WORLDS SF – New women’s champions on the way

While veterans like Lin Dan and Liliyana Natsir have the chance to add to large collections of World Championship trophies, both women’s finals feature nothing but first-time finalists after Fukushima/Hirota […]

While veterans like Lin Dan and Liliyana Natsir have the chance to add to large collections of World Championship trophies, both women’s finals feature nothing but first-time finalists after Fukushima/Hirota shut down the Olympic silver medallists on Saturday.

By Don Hearn.  Photos: Badmintonphoto (live from Glasgow)

With the shadow of repeat champions looming in mixed doubles and both men’s disciplines, both women’s doubles and singles title this year are sure to belong to first-time winners.  What’s more, both disciplines hold the promise of producing a Japanese champion for the first time in 40 years.

As of Saturday, each of the doubles disciplines could still have gone to a repeat World Champion.  Denmark’s Christinna Pedersen may have been only runner-up in 2015, a placing she repeated last year at the Rio Olympics, but her partner Kamilla Rytter Juhl was the one player in the entire women’s doubles draw this year who had a world title to her name, having won the mixed title back in 2009.

Things looked good for the Danes to return to the summer’s biggest final for the third straight August, as they were facing Japan’s Yuki Fukushima / Sayaka Hirota (pictured top), a pair they had beaten four times and never lost to.  But the last time they met, in the semi-final of the recent Australian Open, showed that the Japanese ladies were gaining ground on the European veterans and this time around, Fukushima and Hirota had the plan and the excution to take the first game and then to dominate the decider.

The Japanese pair is now left as the last barrier to an extension of the 20-year Chinese domination in the event.  World #1s Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi found themselves up against the only pair in Glasgow against whom they had a losing record.  Although they had beaten winners Chen Qingchen / Jia Yifan in their most recent encounter, in Australia, the two 20-year-olds regained their winning form and took down the top seeds in straight games.

Thus, the new women’s doubles World Champions will not only be first-time winners of the title, but they will also be first-time competitors at the Worlds.  By the time the qualifying period ended for the last , both Fukushima/Hirota and Chen/Jia had already been in their first Gold finals but neither were among their nation’s top five women’s doubles pairs at the time.

A different kind of first

Women’s singles promises a different kind of first again.  Neither Pusarla Venkata Sindhu nor Nozomi Okuhara (pictured above) is a World Championship rookie but both are first-time finalists and the winner will be claiming her maiden title.  However, that first title will not only be for the player herself, but also for her nation.  We will either have Nozomi Okuhara as the first ever women’s singles winner from Japan (and also the first Japanese World Champion in 40 years if her compatriots haven’t already laid claim to that distinction in the previous match), or we will have Sindhu becoming the first ever World Champion from India in any discipline.

Okuhara followed up her ouster of the two-time defending champion Carolina Marin by seeing off another tough challenge from 2015 finalist Saina Nehwal.  Nehwal – who had lost to her Olympic bronze medallist successor only once in 7 meetings – had the clear edge in the opener but by the deciding game, Okuhara was just incredible in her still effortless movement around the court and her precise control even after the match clock had long since ticked past the hour mark.

Pusarla Venkata Sindhu (pictured above) had a must shorter experience on court against Chen Yufei.  The 19-year-old had been impressive on Friday as she sent the other returning champion Ratchanok Intanon packing but she didn’t have what it took against the tall Indian.

Another double?

In 2014, Zhao Yunlei became the first player in over a decade to win a doubles double at the World Championships.  Amazingly, she followed that up with another one in Jakarta in 2015.  Now in Glasgow, Chen Qingchen will be hoping to carry on that tradition as she appears in both the women’s and mixed finals on Sunday.  Chen will be the youngest player to win a doubles double, if she can pull it off, as she is still a few months younger than Park Joo Bong was when he got his first in Calgary in 1985.

Chen’s partner Zheng Siwei is also a World Championship rookie.  When the last Worlds were played in 2015, Chen was still gearing up to win the World Junior titles with both of her partners of today.  On Saturday, Chen Qingchen and Zheng Siwei (pictured) had to face the last British representatives in the tournament, England’s Chris and Gabrielle Adcock.  Chris had been in the mixed final back in 2011 and looked in fine form to make a repeat trip but he and wife Gabrielle were just not up to the daunting task of claiming a first ever victory against the world #1 youngsters.

Their opponents in the final will be none other than Olympic and two-time World Champions Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir.  The Indonesians won the shortest semi-final of the day against Hong Kong’s Lee/Chau.

Men looking for more titles

The only final featuring two players already in possession of World Championship titles is the men’s doubles in what has been a very eventful week in the discipline.  One by one, almost the entire world’s top ten fell by the wayside.  Zhang Nan and Liu Cheng, the current #8 are the only ones left and neither finalist has yet won a major title as a pair, with Mohammad Ahsan and Rian Agung Saputro (pictured) playing in their first major final together.

Zhang Nan, of course, already has three World Championship mixed titles to his name and Mohammad Ahsan has two men’s doubles titles with his previous partner Hendra Setiawan.  At that, they were the only so decorated players in the draw when the tournament began on Monday.  Both pairs disposed of their higher-ranked opponents in straight games and experience seemed to be key in the semis.  With four players in Sunday’s final having that in spades but neither pair having much, it promises to be an intriguing finale for a surprising week.

In the men’s singles, both Lin Dan and Chen Long – came in with a view to reaching another final.  The two men account for the last four world titles and yet both were underdogs on paper.

Indeed, Chen Long played like an underdog and went down tamely to Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen (pictured).  Lin Dan, on the other hand, refused to submit to the new world #1 player and Son Wan Ho came up short in two straight games.

In the final, Viktor Axelsen promises to be a much tougher opponent for five-time champion Lin Dan.  Not only has he won half of his previous encounters with the Chinese legend, but his last win came on the very charged stage of the Rio Olympic bronze medal match.

Finals line-up
WD:  Chen Qingchen / Jia Yifan (CHN) [4] vs. Yuki Fukushima / Sayaka Hirota (JPN) [9]
WS:  Pusarla Venkata Sindhu (IND) [4] vs. Nozomi Okuhara (JPN) [7]
MS:  Viktor Axelsen (DEN) [3] vs. Lin Dan (CHN) [7]
MD:  Liu Cheng / Zhang Nan (CHN) [8] vs. Mohammad Ahsan / Rian Agung Saputro (INA)
XD:  Zheng Siwei / Chen Qingchen (CHN) [1] vs. Tontowi Ahmad / Liliyana Natsir (INA) [3]

Click here for complete semi-final results

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Don Hearn

About Don Hearn

Don Hearn is an Editor and Correspondent who hails from a badminton-loving town in rural Canada. He joined the Badzine team in 2006 to provide coverage of the Korean badminton scene and is committed to helping Badzine to promote badminton to the place it deserves as a global sport. Contact him at: don @ badzine.net