JAPAN OPEN R32 – Japan’s tiny giant-killers

Ayume Mine and Akane Yamaguchi each scored upset victories over opponents of both lofty ranking and stature while China suffered five high-profile upsets and two more near-upsets on Day 2 […]

Ayume Mine and Akane Yamaguchi each scored upset victories over opponents of both lofty ranking and stature while China suffered five high-profile upsets and two more near-upsets on Day 2 of the .

By Miyuki Komiya, Badzine Correspondent live in Tokyo.  Photos:  Badmintonphoto (live)

The opening match in a tournament often makes players nervous.  After their first match, many players spoke of the fact that the hall is very big so they tried many shots in the first match so that they could play as well as usual and adjust to the courts as soon as possible.  But many of those higher-ranked veteran players who were testing the hall faced lower-ranked players who tried to find a way to sneak in a victory and that may have been what led to a few big upsets as main draw action began at the 2015 Japan Open.

In both singles draws, all but one of the eight seeds advanced.  In men’s singles, that means that two greats – Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei – will face each other in the second round on Thursday.  But the big singles upsets were to be found in the women’s singles.

Small Japanese enjoy big wins

18-year-old Akane Yamaguchi – the Japan Open champion in 2013 – played against Korea’s top player, world #8 Sung Ji Hyun (pictured).  In the press conference before the match, Akane had said, “I have some ideas for the match against her.”

As she said, Akane got her first win against Sung, taking it in straight games.  Sung, who had been taken to school earlier in the year by another diminutive young Japanese shuttler, never had the advantage that she had at first against Nozomi Okuhara at the Sudirman Cup or against Carolina Marin in their World Championship semi-final, for that matter.  Instead, Yamaguchi led both games from start to finish.

An even bigger upset was also made by an even smaller Japanese player against an even taller Chinese opponent.  World #166 Ayumi Mine, who stands just 1.5m tall, beat world #11 Sun Yu (pictured top), the1.8m giant who won this year’s Singapore Open.

Sun Yu was able to play her pace until she led 13-11 in the first game.  Ayumi focused on hitting the shuttle and running a lot throughout the court.  She caught Sun at 13 points, after which Sun tried to kill the shuttle as fast as possible.  But Sun began to make a lot of mistakes and Ayumi Mine ended up with the big win in straight games of 22-20, 21-11.

“I was able to play as the challenger,” said Ayumi after the match.  “I played in Japan Open a few times but today is my first day to get win in the main draw.

“I felt my opponent doesn’t like to play long rallies.  She is very tall so I controlled the height of shuttle and she couldn’t hit the shuttles with her pace.”

Ayumi’s coach and former national player Yuichi Ikeda added, “Chinese players’ skill are great.  Sun is tall, so we didn’t want her to hit the shuttle from a high position.  Ayumi was able to controll her shuttles along with these tactics.  She was also able to move a lot, and keep her concentration level high.

“In the 2nd game, Ayumi led 13-5.  Maybe she thought she could win this match.  The thinking soon led to mistakes and misjudgements and Ayumi gave 5 consecutive points to Sun.  But Ayumi managed to get her focus back.  Those are the bad points and good points in this match.”

Tough day for China’s men

4 Chinese players appeared in the first round of the main draw.  8th seed Wang Zhengming lost to Hong Kong veteran Hu Yun 10-21.21-19.21-18.  That means  China will have no players in the bottom half of the draw while 3 compatriots will battle it out in the upper half.

Top seed Chen Long (pictured above) had an easy win in the first round.  But the World Champion have to face his team-mate and world #11 Tian Houwei in Tokyo today. And the winner will face either Lin Dan or Lee Chong Wei in the quarter-final.

“I can’t say my condition is at its best because my body is tired after the World Championships,” said Chen Long.  “But I want to make a good result here.  I got 2 World Championship gold medals, but my aim is to get a gold medal in the Olympics.  So I can keep my motivation to achieve that.”

In the other matches, Japanese veteran Takuma Ueda had to retire because he felt pain on his back.  Meanwhile, Lin Dan survived to play another day, against long-time rival Lee Chong Wei, but only after saving 5 match points in his second game with Korea’s Son Wan Ho (pictured).

Ma Jin bites the Korean dust.. again

Another big upset for the Chinese team came when  Korean #25 pair Go Ah Ra / Yoo Hae Won beat Chinese 5th seeds  Ma Jin / Tang Yuanting (pictured) for the second straight time. The first game went by the Chinese pace and Ma and Tang won easily 21-9.  But 2nd game was very close from start till the end. The Chinese grabbed a match point at 20-19 but couldn’t convert and the Koreans got away with it 24-22.

In the final game, it was also a close battle but it was Go and Yoo who took their chances to win 21-19.  The result was a repeat of the Koreans’ win at the World Championships last month, a victory that was their first over any Chinese pair in their 9 years as partners.

After the match, Ma Jin expressed what went through her mind: “I tried to calm down at the some important moments like match point, but I  couldn’t.  So we made a lot of mistakes.”

Yoo Hae Won enjoyed the moment: ” We tried to imagine that this was the final.  It worked.”

Misaki Matsutomo sprained her ankle during her first round match. The top seeds from Japan eventually finished their match but she was then carried out in a wheelchair after their win.  They didn’t announced their withdrawal, but partner Takahashi said that it would depend on the doctor’s analysis.

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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