Europe provided some minor upsets as Korea and Indonesia were shut out but Sai Praneeth of India and Thailand’s Puavaranukroh/Taerattanachai made the Singapore Open their first Superseries final appearance.
By Seria Rusli, Badzine Correspondent live in Singapore. Photos: Mikael Ropars / Badmintonphoto (live)
The Singapore Open was the first Superseries tournament ever to feature winners with five different national flags and the 2017 edition has that potential again. Denmark and China, the only nations with a chance at two titles on Sunday, helped make sure that neither Korea nor Indonesia will be in on the game, however, as the latter lost 5 and two semi-finals respectively.
This Singapore Open is a great opportunity for India’s Sai Praneeth and for Swiss Open champions Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai (pictured) as each reached the final in their first ever Superseries semi-final appearance. The Thais beat out Malaysia’s Tan/Lai, who had denied them a spot in their home event’s final last year.
“We did not expect to win as we had only ever lost to them. Today we just tried our best,” said Sapsiree Taerattanachai after the match. “We just concentrated on controlling the game. In the first game, we played our game but not at our best performance. But in the second and third game, we were able to control and focus on court. They are good in attack. We tried to not to give them opportunities to attack us.
“We just do not have any expectations because our target was only to reach the quarter-finals. Hence, given that we get into the final, we do not expect anything.”
Indeed, the Thais’ opponents in the final will be none other than Lu Kai and Huang Yaqiong (pictured below), winners of the first two Superseries events this year. The Chinese are into their fifth straight final – a streak that began with the German Open but it is also their fourth straight Superseries final and they and Carolina Marin are the only players who are playing on their third Superseries Sunday in as many weekends.
“I feel that our performance for this year thus far is pretty good, said Huang afterward. “We are very happy to have entered the finals. Even though we almost lost a few days ago, I feel that we have to be determined and take things step by step.”
“We have played against the Thai opponents for about four times previously and we have beaten them by a slight edge,” said Lu Kai. “Nevertheless, all the matches with them thus far were intense so our plan for today is to prepare ourselves well against them and beat them again.
“I feel that there is not much pressure,” said Huang, “as I have prepared myself to do my best before every game. I feel that as long as I’ve tried my best during the process, I can accept any outcome.”
Huang admitted that she and Lu have a little superstition about their new outfits: “Ever since this set of attire was distributed to us, we’ve worn white for all our matches.”
She affirmed that the favourites will indeed show up in white for the final as well.
Five up, five down for Korea
After a red-letter day on Friday, Korean shuttlers dropped all five matches on semi-finals day, though not one was an upset. The shortest match was Carolina Marin’s win over Sung Ji Hyun (pictured). It puts Marin in her third straight final, while relegating Sung to four semi-final results this year.
Unlike Lu/Huang, though, Marin is still looking for her first Superseries title since 2015. To get it, she will have to overcome her opponent from last week’s final. Though she and Tai Tzu Ying have been sharing the world #1 spot for almost the entire last year, Singapore will be only their second meeting in a final.
“I’m feeling really good and of course I am really happy to reach three finals in the row,” said Marin. “Tomorrow is going to be a different day and I want to win here and of course I am looking forward to play tomorrow.
“It was really hard for me after the Olympic Games because I got a hard injury and I could not recover. Now I am getting better and I am confident again. I want to fight to get the title here in Singapore.
“I think it’s really important to fight in every game to do my best, to show to the opponent that I want to be the world number one again, and to get it I have to do my best. I just want to give my focus on the game and think about the game I have to play.”
The afternoon opened with twin losses for Korea in women’s doubles, perpetrated by the Rio gold and silver medallists, who had ousted the same Korean pairs from the Olympics last summer.
“Finally we beat them again,” said Kamilla Rytter Juhl after she and Christinna Pedersen (pictured) had won their semi-final. “We have been struggling against Lee and Chang for some time now, especially since the Olympics, so it is a really, really a good win for us today.
“I said to Kamilla when it was 26-all, ‘Let’s think about the first game in the Olympics,’” said Pedersen. “It was the same 28-26. It was good that we got the first game as it gave us some comfort. As we talked about many times, playing against them is all about the speed in our legs, our movements have to be really fast, our awareness has to be so good against these two.
“We like to call it like a men’s doubles, we try to play like that and it seems that they do the same. Of course, it is not the same power from men’s doubles but we try to think like the men’s doubles.”
“We just so much look forward to playing the final. The last time we were here, we also played the final so we were joking that this time it would be really tough and because of the draw, I packed my sun cream and bikini when I packed my bag from home. It paid off. We had a really tough draw but we just take one match at a time and I really look forward for the final even if it is either Japan or Korea, it is going to be a really, really tough match. So we just look forward.”
Asked about differences in strategy between the first and second games, Pedersen said, “Actually we did not do anything differently. From the beginning it was difficult for us standing on this side and it seemed that it was difficult for them as well from the beginning to get used to the conditions. There was a lot of drift and head wind today. So it is more difficult today compared to yesterday. It seemed that they were struggling just like us in the first game.”
