Saturday, August 26, 2017
TEXT BY GAYLE ALLEYNE | BADMINTONPHOTO AND SHI TANG
A commanding demolition by Viktor Axelsen today toppled the mighty Chen Long from his perch at the summit of the BWF World Championships.
The imposing Dane bossed his way to a 21-9 21-10 rout of the two-time defending Men’s Singles titan, striding into the finals of the TOTAL BWF World Championships 2017 in Glasgow, Scotland.
The confident and dominant display left Chen astonished and, in a classy move, applauding his conqueror and acknowledging he was totally outplayed by an athlete tipped to be the next big star.
“Congratulations to Viktor for getting to the final. He played the perfect game,” said the 28-year-old Chinese contemplating his demise.
The much-anticipated fireworks failed to materialise inside Emirates Arena as Axelsen rocketed into the ascendancy and never allowed his more experienced rival to get into the match, not even early in the second game when Chen led with a few quick points. The winner controlled all aspects of the encounter and was particularly ruthless with his piercing smashes which racked up point after point, including one to secure the first game.
Snippets of the changeover conversation between Axelsen and his coach revealed the powerful player was sure the match was his for the taking – and he duly took it to increasingly boisterous chants of “Let’s go Denmark, let’s go!” from flag-waving fans.
It was an out-of-sorts and tentative Chen who ultimately smashed wide, yet again, to give Axelsen victory in just 39 minutes, thus ensuring there will be a new champion tomorrow in Glasgow.
A year after standing on the third step of the Olympic Games rostrum when Chen claimed gold, 23-year-old Axelsen was undoubtedly on top now.
“I feel so happy. I can’t believe I just beat Chen Long in straight games. I never expected to win that comfortably. I made very few errors,” declared the jubilant winner; the first European to reach the Men’s Singles final in 16 years.
“I am so proud but I am not done yet. I have another match to focus on tomorrow.
“Denmark is a small country but I am very proud that we can compete with the bigger countries. It’s a dream come true. Ever since I was a little boy, I dreamed of (being in) a World Championships final!”
Nozomi Okuhara was also in history-making form as she roared back from a game down to beat Saina Nehwal in a pulsating Women’s Singles semi-final.
The 12-21 21-17 21-10 result etched the 22-year-old’s name in the records as the first woman from her nation to advance to the World Championships singles final. At the same time, her comeback rescued Japan from a dismal morning ‘at the office’. It was the lone success which her team celebrated in their three semi-finals in the early session.
However, things did not begin brightly for the diminutive athlete as Nehwal poured on the pressure from the outset, exhibiting great shot variety and deception as well as sturdy defence to snatch the initiative. By contrast, Okuhara was sluggish and was caught unaware as her Indian rival fired winners of differing lengths from all parts of the court.
The switch of ends saw a more determined Okuhara competing on level terms with Nehwal; the energy-sapping exertions drawing grunts from both players. At 17-17, Okuhara made a decisive push to force a decider. Suddenly, the tide shifted and it was Nehwal whose stamina wilted perilously as Okuhara raced ahead 11-3. That was soon 18-7 and then end came quickly thereafter.
“I am very tired but happy. I was struggling but I beat another great player. I do not want to stop at the final. I want to win,” declared the Japanese No.7 seed.
Nehwal, who has surprised fans with her resilience upon returning from a serious knee injury last summer, chose to see the silver lining in her performance.
“I am happy to get to the semi-finals but naturally disappointed to lose after being a game up. I gave it my best and I am pleased with that.
“She started to win the long rallies after the first game and, in the third game, she was everywhere and I was confused about what shot to play. She was getting back everything,” said the 2015 World Championships silver medallist.
Elsewhere, Indonesia enjoyed success in both Mixed Doubles and Men’s Doubles as Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir as well as Mohammad Ahsan and Rian Agung Saputro triumphed in their respective semi-finals. The Rio 2016 gold medallists defeated Hong Kong’s Lee Chun Hei/Chau Hoi Wah (21-16 21-13) while their unseeded team-mates dismantled Takeshi Kamura/Keigo Sonoda of Japan (21-12 21-15); giving Ahsan an opportunity to defend the Men’s Doubles crown which he won with Hendra Setiawan in 2015.
“Communication was the key to our success. Our aim today was to slow down the game because the Japanese like to play fast,” said Ahsan, who has earned his fourth World Championships medal with a third different partner.
In Women’s Doubles, Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan again had the measure of Japan’s Olympic champions, Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi, romping into the final 21-17 21-15.
“We needed to change our tactics to get back into the match but we couldn’t figure out what we should do,” conceded a disappointed Takahashi.