improve ourselves so that we can perform better in the future.”
Both of the winners were predictably quite pleased with their run of finals: “I feel that our performance this year has been very consistent since Germany at the beginning of the year,” said Huang Yaqiong. “This consistency is what we didn’t have in the past, and we’ve improved in it. This is proof that we’re improving.”
“I feel the same way,” Lu Kai added. “We had many ups and downs in our performance in the last few years. We’ve been a lot more consistent since our first competition this year. This has in turn boosted our confidence.”
“Our biggest goal is the Sudirman Cup,” said Huang. “It’s a big team event. We have never been to such big team events before, so we are looking forward to it.”
“Every Chinese athlete feels the pressure, because China’s performance used to be stellar,” said Lu Kai, “but in the last two years, our performance hasn’t been ideal. So as a Chinese athlete, we want to recover our past glory, and receive the baton well.
The mixed doubles champions were asked for their thoughts on being first in the qualification race for Dubai, whereupon Huang Yaqiong asked, “We are first?”
Lu Kai queried his partner, “After winning 3 tournaments and getting second for one, if we’re not first, then who’ll be first?”
Five in, five wins for Tai
Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying repeated her success over Olympic gold medallist Carolina Marin. The world #1 had much less trouble with the Spaniard than she’d had last weekend, when they met in the Malaysia Open final. This time, she won handily in a pair of 21-15 games.
Tai skipped the India Open two weeks ago but she has topped the podium in the last five Superseries events she has entered, starting from the Hong Kong Open in November.
“I forced myself to get into the competition mode from the start,” said Tai Tzu Ying. “The results were not bad. I felt that my opponent was in a rush today, so she made more errors. I know I wouldn’t be able to beat her easily, so I was very patient when playing with her. I felt that I played quite well today.
“I thought that I would have to play with her for a long time, because last week, I played three games with her. I played with her for 80-plus minutes then, something which I found incredible. I prepared myself to play for more than an hour today, but I felt that she really wanted to ‘kill’ me today. I was very happy that I didn’t “die” so easily. I was stable, so it caused her to make many mistakes.
“I focus on every competition, and in every competition, I hope to discover and learn from my weaknesses, to train and correct it. If I win today, I’ll start correcting it in tomorrow’s competition. If I lose today, then I’ll adjust during training. For these five tournaments, I don’t really think too much about it. I think everyone around me is more concerned about these five titles. But for me, I just want to play well in every tournament.”
Tai said that her rather unorthodox form came “from outside badminton matches”. She explained, “I didn’t receive proper training from the start. I played with uncles and aunties in the past, so the way I play and my playing style isn’t very conventional. But I feel this gives me an advantage now.”
Asked how she could maintain her fitness level through her five-title streak, Tai said, “If I can eat well and sleep well, I think I can do well. Also, Singapore has very delicious food.”
It is with that delicious Singapore food that Tai also said she was going to celebrate her victory. But after that, she is going to be on a week off from competing, but on training, before heading to China for the Badminton Asia Championships.
Runner-up Carolina Marin said of her opponent, “I think she’s doing really good but let’s see how she can keep going because it’s really hard to keep this kind of performance. Of course, someday I will be #1 again. I will fight for it because I really want it. I will just take all the positive things that I’ve been learning in these 3 weeks.
“I’m feeling really good, because I could play 3 finals in a row in 3 weeks. It’s really difficult to play 3 in a row, but I need to learn from all my 3 finals, about what happened in all of them. I’ll keep going and working harder, and I’ll be back.”
Two for Denmark
Just as they had in the Syed Modi Grand Prix Gold in January, Denmark’s top men’s and women’s doubles pairs beat all comers. This time, though, not only was it at the Superseries level, but both veteran pairs had to beat younger, higher-ranked pairs to claim victory.
The heavy favourites in the women’s doubles were Olympic gold medallists Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi. They were vying to become the third different Japanese pair in as many weeks to win a Superseries title but they were not able to handle the game plan brought to the court by Kamilla Rytter Juhl / Christinna Pedersen.
“Amazing match. We always love to play finals and always love to play against the Japanese girls,” said Kamilla Rytter Juhl. “It’s great to challenge the world #1 so we talked about enjoying this final and we really did.
