Saturday, August 26, 2017
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO
Carolina Marin’s three-year reign at major championships came to an end at the hands of Nozomi Okuhara in the quarter-finals of the TOTAL BWF World Championships 2017 today.
The Spaniard, winner of the last two Women’s Singles World titles and the Rio Olympics gold, was worn down by the retrieving brilliance of the diminutive Japanese, who outlasted her 21-18 14-21 21-15 in 93 minutes.
Okuhara faces India’s Saina Nehwal, who withstood a high-intensity challenge from local hope Kirsty Gilmour, 21-19 18-21 21-15.
The Marin versus Okuhara contest, as expected, was a fierce battle of wills. The opening game was as dramatic as anything seen on the day. Momentum shifted unexpectedly. Okuhara shot off to a 17-7 lead, but Marin buckled down, getting 11 of the next 13 points to nearly catch up with the Japanese. Okuhara wriggled out to take the game, but Marin was in her element, and she grabbed the reins to take the second and an early lead in the decider.
With the match hinging on small margins, the two tested each other in marathon rallies, wary of attempting the risk of all-out attack. Scores were level at 14 when Okuhara, like an expert marathoner timing her break from the pack, decided to make a dash in the home stretch. The Japanese started to go for the lines, and immediately the momentum shifted. It was Marin, uncharacteristically, who began to wilt under the Japanese’s late assault, and the end came without her trademark fightback.
“It’s tough for me to lose in the quarter-finals,” said Marin. “I have to learn from that. The key was when I was leading 15-14 in the third game, and I lost focus.”
“In the second game my speed was down, and she kept her speed and power,” Okuhara said. “I told myself to keep fighting. I have my target set on the gold medal.”
Nehwal took on an inspired Kirsty Gilmour, and it was all Nehwal could do to stay level as the Scot surprised her with her all-out aggressive game. The exertion, though, began to tell as Gilmour went behind early in the third and never recovered. India were soon assured of their second medal.
“I was expecting a tough fight, but I was surprised she was playing so quick,” said Nehwal. “There were a lot of difficult rallies. She was pepped up and motivated, she put up a great show. I didn’t expect she would last so long in the third game.”
Nehwal had stumbled out early in the Rio Olympics a year ago, and the semi-final marked her return on the big stage.
“Only I know what I went through. I shouldn’t have gone to Rio, I didn’t know I had a major injury. The belief of my parents and coach helped me get back. I still have tendinitis in the (right) knee…
“I wasn’t sure of a medal, I had a difficult draw. Reaching the semi-finals is a great feeling, but tomorrow will be a tough match.”
Meanwhile, Men’s Singles defending champion Chen Long stayed on track for his third straight World title, besting compatriot Tian Houwei 21-12 21-17. Up next for the champion is Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen, who fought his way past Chinese Taipei’s Chou Tien Chen in three games.
Tense Win for Danes
The doubles saw several close contests; the closest being Danes Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl’s tense victory over Japan’s Shiho Tanaka/Koharu Yonemoto, 21-5 18-21 27-25.
The Japanese recovered from a first-game mauling to force a third, which teetered on the brink with each pair sniffing victory, only to have their opponents draw level each time. The Japanese saved two match points and earned the next three; Pedersen and Rytter Juhl didn’t let them get away and drew on all their resources to stay alive. It finally went the Danes’ way on their fourth match point.
“With the many match points that we had, we were just telling ourselves that we needed to keep on attacking and not be passive, and in the end I am happy that it worked for us,” said Rytter Juhl.
The Danes face another Japanese pair, Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota (featured image), in the semi-finals; the Japanese having prevailed in yet another thriller over Korea’s Chang Ye Na/Lee So Hee, 21-14 25-27 21-19.
China Strike it Big
Men’s Doubles saw unexpected results, with China shocking the No.2 and No.3 seeds.
The year’s most successful pair, Marcus Fernaldi Gideon/Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo, fell in a tense three-game affair to China’s Chai Biao/Hong Wei: 11-21 21-19 22-20.
Sometime later, Liu Cheng/Zhang Nan survived a match point to overcome Denmark’s Mathias Boe/Carsten Mogensen, 20-22 21-11 22-20. With the two Chinese pairs facing each other in the semi-finals, China are assured of at least a silver.
In a session of marathon matches, the exception was Mixed Doubles. England’s Chris and Gabrielle Adcock recovered to dominate Hong Kong’s Tang Chun Man/Tse Ying Suet, 16-21 21-13 21-16, while China’s Zheng Siwei/Chen Qingchen had it all their way against Indonesia’s Praveen Jordan/Debby Susanto, 21-16 21-12.