CHINA OPEN SF – World Champions deny home favourites

Kento Momota and Ahsan/Setiawan both finished strong to deny China’s former World Champions spots in Sunday’s final at the 2019 China Open. By Don Hearn.  Photos: Yves Lacroix / Badmintonphoto […]

Kento Momota and Ahsan/Setiawan both finished strong to deny China’s former World Champions spots in Sunday’s final at the 2019 .

By Don Hearn.  Photos: Yves Lacroix / Badmintonphoto (live)

Age before beauty, mind over muscle…it is tempting to look for some aphorism to sum up the dominance the edge that a veteran pair might display against some young upstarts.  But no amount of wisdom or experience is supposed to account for the type of dominance 3-time World Champions Mohammad Ahsan / Hendra Setiawan (pictured top) showed in the second game of their semi-final today in Changzhou.

It wasn’t as if the Indonesians were facing some underdogs writing their own Cinderella story either.  Their opponents were last year’s World Champions and former world #1s Li Junhui / Liu Yuchen (pictured right).  The two 24-year-olds have struggled somewhat this year but they did win the Malaysia Open Super 750 in a campaign that included a win over the Indonesian veterans.

The first game was suitably close.  The Chinese pair clearly benefited from Mohammad Ahsan’s inability to move quickly enough – with an injury to his right leg – to manoeuvre into position to produce his usual, penetrating smashes.  The home pair kept their nose ahead for most of the game and reached game point first, at 20-19.

Still, Ahsan found a way to move very efficiently and both he and Hendra Setiawan played a precise game with excellent shot selection.  They managed to keep their Chinese opponents under pressure and forced a couple of mistakes to surge ahead and take the opener 22-20.  In the second game, though, Li and Liu just seemed to fall apart, making error after error and rarely making Ahsan move enough for an observer to even perceive his injury.

It was all over in just over half an hour and the Indonesian veterans booked an appearance in the final against compatriots Gideon/Sukamuljo.  The world #1s handily won a repeat of the Asian Games final against Alfian/Ardianto, whom they were playing for a 6th time in 15 months.

Another Asian Games final rematch is expected on Sunday in the women’s doubles and Changzhou spectators will be hoping that will be the highlight of finals day.  Chen Qingcheng and Jia Yifan (pictured right) survived letting their second game against Chang Ye Na and Kim Hye Rin slip away and they won handily in the deciding game to book a spot in the final.

It was an important win for the Chinese pair.  Last year, China hosted 5 major tournaments – the Asian and World Championships, the World Tour Finals and the 2 China Opens – and China managed a women’s doubles semi-finalist in exactly one of those 5 events.  Of course, Chen/Jia did win the Asian Games gold in Jakarta last year and this year, they took the Asian Championship title in Wuhan but they are now poised to get back one of their nation’s flagship, big-money events after both titles went abroad last year for the first time ever.

Their opponents will be defending champions Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi (pictured left), who beat compatriots Fukushima/Hirota in 3 games.  The Rio gold medallists finished strong last year, with 3 major titles after the Asian Games, but at this point last year, they were in a similar position to where they are now.  They are ranked #3 in the world, have one title so far in 2019, and are now playing in their 5th final.

Chen/Jia are ahead by only a slight margin in their head-to-head record with Matsutomo/Takahashi, which stands at 5-4, but they also have a 2-1 lead if you limit the sample to past finals.  They beat the newly-crowned Olympic champions in Dubai in December 2016 and the last final they played together saw the young Chinese pair take Asian Games gold.

4 look to repeat

Matsutomo/Takahashi were only the last of the defending champions to book their spot in the 2019 China Open finals.  Immediately before they stepped on court, Anthony Ginting (pictured above) made sure that 2019 would see a repeat of last year’s men’s singles final.

Ginting dropped the first game against Anders Antonsen of Denmark.  The Dane was clearly keen to set up a repeat of the World Championship final but Ginting had other plans.  The Indonesian dominated the second game 21-5 and as the match passed the hour mark in the deciding game, there was lessening in the pace as Ginting leapt and bounced around the court as Antonsen struggled, unsuccessfully, to get back in it.

Kento Momota (pictured right) had already shut the door on Chinese hopes for a home title.  Chen Long had a 16-15 lead in their deciding game but Momota won 6 unanswered points to relegate his fellow two-time World Champion to spectator status on finals day.

Carolina Marin (pictured left), after her first round exit last week in Vietnam to world #51 Supanida Katethong, can certainly be termed a surprise finalist.  Despite her having won the China Open in 2018, no one would have predicted she would win so decisively against Okuhara earlier this week.

In fact, Marin’s semi-final against world #16 Sayaka Takahashi was her toughest contest.  Takahashi narrowly won the opener but then the Spaniard came roaring back to win the second game easily.  Marin earned a whole slew of match points in the decider but it was only after Takahashi saved the first four that the European claimed the 21-18 victory.

It was a very different pattern as Tai Tzu Ying (pictured right) re-asserted her dominance over Chen Yufei.  Chen got the home crowd’s hopes up as she romped to a 21-6 win in the opener, only to watch Tai even things up in the second.  Tai coolly moved out to an ominous lead with a 6-point run late in the deciding game but Chen managed to get to match point first.  Tai held on, though, and grabbed the last 3 points in succession to deny Chen a chance to face Marin in a repeat of last year’s final.

The day began in Changzhou with two easy wins for China’s to mixed doubles pairs.  Wang Yilyu and Huang Dongping (pictured bottom) had none of the troubles that plagued them in the World Championships when they faced Thailand’s Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai.  Seo Seung Jae and Chae Yoo Jung still have yet to win a game from two-time World Champions Zheng/Huang and the world #1 and #2 pairs will meet in a major final for the 8th time in under 2 years.

Finals line-up
XD:  Zheng Siwei / Huang Yaqiong (CHN) [1] vs. Wang Yilyu / Huang Dongping (CHN) [2]
WS:  Tai Tzu Ying (TPE) [2] vs. Carolina Marin (ESP)
MS:  Kento Momota (JPN) [1] vs. Anthony Ginting (INA) [7]
WD:  Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi (JPN) [2] vs. Chen Qingchen / Jia Yifan (CHN) [4]
MD:  Marcus Fernaldi Gideon / Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo (INA) [1] vs. Mohammad Ahsan / Hendra Setiawan (INA) [2]

Click here for complete semi-final 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