Thursday, August 24, 2017
TEXT BY GAYLE ALLEYNE | BADMINTONPHOTO
Chen Yufei underlined her growing status in the upper echelon of Women’s Singles today, ousting top seed Akane Yamaguchi in straight games at the TOTAL BWF World Championships 2017 in Glasgow.
Less than year after wresting the World Junior title, the 19-year-old showed nerves of steel in finishing off her rival 21-18 21-19, having trailed halfway through the second game.
Mixing her strokes to good effect and attacking persistently, the Chinese player gave Yamaguchi little chance to impose her will in their third-round encounter at Emirates Arena.
Both games were see-saw affairs until Chen (featured image) eked out the last three points from 18-18 in the first game and pulled away from 14-14 in the second, rebounding from 8-12 down.
“I wasn’t nervous at all. I am very excited to have beaten my opponent today. It was one of my main goals this year,” declared the ecstatic winner.
“I made some mistakes in the middle of the second game but I managed to adjust and get back to my strategy. This is definitely the biggest win of my career so far.”
One of Japan’s top contenders for this event, 20-year-old Yamaguchi was “disappointed” that she could not gain control of the match. Though acknowledging that Chen played well, she lamented her inability to get into her stride or to capitalise when she led the score.
Two other Women’s Singles athletes – Sun Yu and Pusarla V Sindhu – avoided Yamaguchi’s fate, staving off major challenges from Spain’s Beatriz Corrales and Cheung Ngan Yi of Hong Kong respectively. After cantering away with the opening game, Sun found herself in a gritty battle in which Corrales kept fighting back, saving two match points before the Chinese No.5 seed prevailed 21-11 19-21 23-21. Sun’s quarter-final opponent, India’s Pusarla, faced a similar struggle as Cheung – despite looking like almost every point had sapped her energy – refused to give up.
In fact, the No.13 seed seemed on course to upset the No.4 seed as she led 16-13 in the second game only to watch her lanky rival grab three game points. However, Cheung clawed her way to 20-20 before arguably the point of the match gave Pusarla another game point which she took. Seizing the momentum, the two-time World bronze medallist enjoyed an 11-4 advantage at the final changeover but the drama was not done. Cheung summoned one last salvo to level scores 12-12 but Pusarla dug deep to book her last-eight berth: 19-21 23-21 21-17.
Meanwhile, Men’s Singles top seed, Son Wan Ho, progressed to the quarter-finals at the expense of the mercurial Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk. The latter produced a mid-match flourish to force a decider but, as has been the case all too often, could not sustain the pressure. The Korean world No.1 triumphed 21-14 17-21 21-13 and now clashes with Kidambi Srikanth for a semi-final spot. India’s No.8 seed hardly broke a sweat in dispatching Danish young gun, Anders Antonsen, 21-14 21-18.
“It was a tough match but I am already looking forward to tomorrow. This is one of the biggest tournaments of the year and I want to do well,” said a confident Son.
Chinese superstar Lin Dan thwarted Rajiv Ouseph’s ambitions, calmly working his way back from a game down to defeat the European champion, 14-21 21-17 21-16, thus keeping hopes alive for a sixth World title, though playing a second successive 80-minute match.
By contrast, No.3 seed Viktor Axelsen and No.10 seed Tian Houwei eased into the quarter-finals. The big Dane dismissed Hong Kong’s Ng Ka Long, 21-17 21-13 in 38 minutes, while China’s Tian ended Brice Leverdez’s World Championships run with a 21-14 21-8 victory.
“My attack was quite good. I love playing here so I am happy that I have another match to look forward to tomorrow. If I play at my highest level I will be tough to beat,” declared Axelsen who faces Chou Tien Chen of Chinese Taipei for a semi-final place.
Indonesia’s Mixed Doubles pairs – Tontowi Ahmad/Liliyana Natsir and Praveen Jordan/Debby Susanto – both overcame scares to advance to the quarter-finals. The reigning Olympic champions stopped Ireland’s brother-and-sister combination, Sam and Chloe Magee (19-21 21-16 21-10) while their younger peers squeezed past India’s Pranaav Jerry Chopra/N. Sikki Reddy (20-22 21-18 21-18).
“We put up a good fight and gave everything we had. They are a fantastic pair; players we look up to. They definitely raised their level today and we tried to match that,” said Chloe.
China advanced three pairs in Mixed Doubles but one half of the reigning World champions – Zhang Nan – lost with new partner Li Yinhui. The No.4 seeds fell to Hong Kong’s Tang Chun Man/Tse Ying Suet (21-12 17-21 21-13). It will now be left to top seeds Zheng Siwei/Chen Qingchen; Lu Kai/Huang Yaqiong; or Wang Yilyu/Huang Dongping to retain gold for China in this category.
Sadly, Denmark’s Mixed Doubles fortunes were dealt a cruel blow as Joachim Fischer Nielsen broke his left ankle in the early stages of his and Christinna Pedersen’s match versus another Hong Kong duo, Lee Chun Hei/Chau Hoi Wah.
“It’s the worst feeling to see your partner in pain. He is a tough guy who has been through a lot of injuries. He tried to stand up but he couldn’t. He was screaming,” said a distraught Pedersen.
Elsewhere, Japan kept on track in Women’s Doubles with Rio 2016 gold medallists, Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi, surviving all their peers – Naoko Fukuman and Kurumi Yonao – threw at them. Another Japan outfit, Shiho Tanaka and Koharu Yonemoto, also escaped a scare to beat Bulgaria’s Stoeva sisters, Gabriela and Stefani (21-12 15-21 21-19).