For the second week straight, a player competing without a coach has reached the semi-finals of a MetlLife BWF World Superseries event – and in the process halted one of the in-form players on tour right now.
Chinese transplant, Beiwen Zhang turned in one of the best performances of her topsy-turvy career to derail Akane Yamaguchi in their Women’s Singles quarter-final at the Yonex French Open 2016. It is the winner’s first time in the Superseries semi-finals.
The 26-year-old athlete, now representing the USA, maintained her composure to thwart her Japanese rival’s bid for a third successive crown, with Yamaguchi having won in Korea last month and last Sunday in Denmark. The 21-16 13-21 21-18 victory also put Zhang on track to emulate Thailand’s Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk who conquered the Men’s Singles field in Odense last week without the benefit of coaching.
“I’m so happy. I have lost twice to her. I watched her videos and today I was prepared to be patient,” revealed the winner.
“She was waiting for me to make mistakes and I just kept clearing the shuttle. She is short so she doesn’t really have kill shots but it was still tough and I was very tired.”
Zhang – a lone ranger at elite level – could not stop smiling as she soaked in the occasion, recalling all the challenges she faces at tournaments where she has to depend on the kindness of fellow athletes to spar with her and even for lodging. Having gotten further than ever before, she hopes she can make it count at Stade Pierre de Coubertin.
Defeated but not deflated, Yamaguchi conceded she was tired after her recent exploits but took nothing away from Zhang who was quicker than her. The 19-year-old admitted that, though leading 18-16 in the decider, she had no energy left as Zhang overhauled her with five unanswered points.
Zhang now plays China’s Sun Yu for a place in Sunday’s showdown. The latter ousted Busanan Ongbamrungphan, 21-15 22-20, while Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun and Sun’s team-mate, He Bingjiao, qualified for the other semi-final with wins over Chinese Taipei players, Tai Tzu Ying and Chiang Mei Hui respectively. However, Chinese Taipei fans can take some comfort from the showing of their Men’s Singles journeyman, Hsu Jen Hao, who – making the most of Lee Chong Wei’s withdrawal in his section of the draw – has grappled his way into the last four in Paris.
After an appalling first game in which he earned just six points, the 25-year-old shook off his nervousness to beat Son Wan Ho of Korea (6-21 21-18 21-14). His reward is a clash with China’s Shi Yuqi who conquered Jonathan Christie (12-21 21-19 21-16) as the Indonesian’s movement was hampered in the closing stages by a painful blister on his toe for which he was treated.
The other semi-final features the resurgent Lee Hyun Il of Korea and Hong Kong’s Ng Ka Long who survived a tight first game to get past Jan Jorgensen of Denmark, 27-25 21-12, to notch his third Superseries semi-final.
“I know he has a very good flat game so I intentionally took away his opportunities to play that. I felt a lot of pressure at the end of the first game and I had to remind myself to be ready for him at net – his pushing – because he has very good defence,” said the No.8 seed, adding that he must be “ready to run a lot” if he is to outfox Lee.
Meanwhile, Chinese teenager, Chen Qingchen, continued her notable rise in the top flight, progressing to both the Women’s Doubles semi-finals (with Jia Yifan) and the Mixed Doubles semi-finals (with Zheng Siwei). She and Jia showed gritty determination to repel an under-strength Kamilla Rytter Juhl/Christinna Pedersen, 21-19 21-19. The Danes fought well but, with Rytter Juhl ill, fell short as their younger opponents produced some amazing plays, including a point in the second game that took them to 14-10 up. Despite both Chen and Jia having fallen to the turf, they refused to surrender the point and somehow claimed it as the Danes hit long.
“We are keeping a low profile and studying and learning from all our opponents. The Danes are tall and more experienced. It was hard playing them at first but we are now understanding what to do,” said Jia, adding they are excited to reach a first Superseries semi-final together.
The Chinese will tackle top seeds and world No.1 duo, Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi of Japan, for a place in the final. The other semi-final pits anther Chinese pair, Huang Dongping/Li Yinhui versus No.6 seeds, Chang Ye Na/Lee So Hee of Korea. It will be a busy day for Li too as she and Zhang Nan withstood a late-night threat from Thailand’s Bodin Isara/Savitree Amitrapi, 21-14 23-21, in Mixed Doubles. They come up against their team-mates Zheng/Chen in the last four while Korean top seeds, Ko Sung Hyun/Kim Ha Na try to stop Joachim Fischer Nielsen/Christinna Pedersen of Denmark from reaching their second Superseries final in a row.
“We really want to do well here after losing early in Denmark. Also, we are defending a lot of points as champions last year,” noted Ko.
Denmark is already assured of featuring in the Men’s Doubles final as veteran duo, Mathias Boe/Carsten Mogensen, take on their younger peers, Anders Skaarup Rasmussen/Kim Astrup. The other semi-final is a repeat of last Saturday in Denmark in which giant-killing Bodin Isara and Nipitphon Phuangphuapet (Thailand) oppose Ricky Karanda Suwardi/Angga Pratama of Indonesia.