JAPAN OPEN 2016 QF – Yamaguchi registers first win against Okuhara

Japanese rising star Akane Yamaguchi ended the spell against Rio bronze medallist Nozomi Okuhara in a full stadium in Tokyo on Friday. By Emzi Regala, in Tokyo. Photos (live) : […]

Japanese rising star Akane Yamaguchi ended the spell against Rio bronze medallist Nozomi Okuhara in a full stadium in Tokyo on Friday.

By Emzi Regala, in Tokyo. Photos (live) : Badmintonphoto

“One more point Akane-chan!!!” the crowd cheered after Yamaguchi earned a match point 20-19 against her local arch-rival Rio Olympic bronze medallist Nozomi Okuhara.  It would eventually require another few more nerve-racking rallies, and 2 extra points from Yamaguchi before she could finally achieve a personal milestone: her first ever victory against her compatriot Okuhara.

Just like in their Rio match, Yamaguchi started all out and quickly grabbed the first game.  At the change of courts in the second, Okuhara did not display panicky moves, and instead, methodically pushed her opponent to the baseline through her punch clears aimed at the far back end of Yamaguchi’s court. Okuhara then mixed it up with very tight net shots to get ahead at the interval 11-10.

Things seemed like a repeat pattern of their Rio encounter, Okuhara leading 17-14, but this time around Yamaguchi countered with a few impressive net shots and sharp side smashes. Yamaguchi found herself ahead but made a crucial service error, allowing Okuhara chance to level up. But unlike in Rio, this time, Yamaguchi was completely poised to register her victory.

“There was always an impression that I easily lose against Okuhara, but somehow our quarter-final match at the Rio Olympics changed all that,” Akane Yamaguchi said later, at the press conference.  “Although I lost to her at the Olympics, it gave me the belief that beating her is a very realistic possibility.  It is a big personal achievement to finally record a win against her, and it makes it even more special because I have done it here at the , in front of our home crowd and in the presence of my parents.”

This is surely a celebration for Yamaguchi, whose long journey towards her first win had to take 9 local matches, and 7 international ones against her senior teammate.

“Every match is a learning process.  There is always something different to learn each time. In Rio, I gave all my best to early in the match, but I ended up short. I have learned from that.  Today, when she was trying to push me away from the net by punching through my far backcourt, I got impatient and tried to end the rallies faster. This caused me a few errors.  I calmed myself down and was able to discipline myself enough to be extra patient. It paid out and worked really well this time.  I think I found just the right balance today,” added Yamaguchi.

Yamaguchi pointed out, though, that the tournament is not over, and she has to prepare for her semi-final tomorrow.  She promised the crowd that she would perform to the best of her abilities and to showcase her personal style.  And then quickly joked to the crowd that also needs to re-consider showcasing her personal style because her crucial service error today, as she admits, is probably the best reflection of her personal self.

Okuhara, on the other hand, plainly pointed out the simple reason for her defeat: “To put it simply, today’s result is a reflection of my current abilities.  I can’t blame the pressures of the Rio Olympics, nor the gap between tournaments, because Akane and I are both in the same circumstances. She played better and I could not match her increased intensity, so I lost my lead in the second game, and I lost the match.  We’ve played so many tournaments before, and at the back of my mind, I knew that there would come a day when she will finally defeat me.  Unfortunately, it came today.”

Akane Yamaguchi will face China’s Sun Yu in tomorrow’s semi-finals, for a chance to re-capture her Japan Open crown, which she first won in 2013, making her the youngest ever winner at 16 years and 3 months.

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