Nozomi Okuhara won her first World Superseries title but the prize continued to elude Viktor Axelsen as the Yonex Open Japan 2015 drew to a close today.
Denmark’s Axelsen, playing his fourth Superseries final, led the illustrious Lin Dan by a big margin in the third game but was unable to snatch the moment and he went down 21-19 16-21 21-19. Korea, China and Denmark split the honours in the paired events, with Lee Yong Dae/Yoo Yeon Seong, Zhao Yunlei/Zhong Qianxin and Joachim Fischer Nielsen/Christinna Pedersen winning the Men’s Doubles, Women’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles titles respectively.
Axelsen appeared well on course for a first Superseries win. Playing with poise and returning Lin Dan’s best shots, it was smooth sailing for the Dane in the second and third; Lin appeared increasingly frustrated as Axelsen’s big crosscourt smashes punched holes in his defence.
However, the Chinese superstar put the brakes on his downward slide and came up with exactly the right game at the right moment to edge ahead of Axelsen. The netplay turned just a little tighter; the lifts that much closer to the lines, and the shuttle found the corners as if controlled on a string. The title was Lin Dan’s first Superseries victory of the year and his first Yonex Open Japan title after 2007. The win will contribute significantly to his ambitions of qualifying for the Dubai World Superseries Finals in December.
“He played really well when he was down,” said Axelsen. “I struggled to find high pace and to get the attack. His lifts were good quality and that made it hard for me to get anything to work with. He played some good counters and some surprising shots. I tried to attack, but his shots were good quality. He played a more clever game, didn’t do many unforced errors.”
The Women’s Singles final, between Japanese of similar physical stature and playing styles, was expected to be a long match but Nozomi Okuhara shut out Akane Yamaguchi in straight games. After a long battle in the first, Yamaguchi appeared worn down by her opponent’s ceaseless energy. Okuhara won her first match point after a 32-stroke rally and she quickly converted: 21-18 21-12.
“To be honest, I was a bit tired after yesterday’s match,” said Yamaguchi. “I’ve never beaten her. I feel Okuhara thinks about badminton all the time. Maybe I need to be like her too.”
“I know Akane has a good parallel game, so I tried to prevent her from playing that style. I could keep my pace and followed my tactics well,” said Okuhara.
Joachim Fischer Nielsen and Christinna Pedersen did what very few pairs have done in recent times – beat Zhang Nan/Zhao Yunlei in a major final.
In a final that had a range of dramatic elements, the Danes breasted the tape ahead of the Chinese.
It was a final unlike most other Mixed Doubles encounters on such a high stage. Both the men – Fischer and Zhang Nan – faltered frequently and it was the women who kept the match alive for their teams. Pedersen in particular had a sensational match, and it was her steadiness and creativity that swung the game in favour of the Danes.
Pedersen’s tight serves, skimming the net, helped Denmark work their way back in after a first game loss. Zhang Nan was given few opportunities to explode with his jump smash, and Zhao was kept away from the net. The Danes earned a big lead in the third at 17-11 with Zhang pulling up with a right knee niggle. With the end in sight, Fischer again faltered, enabling the Chinese to go match point up at 20-19 thanks to Zhao’s energetic presence at the net.
Rather ironically, it was then Zhao’s turn to falter at match point as she served into the net. Fischer returned the favour by netting his own serve, until finally, Pedersen stepped in once more and closed out the match for the Danes: 17-21 21-18 23-21.
“I had no energy left during the match, I was struggling to keep my head going,” said Fischer. “It was a tough battle, to keep going all the time. I’m getting old, I also get nervous, because I won’t get many chances. It’s a big win, it’s the Olympic (qualifying) season, all the top pairs were here. It’s a great feeling. I’m 36, I’m a little bit emotional that I can play at this level. I’m proud of that.”
The Men’s Doubles final was a dramatic affair, with Lee/Yoo pulling off a narrow first game win and having to slug it out in the second against China’s Zhang Nan/Fu Haifeng. The Chinese caught up from 13-17 and it went down the wire from there. After saving match point at 19-20, Korea had seven match points; each was saved until Lee came up with a delicate cross net shot that caught his opponents off-guard. The eighth match point was converted, 21-19 29-27, enabling them to retain their title, the only defending champions to do so.
Zhao Yunlei recovered from the disappointment of losing the Mixed Doubles final and helped her young partner Zhong Qianxin to the Women’s Doubles title. The Chinese duo overcame Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl, 21-12 21-16.
Click here for results