JAPAN OPEN SF – Youngsters forge all-Japanese final!

Young Akane Yamaguchi and Nozomi Okuhara executed two more upsets to orchestrate an all-Japanese final at their home Superseries. By Emzi Regala and Miyuki Komiya Badzine Correspondents live in Tokyo. […]

Young Akane Yamaguchi and Nozomi Okuhara executed two more upsets to orchestrate an all-Japanese final at their home .

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

The full house at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium thundered with the chants “Akane! Akane!”, inspiring Japan’s 18-year-old Akane Yamaguchi to keep on fighting. The young shuttler displayed patience and grace against very tough opposition from former world #1 Wang Shixian (pictured), surviving an 83-minute thriller.

Yamaguchi first let her one-game lead slip away and then saw Wang Shixian surge ahead to 20-18 in the deciding game.  But the 18-year-old had to save not only those two but also two additional match points before she could claim the 26-24 victory in the third game.

Her compatriot Nozomi Okuhara later on put in an equally inspired performance to get past Tai Tzu Ying in a match that also went to 3-games, ending in an only slightly more comfortable 21-12, 14-21, 21-19, and forging yet another all-Japanese women’s singles final showdown.  That will be a third at home for Yamaguchi.  Two years ago, she beat team-mate Shizuka Uchida to win her first Superseries title and the previous autumn, Yamaguchi and Okuhara actually showed a preview of things to come when they faced off in the final of the 2012 World Junior Championship in Chiba.

The 18-year-old schoolgirl Akane Yamaguchi (pictured), having created history by registering as the youngest Superseries winner and first Japanese to grab the title at home, 2 years ago, will have another chance to further advance her mark in history books, by trying to win it the second time around – something no Japanese shuttler has ever done in any discipline at the .

“I immediately got my rhythm in the first game and that was helped with misses from my opponent,” Yamaguchi said after the match.  “I got more aggressive in the second game and I tried to push her to the baseline but my strategy went against me.  My coaches gave me a lot of advice to keep the momentum at my end and that worked to my advantage.

“In the middle of the final game, my feet got tired but I just went on.  Although winning this marathon match upped my self-confidence, the pattern is exactly the same as yesterday for the second and final games.  This part worries me a bit.”

“She was very good but that was not the reason I lost.  I just had too many mistakes at the latter part of the match,” Wang said in explanation of her loss.  “But that’s the nature of sports.  Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose.  I just have to try harder next time.”

“In the last 2 years, all I could do was to watch Japan Open from the sideline with my regular clothes on,” said the very driven Nozomi Okuhara (pictured) at her post-match press conference.  “It’s been 3 years since my last Japan Open appearance. I feel extremely happy to have the chance to play on court, in my Japan logo-inscribed uniform.

“I will go out there tomorrow against Akane with the same mentality as I had against fellow Japanese Mitani yesterday, and that is to give it all my best.  Akane has been referred to as ‘Super High-school Girl’ and has been referred to as someone who has pulled Japan badminton up to world class stature.  I hope to earn the same respect.”

In the men’s singles event, Viktor Axelsen (pictured below) displayed very good form winning against Chinese Taipei’s Chou Tien Chen in two straight games.

“I lost to him at the last French Open so I felt it was important to win today to prove to myself that I learned from experience,” said Axelsen.  “The match against Chen Long at the World Championships gave me more confidence to go up against Chinese players.  So let’s see how it goes tomorrow in the finals.”

Viktor will be battling for the crown against Lin Dan, who edged past Indonesia’s Tommy Sugiarto in two straight games, both of 21-17.

“To be honest, I was already very tired at 14-18 in the second game and I didn’t really care so much whether I won or lost.  Luckily I made it to 21 first,” said Lin Dan after the match.

World #1s Lee Yong Dae / Yoo Yeon Seong (pictured below) really made their opponents – world #11 Pratama/Suwardi of Indonesia – feel the 10 places that separate them in world ranking.  The Koreans opened up a whopping 11-2 lead in the first game.  Although the underdogs managed to get closer after the interval, they still fell short 16-21.  The Indonesians managed to get their own 5-point lead at 15-10 in the second game, but after a service fault, they lost their concentration and with it went the second game, by an identical score to the first game.

“We controlled the pace at the beginning and we were able to produce quality drive shots,” said Lee Yong Dae after the match.

“The arena’s ambiance has changed since yesterday, so it was easier to concentrate,” added his partner Yoo.

“We gave our best knowing that we have very strong opponents.  We were moving far too fast.  That caused us quite a lot of mistakes,” explained Pratama about their loss.

In the other men’s doubles semi-final, China’s Fu Haifeng / Zhang Nan (pictured below) were able to play in their favourite formation, with Zhang at the net and Fu taking care of the backcourt.  This gave the Chinese pair more attacking opportunities, leaving the Japanese opponents Kenichi Hayakawa / Hiroyuki Endo (pictured bottom) on the defensive most of the time, and the contest ended in just 34 minutes.

“The shuttle is very slow in this arena. Knowing that everybody wanted to be the attacking team, I tried to make sure that we were the ones on the offensive,” said Zhang afterward.

“There was so much pressure at the serve-receive and that made it very difficult today,” Hayakawa explained after losing the match.  “Compared to last year, our skills have improved, but this match shows that there is still a big skill gap that we need to fill so we will practice a lot.”

“It wasn’t a satisfying performance, and we need to think about what it will take for us to be at par with the world’s best,” added Endo.

Denmark’s mixed doubles pair Fischer Nielsen/Pedersen breezed through against Korea’s Kim Ki Jung / Shin Seung Chan to earn a spot in the finals.  They will be joined by the power house pair of ZhaoYunlei / Zhang Nan (pictured below).  Three of the 4 mixed finalists: Zhao, Pedersen and Zhang will appear twice on finals day

“Yes, I’m very happy to appear in two finals tomorrow and I thank both my partners for this,” said Christinna Pedersen as she contemplated her scheduled two Sunday appearances.  “I am very lucky to have both Joachim and Kamilla at my side.  Without them, I will be nothing.”

“Both of our physicality will be tested tomorrow.  There will be very short break and very tough opponents for both so we’ll try to get as much rest as possible,” said Zhang Nan.

Zhang will be partnering with Fu Haifeng and facing the world #1 pair in his second final but Zhao Yunlei is contesting the women’s doubles final in her first ever tournament with Zhong Qianxin.

Finals line-up
XD: Zhang Nan / Zhao Yunlei (CHN) [1] vs. Joachim Fischer Nielsen / Christinna Pedersen (DEN) [5]
WS: Akane Yamaguchi (JPN) vs. Nozomi Okuhara (JPN)
MS: Lin Dan (CHN) [5] vs. Viktor Axelsen (DEN) [7]
WD: Christinna Pedersen / Kamilla Rytter Juhl (DEN) [4] vs. Zhao Yunlei / Zhong Qianxin (CHN) [8]
MD: Lee Yong Dae / Yoo Yeon Seong (KOR) [1] vs. Fu Haifeng / Zhang Nan (CHN) [5]

Click here for complete semi-final 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