Australian Open champions Tang Yuanting and Ma Jin exited the Yonex Open Japan 2015 in the very first round after running into their World Championships nemeses once again.
The world No.7 pair were undone by a stellar show from Korea’s Yoo Hae Won and Go Ah Ra, who repeated their heroics from August to trip the in-form Chinese, 9-21 24-22 21-19. What made it worse for Tang and Ma was that they failed to convert two match points in the second game, opening the door just wide enough for Yoo and Goh to force their way past them.
It was a day of upsets, with Japan’s players using the home advantage to come good. Qualifier Ayumi Mine caused ripples with her victory over Singapore Open winner Sun Yu, sending the Chinese tumbling out 22-20 21-11. Minatsu Mitani (below), once ranked in the top ten but who has since slipped to No.18, achieved one of her best results in over a year by battling past India’s PV Sindhu, 21-13 17-21 21-11. World Junior champion Akane Yamaguchi sent No.8 seed Sung Ji Hyun packing with a 21-18 21-12 result, her first win over the Korean in four matches.
Two big names however survived with difficulty. Olympic champion Lin Dan had his back to the wall against Korea’s Son Wan Ho, but saved six match points to avoid his earliest World Superseries exit in many a year. Lin prevailed 17-21 25-23 21-17 in 94 minutes.
Women’s Singles World champion Carolina Marin also had her hands full, and needed 74 minutes to fight past Japan’s Yui Hashimoto, 27-29 21-15 21-18.
The highlight of the day was Yoo and Goh’s win over Ma and Tang. Tang’s blazing smashes and Ma’s astuteness at the net gave them the early advantage, but Yoo and Goh got their act together in the second and it was a close affair. The match had all the elements of a thriller, with rallies so long that it left the players doubled over in exhaustion. Still, the Chinese had their noses ahead at the end of the second. Yoo and Go’s returns to Tang’s fierce smashes eventually caused the young Chinese’s concentration to waver, and she made an uncharacteristic error on match point.
The third game was every bit as tight as the second. China appeared to have gained the critical advantage after the mid-game interval when they snatched three straight points to lead 13-11, but once again the Koreans refused to buckle. A clever drop shot by Go caught Tang flat-footed and gave the Koreans their first match point, which Go converted with a whippy smash of her own.
“We just tried to ignore the fact that we were two match points down,” said Yoo Hae Won.
“We tried to play as if we were in a final. The intensity was quite high. Although we are satisfied with our performance today, we aren’t looking too far ahead right now.”
In Women’s Singles, Saena Kawakami gave sufficient indication that she might be Japan’s next bright prospect in a battling loss to No.7 seed Wang Shixian of China. The young Japanese, winner of the New Zealand and Vietnam Opens, was not intimidated by Wang and pulled no punches in the 49-minute match. Kawakami’s pace and attack had Wang under pressure, but the Chinese had sufficient experience to pull through 21-18 21-18.
“I was looking forward to fighting with Wang Shixian as she is one of the world’s best players, but I couldn’t play my best at all and I regret that,” said Kawakami.
The slow court conditions proved to be a challenge for several players. Mitani, with her defensive game, thrived under the conditions and ground out PV Sindhu.
“The conditions are slow. I gave her a big lead in the third game and I was irritated. There were a lot of rallies but I hit into the net several times from the mid-court. It wasn’t an easy match, and she’s a good runner,” said Sindhu.
Defending champion Lee Chong Wei (above) wasn’t far from a historic first round upset in Men’s Singles, but the Malaysian pulled himself together after a slump to overcome Thailand’s Boonsak Ponsana, 10-21 21-15 21-16.
Ponsana has won only two of 25 matches against Lee – the last one coming in 2008 – but surged to a comfortable first game win and had the former No.1 on the ropes with a 12-7 lead in the third. Lee looked uncharacteristically sluggish but the change of ends helped him reverse his fortunes and he sealed his 24th win over Ponsana.
“The game changed after the change of ends,” Ponsana said. “I didn’t do anything different; he controlled the game well. I can’t explain what happened; he caught up very quickly from 7-12.”
No.8 seed Wang Zhengming (China) was one of the few seeded casualties in Men’s Singles as he went down to Hong Kong’s Hu Yun, 10-21 21-19 21-18.
In Men’s Doubles, Denmark’s Mathias Boe/Carsten Mogensen avenged their World Championships loss to China’s Liu Xiaolong/Qiu Zihan with a 21-17 21-17 result. The No.2 seeds, both recovering from a stomach infection, said they had lost a lot of weight but were yet able to control proceedings.
“The conditions are slow; it suits our style of rallying game while the Chinese were trying to push us,” said Mogensen, while his partner Boe stated that he planned to visit a doctor for his ailment.