Monday, August 13, 2018
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO
A long-standing record fell on the fifth day of the TOTAL BWF World Championships 2018 – illustrating the change in pecking order in Women’s Doubles.
China, who have won this category every year except one (1995) since 1983, were shut out of medal contention. Defending champions Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan lost a narrow battle to Indonesia’s Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu in the quarter-finals. It was China’s earliest exit ever at the World Championships.
This year’s World Championships will be remembered for, among other things, as the year in which Women’s Doubles inexorably shifted Japan’s way. Last year they had come close, with Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota finishing runners-up, but this time the Japanese were not to be denied.
Given their performances over the season, all four of Japan’s pairs were reckoned to have an equal shot at the title. In the event, it was Olympic champions Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi who fell victims to the depth of their squad, as they crashed out to younger compatriots Mayu Matsumoto and Wakana Nagahara (featured image) in the third round. The quarter-finals had three Japanese pairs – apart from Matsumoto/Nagahara, second seeds Fukushima/Hirota and fourth seeds Shiho Tanaka/Koharu Yonemoto made the cut.
The other country that did well was Indonesia. Della Destiara Haris/Rizki Amelia Pradipta went down fighting in the quarter-finals to Tanaka/Yonemoto in three games, while in the same half, Anggia Shitta Awanda/Mahadewi Istirani Ni Ketut – who stunned sixth seeds Lee So Hee/Shin Seung Chan (Korea) in the third round – were outplayed by Fukushima/Hirota.
In the top half, Polii/Rahayu, having edged Chen Qingchen/Jia Yifan in a thriller, themselves fell in a close second game to Matsumoto/Nagahara in their semi-final.
The final, between Matsumoto/Nagahara and Fukushima/Hirota, turned out to be the most thrilling of the five. The more experienced Fukushima/Hirota had things under control with a handy lead in the third game, and two match points at 20-18, but – quite uncharacteristically – they didn’t shut the door in time. Their younger compatriots sneaked in, and it was Fukushima and Hirota who had to cry bitter tears. Interestingly, Matsumoto and Nagahara have not even won a World Tour event this year – their last tournament victory was the Canada Open last July. Their victory saw the Women’s Doubles title return to Japan after 41 years, for Etsuko Toganoo/Emiko Ueno had won the crown in the inaugural year of the World Championships.
Given the dominance of Japan and a resurgence by Indonesia, there were few takeaways for other countries. Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Rawinda Prajongjai made the quarter-finals, where they fell to the eventual champions in straight games. Their compatriots, Chayanit Chaladchalam/Phataimas Muenwong, made the third round but were outclassed by Haris/Pradipta.
It will be interesting to see how Japan’s rivals respond to their dominance of Women’s Doubles.