ASIAN CHAMPS Finals – Short match ends a long streak

Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi became the first non-Chinese pair in over a decade to be crowned Asian Champions in women’s doubles but the last match of the day provided the thrills.

By Don Hearn.  Photos: Badmintonphoto (archives)

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The last time a non-Chinese women’s doubles pair won the Badminton Asia Championships was back in 2005.  That was actually the end of a 3-year streak by Korea’s Lee Kyung Won, who only had to face any Chinese opponents on one of the three occasions.

While the Chinese team knew on Friday that their streak had been capped at 10, it was not until Sunday in Wuhan, that we found out that world #1 Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi (pictured top) would be the first Japanese pair ever to claim that title. They beat their team-mates Naoko Fukuman / Kurumi Yonao (pictured right), who had ousted the highest-ranked Chinese pair in the quarter finals but seemed to have little left after one marathon and one ultramarathon match.

Fukuman and Yonao were coming off back-to-back matches of one hour, 57 minutes and two hours, 41 minutes.  This one was still short of the hour mark when the top seeds took the winning point.

The defeat had to be heart-breaking for the runners-up.  Not only did they miss another chance at their first major title but the loss also meant the end of their bid for a berth in the Rio Olympics.  A win would have put them into the top 8, where they would need to be to get a ticket as a second Japanese pair.  Instead, that spot will go to Korea’s Jang Ye Na and Lee So Hee, who lost to Matsutomo/Takahashi in Saturday’s semi-final.

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Shorter streak, longest game

Korea’s only winners, for the second straight week, are world #1 Lee Yong Dae and Yoo Yeon Seong (pictured).  Together and separately, these two men have accounted for the last four consecutive Asian titles, as well as for six of the last nine, although each has won with three different partners.

In the final, though, it was far from easy.  Chinese youngsters Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen, who had lost to Yoo in the 2014 final in Gimcheon, were able to force the Koreans to lift the third shot almost every time they served and this translated into saving 7 straight match points in the second game.

The Koreans also put incredible pressure on the Chinese servers, helped by Lee Yong Dae’s ability to bounce the shuttle off the tape on what seemed like nearly every return.  The Chinese felt the pressure, though, and finally, trailing 26-27, with a net kill opportunity, they pushed long and gifted the top seeds the match and the title.

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In the mixed doubles, Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei were a week later than Lee/Yoo in claiming their first title of the year.  They beat Indonesia’s Tontowi Ahmad / Liliyana Natsir in three games.

Mixed doubles was one of two matches that were a repeat of the 2014 Asian Games finals.  In women’s singles, though, Wang Yihan ended a longer wait.  She won one Grand Prix Gold title last year but this was by far her biggest title since the Incheon gold.

In fact, Wang Yihan’s last four titles have come with wins in the final against Li Xuerui (pictured bottom).  She also beat Li in the Incheon final, and at the 2014 Singapore Open and last year’s Chinese Taipei Open.

In the men’s singles final, Lee Chong Wei won his fourth straight match against world #1 Chen Long (pictured right) to take his first Asian title in ten years.  The last time Chen beat him was in last year’s World Championship final.

Final results
XD:  Zhang Nan / Zhao Yunlei (CHN) [1] beat Tontowi Ahmad / Liliyana Natsir (INA) [2]  16-21, 21-9, 21-17
MS:  Lee Chong Wei (MAS) [3] beat Chen Long (CHN) [1]  21-17, 15-21, 21-13
WS:  Wang Yihan (CHN) [6] beat Li Xuerui (CHN) [1]  21-14, 13-21, 21-16
WD:  Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi (JPN) [1] beat Naoko Fukuman / Kurumi Yonao (JPN)  21-13, 21-15
MD:  Lee Yong Dae / Yoo Yeon Seong (KOR) [1] beat Li Junhui / Liu Yuchen (CHN)  21-14, 28-26

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