Top ten players Viktor Axelsen and Chou Tien Chen both suffered upsets in the first round of the Singapore Open after both singles defending champions had already been shown the door.
By Don Hearn and Seria Rusli. Photos: Mikael Ropars / Badmintonphoto
Third-seeded Viktor Axelsen could not add the Singapore Open title to his collection. The tall Dane was beaten in the first round by Hong Kong’s Wong Wing Ki (pictured) in one of many upsets that hit the singles draw on Wednesday in the Lion City.
“I feel that today was very good and my mind was focused and I was able to concentrate,” said Wong after his win. “I didn’t make many mistakes and did not give him many chances for him to do his best. I just played defense first and then counterattacked. Today was very successful.”
In the first part of the second game, Wong struggled, letting Axelsen build up a 5-0 lead but Wong talked about what he changed to get back into the game: “I think just focused my mind because it was very tough in the first game and in the second, my mind was a little bit tired and I did not concentrate well and I gave him chances. So I changed the speed to make the game a little bit faster and gave him pressure. It was successful and he made the mistakes again and hence my points went up.
“I have played here many times. I want to thank the supporters as I can hear the Mandarin and Cantonese words that are supporting me. I think it gave me a lot of power.
“Tomorrow I will play against Malaysian player Zulfadli and I will just focus on one match at a time, like today, as this match was very tough and Axelsen is the best player in this tournament because the first and second seeds did not come. So after beating him, I have much more confidence for the next match but I hope I can keep up with the concentration.”
“I didn’t play really well today while Wong played really well today,” said Viktor Axelsen (pictured top). “He was really sharp on the net and played some really good shots while I did not play well. For most of the game, I didn’t have the mental and physical capabilities to cope with the distractions, and that’s not good enough.
“I felt that the air-con was too strong so I couldn’t control properly and Wong’s play at the net was good so I feel that it made me make a lot of mistakes and I feel disappointed. But in 2 weeks’ time, there is another competition so I will continue working hard. There is a lot to learn from your failures right? So when I return to Denmark, I will continue to train hard.”
As Wong pointed out, with the withdrawal of the top two seeds and his defeat of Axelsen, the men’s singles draw is now absent its top three but earlier in the day, Korea’s Lee Dong Keun also bundled last year’s comeback ‘kid’, Sony Dwi Kuncoro, out of the competition. The 32-year-old former world #2 let slip a 16-13 lead in the deciding game.
Lee’s team-mate, 4th-seeded Son Wan Ho, who ascends to world #2 today, is now the highest ranked and seeded player left in the draw. The other men’s seed to fall on Wednesday was Chou Tien Chen of Chinese Taipei. The last time Chou was beaten by Brice Leverdez (pictured above), the Frenchman followed it up with a win over Lee Chong Wei that put him into the Denmark Open semi-finals.
Shortly after Kuncoro’s loss, his fellow defending singles champion Ratchanok Intanon suffered her own first-round loss. She was beaten by Japan’s Sayaka Sato (pictured) in short order.
“Intanon’s shots were much faster in the first game, so I thought the wind was coming from her side of court and it was tough for her to control the wind and pace,” said Sato of her dominance particularly in the opening game. “I think that Ratchanok was a bit relaxed during the first game and I was trying to win it in straight games. I was more aggressive and competitive than my opponent and I was trying to push her in the match.”
From the stands at the Singapore Open, there seemed to be much more support from Japanese fans than Thai fans despite Intanon being the defending champion, but Sato denied this was much of a factor: “I was focusing on the match. Those kinds of voices gave me extra motivation to win, it helps a bit, but I was still focusing on the match.
“I hope to win this title but I have to face reality. I will try my best to go as far as possible.”
After scoring only 8 points in the first game, Ratchanok Intanon (pictured) kept it much closer in the second but still came up short: “I feel that I wasn’t confident enough of myself today,” said Intanon. “Everything is down and I tried to come back during the second game but it was too late for me because she had a big lead. I had to take care of myself too because my ankle is still not in good condition. I still have a lot to learn and improve on as they are many stars in the women’s singles category now so I have to be stronger than before.
“My target for this year was to reach the quarter-finals but I do know that the first round would not be easy as well. I did not expect to lose like that because I was the champion last year. I don’t want to lose my points and affect my world ranking. I think to not be nervous, I have to not think too much.”
Japan’s other three entries in women’s singles had some tight matches. Minatsu Mitani actually suffered from the same ill luck as her fellow 2012 French Open singles champion Liew Daren. Both players suffered upsets after blowing three match point opportunities. Mitani went down on Wednesday to Indonesia’s Fitriani.
Akane Yamaguchi was again pushed to the limit by Hong Kong’s Cheung Ngan Yi but finally pulled off the win. Nozomi Okuhara (pictured) was the underdog in her first round match against India Open winner P. V. Sindhu and indeed, she came up just short of achieving her own upset.
“As you know this match is part of my recovery process, ever since my shoulder injury,” said Nozomi Okuhara. “Overall, I’m quite satisfied with my performance but I had concerns about my serves. From the India and Malaysia Open, I have been making service mistakes too. Of course it was really close so I really wanted to win and I feel very disappointed about it, but if I look at it in the long term, this is a kind of process. The next match, I really want to try to win it but for this time, I will take it as a recovery match.”
For a recovery match, though, it was very close to being a major result. Okuhara fought back to save 6 match points before P. V. Sindhu (pictured below) finally won it 22-20 in the decider.
“In the last part of the match, I didn’t know what to do because I was having a huge lead of 20-14 or 20-13 then it went to 20-20. I couldn’t figure out why I was not getting any points,” said Sindhu afterward.
“If its 20-20, I’m sure anyone would be nervous but I had confidence in myself. If she could take so many points, why couldn’t I? So I always had that confidence in myself that I can do it. So I went on the match with that mindset. When she served into the net at 20-20, it gave me more confidence which led to me winning the match.
The first set didn’t go well because I gave her a huge lead of 19-9. On the other hand, from the start of the second set, I took a lead and in the third set I was leading 20-13 or 20-14. I can say that overall, I played a stupid game but it went on well. Sometimes, it might not work but you always have to believe in yourself.”
Of her own first-round loss last week in Malaysia, Sindhu said, “It’s all part of life. Ups and downs are always there. Sometimes, it might be your day and sometimes it might not so it doesn’t mean that it is over if you lost. If it was anybody’s game at 20-20 and you lost, sometimes it is just not your game. But I think you have to be confident and move on.”
For Sindhu, moving on means playing Fitriani on Thursday with the winner likely to face Carolina Marin in the quarter-finals. Sayaka Sato takes on Korea’s Kim Hyo Min, who won her first Superseries match abroad since beating Sindhu in Australia last summer.