“When we had the drift at the back, we had a really strong attack. I gave the power from the back line and Christina is really quick at the net from her mixed doubles so we are very dangerous when we had the drift at the back.”
World #1s finally stumble
Rytter Juhl is the last Dane to have won a title at the Singapore Open, and she is the only past champion active on finals day in 2017. However, she is not the only Dane to gain entrance to the final with a win over an All England champion. Her compatriots Mathias Boe / Carsten Mogensen (pictured) were finally the ones to end the streak by Indonesia’s erstwhile juggernaut named Gideon and Sukamuljo.
“We were motivated for today. We really want to beat them because they’ve been for sure the best these last few tournaments,” said Carsten Mogensen after the win. “We looked forward to this match and even though we got a bad start, we kept coming and played a good match overall.”
“Of course, we’re pleased,” said Mathias Boe. “It’s never easy to beat Kevin and Marcus but we managed to do that today and managed a very physical game. That’s not how they want to play the game so kudos to us for a tactical well-played match.
Asked about what strategies worked, Boe added, “I think it was pretty obvious. Keep Kevin at the backline and put pressure on Marcus so that’s how we should play them. That tip is for free, the next one, you have to pay for it.”
“Well it’s a tournament,” said Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo (pictured). “We are still satisfied with how we have performed this year. Today the opponents were very tight in the game and not easily beaten. Our power is already much weaker than before. Our job these days is only to play in the tournaments and we do not have any other training. Hence our power is already much weaker.”
“This is already after our many tournaments,” said Gideon. “Our power is already not as strong and we are tired. During the second game when they lifted the shuttles, we felt our power was not as great. In the beginning, we had short rallies and lobs, which is comfortable for us, but when we are given high shuttles, given the heavy shuttles, it is difficult for us as we need a tremendous amount of power.”
The final will be a battle of two former world #1 pairs. Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen (pictured) last played the Danes in Japan and beat them en route to their first – and so far only – Superseries title. They came back from a game down to beat Berry Angriawan and Hardianto and are now in their second final of the year.
Asked about dropping the first game, Li Junhui said, “I think it was mainly due to our mental condition. We both have slower rhythms during the start so when people are aggressively pushing us, we make mistakes in defence.”
“We started changing our rhythm in servicing the shots,” said Liu Yuchen. “In the first game, we served too quickly, which was a weakness to their strategy against us as they were good at defending the shots. We started to lengthen our serving shots so as to prevent them from disrupting our rhythm. I think this change in strategy was successful as we managed to take the second game.”
“We lost in the semi-finals last year so it’s a breakthrough for us this year,” said Li. “We hope for a perfect end to the Singapore Open tomorrow.”
Guaranteed title a ray of joy in sad week for India
Apart from the Thais in mixed doubles, the only other first-time Superseries finalist on Sunday will be India’s Sai Praneeth in men’s singles. Sai Praneeth just won a title last year in his first ever Grand Prix final and his first Grand Prix Gold final was earlier this year, at the Syed Modi International. He also won the most one-sided semi-final, not allowing fellow semi-final rookie Lee Dong Keun (pictured) to enter double digits in either game.
“Actually I didn’t expect this to be such an easy match,” said Sai Praneeth. “I saw him feeling uncomfortable and I was very comfortable. All my smashes and all my strokes were doing well. I think it was my day.
“In general, I know he plays the rally type but it was a 50-50 match but I am very happy that it went so easily. There is a drift. I think that is why he could not control so much but I was getting all my strokes to go well.”
Sai Praneeth will appear in an all-Indian final, as his compatriot Srikanth Kidambi (pictured) booked a spot in his Superseries final in over two years.
“I actually booked my returning flight for today, so I have to postpone it now,” said Srikanth. “but yeah, I don’t mind doing it.”
“I think I started off really slow but once I got it, I was really consistent throughout my match.
“Thanks to all these people who’ve come to cheer. I think it’s really fantastic. I think the whole Indian contingent has got really good support thanks to all these people. They really kept us going.”
Of his opponent Anthony Ginting, Srikanth said, “Both of us have similar playing styles, aggressive play, so I think I got on top of it and I really played my game very well and my strategy worked.
“[Sai Praneeth and I] actually play against each other every playing session so it will definitely be a tricky match. Both of us know each other really well. I’m just looking forward to a good match tomorrow.
An unfortunate backdrop to the Indian success at this tournament was something on which Srikanth did not want to comment. Badminton Association of India President Dr. Akhilesh Das Gupta died on Wednesday, less than two weeks after presenting awards at the India Open.
XD: Lu Kai / Huang Yaqiong (CHN)  vs. Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai (THA)
WD: Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi (JPN)  vs. Kamilla Rytter Juhl / Christinna Pedersen (DEN) 
MS: Sai Praneeth B. (IND) vs. Srikanth Kidambi (IND)
WS: Tai Tzu Ying  vs. Carolina Marin (ESP) 
MD: Li Junhui / Liu Yuchen (CHN)  vs. Mathias Boe / Carsten Mogensen (DEN)