In their third final appearance, China’s twin towers Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen have finally reached the summit of the Badminton Asia Championships.
By Don Hearn. Photos: Badmintonphoto (archives)
For a pair of 21-year-olds who only recently broke into the top 5, Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen (pictured) had been waiting quite a long time for this. Their first appearance in an Asian Championship final was way back in 2014. They were both 18 and just coming off their victory in the 2013 World Junior Championships, which they celebrated by taking the first Grand Prix Gold event of that year.
For the next couple of years, the tall Chinese youngsters were mainstays in the late rounds of Grand Prix Gold events but last year, they reached their first Superseries semi-final, then returned to the Asian continental final a couple of weeks later. This year, they made the most of their opportunity.
It’s true that pairs that have troubled them this year, like Boe/Mogensen and Gideon/Sukamuljo were not involved this week but they still had their share of tough opponents and dealt with them all convincingly. In the final, it was Wang Yilu and Huang Kaixiang who were left unable to answer the relentless pressure from the world #2, who took it in two short games.
First of the year for 2 Rio gold medallists
Both men’s singles and women’s doubles were won by gold medallists from the Rio Olympics but what was noteworthy is that for both it was the first title of 2017. Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi dropped the second game to unseeded Kim/Yoo of Korea but they stormed back to dominate the decider and top the podium for the first time since the Denmark Open.
For Chen Long (pictured), the victory was an even rarer occasion. Chen beat Lin Dan to earn his first title since Rio. In fact, the Olympic gold was itself Chen Long’s only title in the 2016 calendar year.
Team China will be very pleased to have both of their strongest men’s singles pistons firing as they head into the Sudirman Cup preparatory period. China has won six Cups in a row but they have never looked as vulnerable in the women’s events as they do this year so the resurgence of their men’s squad will help to keep the defending team’s confidence high.
2 take 4th of 2017
Tai Tzu Ying (pictured below) continued her winning streak. In Singapore earlier this month, she earned her 5th Superseries title in as many consecutive appearances. On Sunday in Wuhan, she added to those the Badminton Asia Championship title, which is also rated at Superseries level in terms of world ranking points.
Tai bounced back strongly from losing the first game 18-21 to Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi. She dominated the second game and then stayed a step ahead throughout the second half of the deciding game to win it in three.
The afternoon in Wuhan opened with Huang Yaqiong playing on her fifth straight Sunday. She won the India Open in mixed, was runner-up in mixed and women’s doubles in Malaysia, then won the Singapore Open mixed title, then lost the women’s doubles final at the China Masters prior to her appearance at the continental championships.
And for the fourth time this year, Huang Yaqiong and Lu Kai were better than their mixed doubles opponents. Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai (pictured bottom), who had been the unlucky opponents in Singapore as well, came out strong in the first game. At one point, they had opened up a 6-point lead at 14-8 but the Chinese favourites obliterated that with a 7-point run and held their nerve late in the game to go into the lead.
The second game belonged to the home shuttlers. Lu Kai just made the most of his attacking opportunities and Huang remained devastating at the net for all the loose shuttles that came her way. The whole thing was over in less than half an hour and the Thais will have to wait for their next encounter to try again for a first victory over the world #2 and now Asian Champions.
XD: Lu Kai / Huang Yaqiong (CHN)  beat Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai (THA)  21-18, 21-11
WD: Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi (JPN)  beat Kim Hye Rin / Yoo Hae Won (KOR) 21-19, 16-21, 21-10
MS: Chen Long (CHN)  beat Lin Dan (CHN)  21-23, 21-11, 21-10
WS: Tai Tzu Ying (TPE)  beat Akane Yamaguchi (JPN)  18-21, 21-11, 21-18
MD: Li Junhui / Liu Yuchen (CHN)  beat Huang Kaixiang / Wang Yilu (CHN) 21-14, 21-12