JAPAN MASTERS – On eve of Worlds, past champs busy winning elsewhere

Former World Champions Ko Sung Hyun and Zhang Nan were on the other side of the Eurasian continent winning Super 100 titles in Akita a day before the Worlds kicks […]

Former World Champions Ko Sung Hyun and Zhang Nan were on the other side of the Eurasian continent winning titles in Akita a day before the Worlds kicks off in Switzerland.

Photos: Badmintonphoto (archives)

Former World Champions Ko Sung Hyun and Zhang Nan were both invited to the World Championships in 2019 but both veteran players were intent on other business on Sunday.  They were collecting titles at the Akita Masters Super 100 event in northern Honshu.

For Ko Sung Hyun and mixed doubles partner Eom Hye Won (pictured top), events like this are crucial for their ongoing campaign to move up the world rankings.  Ko’s exploits in men’s doubles had earned him an invitation to Basel – which was declined by their national association – but he and Eom had just gotten started by the time of the qualification deadline for the 2019 World Championships, and so they are in need of the 5500 points from this Super 100 event to keep on an upward trajectory.

The Koreans had already disposed of the top seeds in the semi-finals, and a day earlier, they had won their repeat of the Canada Open final.  On Sunday, their 19-year-old opponent Kyohei Yamashita was playing in his first international final since he won the German Junior Open back in 2016.

Unfortunately for the home pair, they were no match for the #3 seeds.  They kept it a lot closer in the second game but Eom maintained her consistency blocking at the net and raising the shuttle to Ko at the back was just too often an invitation to the brawny former world #1 to bring the rain.  The Korean independents thus ended up with their second title of the summer.

The afternoon opened up with 17-year-old An Se Young (pictured above) taking her 3rd title of the year.  She did one better than last weekend in Hyderabad, but just like last week’s final against Yeo Jia Min, An followed up a one-sided opening game by coming up short in the second.

Japanese veteran Haruko Suzuki, playing in her first ever Super 100 final, was more consistent at the net in the second game and did not leave herself open to the youngster’s attacks as she had in the first.  In the decider, however, An stepped up the pace and while neither player was visibly fatigued, Suzuki just found herself losing control of the rallies as the Korean was determined to remain in command.

By far the most decorated finalist in Akita was Zhang Nan.  The reigning Olympic champion was nonetheless looking for his first title in nearly two years.  His opponents on Sunday, Akira Koga / Taichi Saito (pictured right), had played a brilliant match a day earlier against Zhang’s 2017 World Champion partner Liu Cheng and Zhang had to do better to pick up his first title since their partnership change.

Koga and Saito once again exhibited excellent racquet skills, keeping the shuttle low, turning their defensive blocks, and generally finding the gaps between Zhang Nan and Ou Xuanyi (pictured above).  Still, the Chinese pair seized on every opportunity presented by a Japanese lift and snapped down their steep attacks to finish off the key rallies.  The Chinese pair had to play catch-up in the second game but again their attacking play wore down the top seeds and they were able to take the match in two.

It was the second of a pair of Japan-Indonesia match-ups that produced the home team’s only title of the afternoon.  The men’s singles kept the suspense going for Japanese fans, as Firman Abdul Kholik, playing in his first major final in nearly 5 years, took the title over Yu Igarashi in two close games.

Nita Violina Marwah and Putri Syaikah, 18 and 19 respectively, had a great second game against world #18 and defending champions Ayako Sakuramoto / Yukiko Takahata (pictured left).  But the second seeds were keen to capitalize on the opportunity at home.  As the 6th Japanese pair in the world rankings, they were not even close to being eligible to participate in the World Championships next week.

Marwah and Syaikah produced some terrific attacking play in the deciding game as well, but Sakuramoto and Takahata beat the young Indonesians on some brilliant drop shots and generally stayed more consistent as they ran away with the third game.  After allowing the youngsters to draw within 2, they rattled off the last four points in a row to take their first title of 2019.

Of the Akita finalists, only Zhang Nan is due in Basel for the Worlds in the coming days.  Even his partner did not qualify in his former pairing.  Most will have a week off before resuming with the Chinese Taipei Super 300 event.  Apart from Kholik, all the winners are also looking ahead to the China Open in September, although Zhang and Ou will be waiting to see if they make it off the reserve list.

Final results
WS:  An Se Young (KOR) [3] beat Haruko Suzuki (JPN)  21-10, 17-21, 21-14
XD:  Ko Sung Hyun / Eom Hye Won (KOR) [3] beat Kyohei Yamashita / Naru Shinoya (JPN)  21-10, 21-17
MS:  Firman Abdul Kholik (INA) [5] beat Yu Igarashi (JPN)  21-18, 22-20
WD:  Ayako Sakuramoto / Yukiko Takahata (JPN) [2] beat Nita Violina Marwah / Putri Syaikah (INA) [6]  21-17, 14-21, 21-15
MD:  Ou Xuanyi / Zhang Nan (CHN) [6] beat Akira Koga / Taichi Saito (JPN) [1]  21-14, 21-19

Click here for complete results

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