Monday, August 26, 2019
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTON PHOTO
A great heist nearly came to pass in an absorbing opening women’s doubles final at the TOTAL BWF World Championships 2019 yesterday.
A year ago, Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota could feel the touch of gold before compatriots Mayu Matsumoto and Wakana Nagahara snatched it from them from two match points down. Yesterday the dramatic climax was reversed, with Fukushima and Hirota about to exact their revenge, and with interest. Defending champions Matsumoto and Nagahara had five match points; Fukushima and Hirota picked off one after another, until it was level. The buzz in the stadium grew louder with every point won, reaching fever pitch when last year’s beaten finalists went up championship point.
One more winner, and one of the most extraordinary comebacks in a World Championships final would have been complete.
It was not to be. Wakana Nagahara, despite the champions missing one point after another, stayed cheerful and encouraged Matsumoto; her lanky partner responded, lifting her game in time to fire the final winner: 21-11 20-22 23-21 on the 85th minute.
“Last year we went in to the final without really expecting to win. This year we were the defending champions, and we wanted to retain the title, so we’re not really surprised,” said Matsumoto.
“Yes, we did lose one match point after another. Our opponents were really good today, they caught up quickly. We were a bit nervous at the end but we pulled ourselves together in time. They kept getting close, they never gave up, and I hope we can learn from their fighting spirit,” added her partner.
The match itself was the most closely fought of all the finals. Japanese women’s doubles pairs are renowned for their staying power, their interminable rallies. But it was a different match that panned out – attack versus defence. There were no subtle touches, no battles of attrition, few baseline-to-baseline rallies.
Eventually, it was Matsumoto’s greater firepower and her steeper hits, coupled with Nagahara’s opportunism, that swung the match in the third game for the champions. Fukushima and Hirota had demonstrated sterling qualities in their great attempt to climb back from the dead. It had almost sufficed.