“We started on the good side, when we have the drift in the back. We have a really strong attack when we are playing on that side. It was very important for us to take that first game and then we could feel how it was to play on the other side in the second game.”
“It was very important to have a lead in the third game and in the interval, we talked about that,” said Christinna Pedersen. “We have to go all out on court and really be more than 100%, really show our energy, and also to push them a little bit back on court. Throughout the whole tournament, after the Malaysia Open, we’ve talked about how we have to be stronger when it’s not really going our way, and I think that has been our key point throughout the tournament. Because every time we play, it’s not going the way we want all the time, so we have been kicking ourselves in the ass. That said, also what we did in the third, even though we were struggling after the second game, we came up with the energy and believed in ourselves.”
“It’s always special for us to play finals, we are really proud every time we reach the final,” said Rytter Juhl. “Actually when we reach the finals, it’s always a big match for us. We’re not the kind who win 6 or 7 Superseries titles a year, so it’s a big thing for us to take a title. We have been enjoying Singapore so much this week, and we like to be here. The stadium, the spectators were really supporting us. We could feel they were also supporting the Japanese girls but it was a great atmosphere, so we want to thank them after winning the final.”
Asked about their overall goal for 2017, Rytter Juhl said, “Actually we don’t like to set any goals. It has never really worked for us. Every time when you go to a tournament, when you are Number 2 in the world ranking, you don’t go for a tournament to reach the quarter-finals. You go to the tournament and hope you can win, but it’s never a goal. The goal is always to prepare as well as you can in that moment and that’s also what we have learnt in our older days.
“I said to Christinna right before we went on court that we have to enjoy, we don’t know how many finals we have left in our career. Not that we are about to retire right now, but we don’t know how many we have left and I think that’s a good place to be for us.”
Former world #1s Mathias Boe / Carsten Mogensen met last week’s world #1s Li Junhui / Liu Yuchen in the men’s doubles final but the veteran Danes were on fire. Mathias Boe rounded out his usual dominance of the front court with great defense and punishing attacking from the back and the Europeans were not dependent on getting the advantage off the service situation but held their own in fast driving rallies and made their fair share of counter-attacks.
“Today the Danish pair’s playing style and rhythm greatly restricted us, and it was hard to play,” said Liu Yuchen. “When we wanted to attack near the net, they were already at the base line. When we were at the base line and we wanted to attack, they were already near the net. It was tough playing today’s match.”
“I think we played an almost a flawless match,” agreed Mathias Boe. “Li and Liu have been extremely good, been doing very well the last year at least, so to beat them is extremely difficult. We lost against them last time in Japan, so of course to have a rematch against them was nice and to put a fight together as we did today and to win relatively easy that’s just a perfect Sunday.”
“Yeah as Mathias said, this is the first time we’ve won here in Singapore,” said Mogensen. “I think we were in the finals 10 years ago? And we lost, so that’s a long time ago. We really wanted to win here because we haven’t won any titles here. So it was a very important title for us. So that was what we were aiming for when we arrived here. But men’s doubles is very difficult, there is a lot of good pairs so you never know sometimes you win sometimes you lose. Today we won so we’re proud.
“It is difficult to say but we are so motivated for playing badminton even though we won a lot of titles and everything. But we are aiming for one more title all the time so we will not stop here and look forward to the next tournaments. So it is always fun to win and we did it again today.
“Even though we’re old, today or during the whole week we’ve been quite fast because we moved our legs and with all that experience we have, if we can move as we did today then we are difficult to beat and that’s what we showed during the whole week.”
XD: Lu Kai / Huang Yaqiong (CHN)  beat Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai (THA) 19-21, 21-16, 21-11
WD: Kamilla Rytter Juhl / Christinna Pedersen (DEN)  beat Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi (JPN)  21-18, 14-21, 21-15
MS: Sai Praneeth B. (IND) beat Srikanth Kidambi (IND) 17-21, 21-17, 21-12
WS: Tai Tzu Ying  beat Carolina Marin (ESP)  21-15, 21-15
MD: Mathias Boe / Carsten Mogensen (DEN)  beat Li Junhui / Liu Yuchen (CHN)  21-13, 21-14