Australian Badminton Open men’s doubles runners-up Hendra Setiawan and Mohammad Ahsan both nominated Tony Gunawan as their favourite player because he possesses the consummate doubles distinction of being able to partner anyone and win. Well, the Sydney Olympic gold medallist isn’t in town, but his female equivalent is.
By Aaron Wong, Badzine Correspondent live in Sydney. Photos: Courtesy of ABO Media
Women’s doubles: Thai sitting ducks
Aprilsasi Variella adds to the long line of men and women, including Flandy Limpele, Muhummad Rijal, Hendra Aprida Gunawan, Lilyana Natsir, Nadya Melati, and Tony Gunawan himself last year, who have picked up an international title combining with Vita Marissa (pictured).
In the first game, the Indonesian ladies, with their deliberately unhurried momentum, led all the way but as the Thais kept narrowing the deficit, at 20-18, the most experienced and oldest on court, Marissa, sensed it was the moment to up the urgency stakes. She finally wound up and applied the full force of her smash to speed up the game and secure it, 21-19.
It’s the second time this week opponents have prevented the Thai youngster with the fountain of spikey hair, Sapisiree Taerattanachai, from playing at the energetic speeds she prefers. The Thai duo were clearly trying to up the ante but the Indonesians were disinclined. Variella stayed in tune by occasionally increasing the pace with her forehand smash and then decreasing it again within the same point with her relaxed backhand cross-court drop shot or up the line clear, to frustrate the Thais.
Marissa, now and then, drew on her former top 5 mixed doubles pedigree to sneak up and kill unsuspecting shuttles at the net. Her other ploy was cleverly reading the angle of the racquet head of the Thai girls Sapsiree/Savitree and then directing shuttles at uncomfortable heights or parts of the body, which subsequently yielded sitting ducks to be easily shot down.
Managing her partner Variella’s confidence was the key to Marissa winning as she knew, as great leaders instinctively do, that sustaining her younger partner’s confidence would in turn produce a personal best and sweet shots from the latter without the need for instruction. The Indonesians won in straight games 21-15, in the second, and took their first title together.
The ease and trust evident within the partnership was confirmed by Marissa. ”We’re friends both on court and off court. [She begins to count ...] We’ve known each other for 7 years.”
Women’s singles: Inspired by Wang Xin
Someone had to win the first game of the women’s singles final, where both players showed their contrasting range of shots. Both showed off wonderful angled shots, Japan’s Sayaka Takahashi (pictured right) mainly turning them down and Nichaon Jindapon of Thailand choosing to make hers crisscross the court.
Nichaon Jindapon (pictured) executed her trademark cross-court net shots to earn 3 points in the first game and also displayed an untouchable forehand version to show she can produce brilliance in either direction. Nevertheless, in the extra point stage, she fell victim to Takahashi’s left-handed off forehand drop shots, which she ought to have known by now were lethal and coming if ever she didn’t drive the shuttle above the Japanese player’s reach, and Takahashi took it 22-20.
As the match continued, Nichaon was choosing all the correct shots such as constant drives to leave Takashi little time to get behind the shuttle and do more with it, but too many of the winners she went for landed quite wide of the lines. Takahashi, resumed her aggressiveness at the change of ends and walloped a rather average Nichaon on this day, 21-10.
Sayaka Takahashi who revealed that her favourite player is China’s Wang Xin, certainly played as characteristically wholeheartedly as her idol.
“I knew the Thai Girl would be smashing a lot and I did my best to fight back and when I could, fight early,” said Takahashi, who has finally nabbed her first Grand Prix title after appearing in two other finals in the past year.
Men’s singles: Preferred rhythm
The opening game of the all-Chinese men’s singles final was an illustration of what the teenager Xue Song does best: accuracy and dangerous threats from mid-court foreward both in crouched defence or murdering any loose shuttles offered up by comrade Tian Houwei (pictured). It was the kind of unhesitant abilities that eluded Lee Chong Wei a day earlier as the nerves built up for the Malaysian world #1.
Tian, however, displayed how much steadier he could be by taking the second game 21-13. By the third game, we saw a different Xue, someone less judicious at when to attack and using more brute force as he overplayed as well as played into the hands of Tian’s preferred rhythm to give some points away. The man with the better defence, Tian, ultimately dominated 21-12. In robbing Xue of rhythm, Tian also robbed Xue of an unbeaten streak in Sydney since first visiting in January.
“I would like to thank all my opponents this week for the opportunity to play against all their different styles. Everything brought me here today. I’ve learnt so much,” remarked Tian after surviving his fourth three-game match out of six this week since Tuesday.
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