JAPAN OPEN 2013 Finals – Akane’s first, Japan’s first, world’s youngest!

With her 7th victory of the week, Akane Yamaguchi won her first senior title and Japan’s first ever Japan Open title, and became the youngest winner in the 7 years […]

With her 7th victory of the week, Akane Yamaguchi won her first senior title and Japan’s first ever title, and became the youngest winner in the 7 years of the BWF World .

By Emzi Regala and Miyuki Komiya, Badzine Correspondents live in Tokyo.  Photos:  Badmintonphoto (live)

The 2013 Yonex Japan Open Superseries women’s singles final featured to unlikely but deserving competitors, both Japanese.  One was Akane Yamaguchi, the 16-year-old who joined the national team after reaching the final of last autumn’s World Junior Championships in Chiba.

The other was Shizuka Uchida, who is not on the national team but who has shown promise on different occasions in her brief career, getting the better of the likes of Bae Yeon Ju and Tai Tzu Ying, but nothing like her shock defeat of former World Champion Wang Yihan yesterday.  Either way, it promised to be the first time that Japan would ever win a title at its own Open.

In the first game, Shizuka was too nervous to play well so Akane had good start and keep the lead until the end.  In the second game, though, Akane missed far more shots, gifting several easy points to Shizuka.

Still, Akane was not under pressure and played patiently.  The youngster changed her tactics to extend the rallies, alternating between drop shots and smashes, between net shots and lifts.  Shizuka returned patiently, but Akane was able to rush to the net for the kills.

Finally, it was Akane who would grab the first Japan Open title for her country.  Moreover, at 16 years of age, she became the youngest ever Superseries winner, surpassing India Open winner Ratchanok Intanon by nearly 2 years.

“I didn’t expect to get the win this time,” Akane said in the post-match press conference.  “My first senior title is a Superseries.  It’s amazing.  It hasn’t really sunk in yet.  I still feel like I’m in a dream.”

“Akane managed the rallies well,” Shizuka said.  “She got me to return the shuttle right where she wanted.

“I wanted to play more positively.  I have a lot of experience playing in international tournaments and that helped me this time, but I also found many things I should do better.  I will do my best in my training to play well in the future.”

Tago good, but not on top

Kenichi Tago has dreamt of winning the Japan Open since he was young.  Today, he had his first chance to make that dream come true, as the first Japanese men’s singles finalist in the event’s history, but there was just that tiny detail: that he was facing three-time champion and world #1 Lee Chong Wei

Tago said afterward that he felt nervous when he saw Chong Wei standing on the other side of the net.  He also played nervously in the beginning of the match, while Lee Chong Wei had a good start as usual.

Tago did managed to catch Chong Wei at the 8-point mark and then calmed down and play tactically to maintain the upper hand until 20-17.  Then Lee changed his pace and moved more speedily, forcing Tago to make errors, including a missed smash that gave Lee Chong Wei his game-winning point.

In the second game, neither player gifted many points on easy mistakes and the score stayed very close. Tago played patiently but the match was over when Lee Chong Wei hit a smash into Tago’s body and Lee had won his fourth title in his sponsor’s home Open.

“Tago played well today.  I thought he had become more strong and our next match will be a tough match,” said Lee Chong Wei in the post-match press conference.

“Tago is a good player, but not a top player.  A top player is one who doesn’t lose even if he feels bad.  Tago is sometimes good and beats high ranking players but sometimes he also loses to lower-ranked players easily.  A top player doesn’t lose to a lower-ranked player even if he feels bad.”

“I have played against Chong Wei maybe 13 times and have yet to win,” said Tago.  “Actually, I am under pressure when I play with him, but I am bound to get a win from him soon.”

Ahsan/Setiawan continue their winning streak

World Champions Ahsan/Setiawan had to work extra hard in the first game as the lower ranked Chai Biao / Hong Wei did not let the Indonesians break away easily, saving a game point at 19-20 and putting the Indonesian fans at the edge of their seats.  But the undaunted Setiawan took his team to a third game point with his soft block at the net and this was quickly followed by a service return error by the Chinese that put the top seeds up one game.

In the second, Chai/Hong tried to put a lot of pressure on Ahsan, continuously pounding him with varied shots but Ahsan responded well under the pressure.  The Indonesian pair converted the first match opportunity to register their 4th straight tournament victory in a row.

Ahsan emphasized that although they are happy about their winning streak, they should not be complacent.  “Winning the World Championships became a source of both pride and confidence.  We now have to show our opponents that we are worthy of being called World Champions but we also have to be careful not to be over-confident.”

Ma/Tang take it easy

China’s Ma Jin / Tang Jinhua engaged the much taller Danes Christinna Pedersen / Kamilla Rytter Juhl in fast exchanges of flat drives.  The Chinese placement of the shuttle in between left-hander Rytter Juhl and the right-hander Pedersen proved lethal for their opponents.  The Danes got confused in their rotation and at times couldn’t judge who should go for the shot.  Ma/Tang easily walked away with their first Japan Open gold medal together in 2 straight games.

“We came fully prepared but that match was easier than what we anticipated.  It’s our first title this year as a pair so I’m very happy,” commented Tang after the match.

“Our whole [Chinese] team is very tired because of the very tight tournament schedule.  It’s the desire to continuously perform to the best of our abilities that keeps us going.  I’m happy that the Japan Open timetable ensures that we eat on time, we have enough rest and even give us a little bit time for shopping,” said Ma Jin.

“I think I’ll spend all of my prize money shopping.  We look forward to our Disneyland trip tonight!” Ma added with a smile.

Olympic mixed doubles champions Zhang/Zhao go home with their own gold medal courtesy of a walkover gift from team-mates Xu/Ma.

Final results
XD: Zhang Nan / Zhao Yunlei (CHN) [2] beat Xu Chen / Ma Jin (CHN) [1] [walkover]
MS: Lee Chong Wei (MAS) [1] beat Kenichi Tago (JPN) [7]  23-21, 21-17
WS: Akane Yamaguchi (JPN) beat Shizuka Uchida (JPN)  21-15, 21-19
WD: Ma Jin / Tang Jinhua [1] beat Christinna Pedersen / Kamilla Rytter Juhl (DEN) [3]  21-11, 21-14
MD: Mohammad Ahsan / Hendra Setiawan (INA) [1] beat Chai Biao / Hong Wei (CHN)  22-20, 21-16

Click here to for complete, detailed results

Miyuki Komiya

About Miyuki Komiya

Miyuki Komiya is Badzine's correspondent in Japan. She joined the Badzine team in 2008 to provide coverage of the Japanese badminton scene. She has played badminton for more than 30 years and has been a witness to the modern history of Japanese badminton, both watching players become stronger on court and hearing the players comment on their increasing success over the years. Contact her at: miyuki @ badzine.net