Badminton: Top-ranked Tai Tzu-ying saves 4 match points to beat Akane Yamaguchi and reach S'pore Open final

Tai Tzu-ying of Taiwan in action against Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi during the Singapore Badminton Open women’s singles semi-final at Singapore Indoor Stadium, on April 13, 2019.
Tai Tzu-ying of Taiwan in action against Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi during the Singapore Badminton Open women’s singles semi-final at Singapore Indoor Stadium, on April 13, 2019.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Down one game and facing four match points in the second game of the women's singles semi-finals on Saturday (April 13), Taiwan's top ranked Tai Tzu-ying still had the capacity and ability to feel "relaxed".

Her opponent, world No. 4 Akane Yamaguchi, had been one step ahead for most of the match and with a 20-16 lead, was poised to reached the Singapore Badminton Open final.

But in front of 5,200 fans at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, Tai mounted a stunning recovery to prevail 15-21, 24-22, 21-19 in 57 minutes of thrilling action.

In the final points of the second game, Yamaguchi was left sprawled in an exhausted heap as Tai dragged her from front to back with pinpoint lifts and drop shots.

A grinning Tai, 24, said: "We just played against each other last week so I adopted a more relaxed mindset today and tried to enjoy every shot while on court.

"We are familiar with each other's styles so it was more about court control. We are both short players (she is 1.63m and Yamaguchi is 1.56m) who are prepared to run about on the court but maybe I am fitter because I am slightly taller than her?"

The poor Japanese ended up winning more points (62-60) and even led 17-14 in the deciding game but still lost her third match to Tai in just over a month, after also being denied in last week's Malaysia Open final and last month's All-England Open semi-final.

Tai leads their head-to-head 10-7.

Yamaguchi, 21, paid tribute to Tai's mental fortitude: "At the end of the second game, she had a 'nothing-to-lose' mentality and started to come forward and play more aggressively... and that was the turning point of the game.

"She is very good at everything, her speed, her mentality."

In Sunday's final, Tai will face another Japanese in the form of world No. 3 Nozomi Okuhara, who eased past India's P. V. Sindhu 21-7, 21-11 in the other last-four encounter.

Despite a 4-4 head-to-head record against Tai, Okuhara, 24, acknowledged the mammoth task ahead. She said: "I don't think I will have an advantage because I had a shorter match today. Tai Tzu-ying is an all-rounder with speed, power, and skill. It will be a tough final but I am really looking forward to it."

The men's singles final will see top ranked Kento Momota face Indonesian Anthony Sinisuka Ginting.

Momota had taken the first game 21-15 of his semi-final against world No. 3 Viktor Axelsen but then saw the Dane race to a 16-6 lead.

The Japanese and reigning world champion found another gear though and despite receiving a yellow card for time-wasting, won 15 out of the next 17 points to triumph 21-18 and extend his winning streak over Axelsen to 11 matches, a remarkable run that dates back to 2014.

Ninth-ranked Ginting earned his spot after beating defending champion, Taiwanese world No. 4 Chou Tien-chen 21-17, 18-21, 21-14 in the other semi-final.

Momota, who holds a 6-4 record over Ginting, said: "In the second game, Viktor was always smashing and I could not return well. But towards the end, he could be thinking we would be going into the third game and maybe lost his focus, and that was why I could come back.

"I watched Ginting's semi-final and his attacking power is extraordinary. I must prepare to come up with a very good defence, but at the same time I must be pro-active to attack. It will be a difficult match."