The men’s singles category had already reached boiling point by the round of 16, and women’s singles and mixed doubles finally bubbled up too at the quarter-final stages of the Australian Badminton Open in Sydney.
By Aaron Wong, Badzine correspondent live in Sydney. Photos: ABO Media (live)
Singles: Something for everyone
Here’s a tale of two preparations. The rising star of Japan’s future in women’s singles, Sayaka Takahashi (pictured), possesses the classic Japanese high serve produced with a last moment emphatic and exaggerated lift via the limbs, but that’s where the style similarity ends with the successful peers of her generation of countrywomen.
Her way of playing is not the hard-working style of the other Sayaka (Sato) or even Eriko Hirose, though she too can last a long time on court. Instead, you don’t realise at first but she is quick to get into position to prepare early for every offensive shot and the waiting time provides her a world of possibilities and leaves opponents in a sea of indecision as to how to anticipate where she will place the shuttle.
Takahashi, with her lovely, sharp and sweetly timed downward shots absolutely flummoxed the second-seeded Sapsiree Taerattanachai (pictured below) of Thailand into submission, 21-11, 21-8. Their match was a painting of contrasting styles but spectators hardly got to see Taerattanachai’s usual array of athletic jump smashes and diving because the Thai struggled to read or know what to do to counter the style of her Japanese opponent. Takahashi’s knack for turning shuttles downwards even with half speed proved deadly.
On the other hand, Xue Song in men’s singles requires very little preparation to smash that it robs his opponents of time to recover from the previous shot. Xue, the accurate and no-nonsense marksman, has yet to need three games to advance in this tournament as he rolled past last year’s runner-up, Nguyen Tien Minh of Vietnam, 21-15, 21-10.
In fact, an indication that Xue was cruising through the match was that his coach left midway to sit behind Tian Houwei’s match being played concurrently on the adjacent court. In place of the coach, team-mates Gao Huan and Guo Kai sat down and Xue had a relaxed natter with them while he waited for Nguyen to return after the interval and intent discussions with his own advisor on the other end.
Thailand’s Nichaon Jindapon was also looking like she could win in straight fashion as she was clearly cleverer and more creative in her strategy than China’s Hui Xirui in their first game, 21-16. At one point, Hui was made to ditch badminton running footwork and just plain dash for shuttles because she didn’t expect her opponent to be quite so on top of any reply she was sending back.
But the Chinese had other plans after a discussion with her coach and approached the second game by threatening with harder smashes from the mid-court as well as dropping down to third gear to accelerate the whole situation for both of them, thus securing the second game 21-17. The last game was Jindapon’s once she acclimatised to the new speed of her opponent, knowing there would be no surprises offered in the skill repetoire of her Chinese opponent, 21-16.
Doubles: Indonesians conquer Malaysians
Veteran Indonesians reined in their level doubles categories. Vita Marissa / Aprilsasi Variella found Malaysia’s Hoo / Woon to be not such a difficult test once they discovered Woon would struggle to defend satisfactorily and the eighth seeds advanced to Saturday’s semi-finals, 21-11, 21-19.
“I’ll keep playing international badminton as long as I’m still enjoying myself. So I’ll check again in a year’s time how much I’m enjoying competing and decide. For now, I feel good and I’m injury free,” remarked Marissa who continues to be a popular world badminton figure owing to her longevity.
Tonight’s men’s doubles between Indonesia’s Hendra Setiawan / Mohammad Ahsan and Malaysia’s world number two pair Tan Boon Heong / Koo Kien Keat was on paper the “final before the final”. It was a highly entertaining match with all four players showcasing their trademark shots, the most sensational being Tan’s beautiful jump smash. The winner of the outcome was the pair who actually talked to each other during the match, the Indonesians, 21-18, 21-15.
“I’ve played this Malaysian pair many times but this is the first time, and so also the first win, with Mohammad Ahsan”, said Setiawan from the mixed zone.
His answer on confirming whether there was showboating going on, the Beijing Olympic gold medallist continued on: “Yes, once we got a good lead and were safe and in the clear and saw that the Malaysians were playing to the crowd a bit, we decided to enjoy ourselves like that too.”
Not all Indonesians made it through, however. Sapsiree was gunning for two semi-finals spots and although she came up short in singles, she and Savitree Amatripai made quick work of Dewi/Gozali to make the final four. Shin Baek Cheol (pictured) was one of two players who did make it through in both, as he and Kim Dae Eun marched past 8th seeds Ricky Karanda Suwardi / Muhammad Ulinnuha in three games.
Mixed Doubles: Honour as title favourites usurped
Pia Zebediah Bernadeth was left with one more chance at a title coming into today and it was an ominous start for her and brother Markis Kido. Trailing 0-6 initially, they clawed their way back to level at 18-18 and then unexpectedly snatch the first game 21-19. This was partly due to the Indonesians forcing errors from the racquet of the very tall Liu Yuchen after moving him around the rear court and Kido pulling out his explosive trademark jump smashes in both cross-court directions.
The Chinese teenagers won the second game 21-16, and from there it began to parallel the pattern of the first game – the top seeds lagging behind and catching up at 18-all – before building to edge-of-your-seat tension in the entire stadium. Huang served into the net on their first match point but the second was gifted when Kido followed by serving short of the service line. 21-19 to the dauntless Chinese.
The other Chinese mixed pair are something truly special. When you search in YouTube with the keywords crazy badminton, this is that kind of pair who should be at the top of the search results. 17-year-old Huang Kaixiang and 15-year-old Chen Qingchen (pictured) are ones to watch for, now and in the future, if you like your players to have liberal lashings of chutzpah.
They won through to set up the more anticipated mixed semi-final clash with pre-tournament title favourites and recent German Open winners Shin Baek Cheol / Jang Ye Na of Korea. Once the tournament has been in progress, these unheralded Chinese have usurped that reputation as title favourites.
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