Badminton: Axelsen, Yamaguchi emerge triumphant in Malaysia

Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen retained his Malaysia Open title with a straight-set win over Japan's Kodai Naraoka. PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR – World No. 1s Viktor Axelsen and Akane Yamaguchi, the 2022 World Tour Finals singles champions, picked up from where they left off by winning the Malaysia Open at the Axiata Arena on Sunday.

Yamaguchi came from behind to beat South Korea’s fourth-ranked An Se-young 12-21, 21-19, 21-11 in the women’s singles final, while Axelsen defeated Japan’s rising star Kodai Naraoka 21-6, 21-15 to retain his men’s singles title.

Axelsen, who pocketed US$87,500 (S$115,000) for clinching the season opener, reeled off nine points in a row in the first game. He then fended off Naraoka’s fightback in the second game to win in 40 minutes.

“For me, it is a good thing to go in and try to play high pace consistently. Don’t give him any chance, and show him that if he wants to win, he needs to work really hard,” said the 29-year-old Dane, who won eight titles in 2022.

“Congratulations to Kodai for having a fantastic week, he is an upcoming player, we will see much more from him.”

In the 2022 final, Axelsen also beat another Japanese player, former world No. 1 Kento Momota, who pulled out of this tournament with the flu.

World No. 7 Naraoka, who had also lost to Axelsen in semi-finals of the top-tier World Tour Finals in December, was playing in his first Super 1000 tournament, the second-highest tier in Badminton World Federation World Tour events.

The 21-year-old, who had stretched Axelsen to three games with his speed a month ago, tried to overcome the Danish giant with a similar strategy.

But he looked drained after an exhausting campaign which saw him rack up over six hours of play in four previous matches.

He had beaten two home favourites, world No. 2 Lee Zii Jia and Ng Tze Yong, India’s H.S. Prannoy and Thailand’s ninth-ranked Kunlavut Vitidsarn en route to the final.

“This week I played many long matches and was really tired. Axelsen’s smashes were really powerful and I wasn’t able to cope,” said Naraoka, who received US$42,500 for finishing as runner-up.

In the mixed doubles final, China’s world champions Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong also started 2023 the way they ended 2022 – with a title.

The top-ranked duo, who had also won December’s World Tour Finals, defeated Japan’s fourth-ranked Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino 21-19, 21-11 for their fourth successive Malaysia Open crown.

The Chinese pair, who won 10 titles in 2022, are on a 20-match winning run.

They last lost to Watanabe and Higashino, who prevailed in the Japan Open semi-finals last September, but they were unable to repeat that success in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday.

China also triumphed in the women’s doubles final, with world No. 1s Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan beating South Korea’s Baek Ha-na and Lee Yu-lim 21-16, 21-10.

Indonesia claimed the men’s doubles crown after top-ranked duo Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto defeated China’s Liang Weikeng and Wang Chang 21-18, 18-21, 21-13. AFP

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