Three first-time champions – the most unlikely of them Russia – hoisted the doubles titles as curtains fell on an absorbing, and somewhat unpredictable, YONEX All England Open Badminton Championships today.
As the colossal frame of Vladimir Ivanov caressed the shuttle into the front court for the winning point in Men’s Doubles, fans roared in approval at the 21-23 21-18 21-16 verdict that gave Russia its first World Superseries title – and was a fitting finale to the 106-year-old tournament which kicked off the race to this season’s Dubai World Superseries Finals.
Ivanov and partner, Ivan Sozonov, could scarcely fathom their historic achievement and, after an emotional embrace, the pair spontaneously broke into the haka dance (featured image) – more familiar in rugby circles – to the further delight of a packed Barclaycard Arena.
“We have lost five times in the first round here…There is a joke in Russia that if we win one match we will win the tournament. This is a miracle,” declared Ivanov.
As in the semi-final, the unseeded Russians came from behind to prevail. However, they initially threatened to take the opener, leading 14-9 until a combination of “nervousness” and a dogged fightback from Japan’s Hiroyuki Endo and Kenichi Hayakawa snatched the advantage from them.
Thereafter, the Russians seized the attacking momentum with Ivanov unleashing steep smashes whenever there was any lift. Sozonov was equally lethal around the net and at one game apiece there was all to play for. Scores remained close until 7-7 at which point Russia grabbed the lead and, despite the desperate best from across the net, held on for a famous result.
“This is our first Superseries final and to win at the best tournament in the world makes us very proud and so excited. This is a new page for Russia and a wonderful new experience for us which we hope will come again,” said Sozonov, explaining their indulgence in the haka was because “it’s an impressive dance to us”.
On the sidelines, Endo and Hayakawa slowly and sadly packed their racket bags. The Russians’ joy had come at their heart-breaking expense. The highly-rated Japanese had given their all…but yet again came up short in their third Birmingham final.
Worse still, the painful questions about when – or if – they will win a World Superseries hung in the air. So shattering was the outcome that they struggled to answer the media’s probing queries, escaping quickly from public glare.
Earlier in the afternoon, the All England fraternity welcomed two other pairs to its hallowed honour roll.
Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi reinforced their return to form after an indifferent 2015, crushing the threat from Chinese veteran Yu Yang and the youthful, Tang Yuanting. The customary war of attrition between these two countries in Women’s Doubles never materialised as the Japanese easily won, 21-10 21-12; preventing Tang from retaining the title she claimed with Bao Yixin last year.
“We have never done well here before so we are very happy to win today, especially against these opponents. We saved our best for last,” said Takahashi.
Her pint-sized partner agreed, adding “We needed to put pressure on them and we did that early.”
The pair, which has won other World Superseries events, said starting the year on such a high is a huge boost of confidence as they eye the Rio Olympic Games.
“These matches are great preparation for Rio and we think this result is a good sign that we are getting back to our best,” added Takahashi.
Indonesia’s Praveen Jordan and Debby Susanto restored the Mixed Doubles prize to familiar territory, comfortably beating Danish stalwarts, Joachim Fischer Nielsen and Christinna Pedersen, 21-12 21-17.
Prior to last year, Indonesia had enjoyed a hat-trick in All England Mixed Doubles, thanks to Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir. Today that country savoured glory in the category once more as Jordan and Susanto soaked in their first World Superseries title.
“We are so happy to be All England champions. This was a tough tournament and today is a dream come true. Today we tried not to think about it being a final – but just another match,” said Susanto, thanking fans in the stadium and back at home for their overwhelming support.
“Without you this would not be possible.”