Singapore Badminton Open 2019

Big guns reach finals

Chinese Taipei's world No. 1 Tai Tzu-ying smashing at Japan's Akane Yamaguchi in their semi-final at the Singapore Indoor Stadium yesterday. She has won their last three meetings.
Chinese Taipei's world No. 1 Tai Tzu-ying smashing at Japan's Akane Yamaguchi in their semi-final at the Singapore Indoor Stadium yesterday. She has won their last three meetings.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

'Relaxed' Tai recovers to outlast Yamaguchi, Momota continues streak against Axelsen

Down one game and facing four match points in the second game of yesterday's women's singles semi-finals, Chinese Taipei'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 reach 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.

LATE REVIVAL

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.

KENTO MOMOTA, Japanese world No. 1, on bouncing back from a huge deficit in the second game against Dane Viktor Axelsen.

Tai leads their head-to-head record 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 today'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."

The men's singles final will see top-ranked Kento Momota face Indonesian Anthony Sinisuka Ginting. Momota took the first game of his semi-final 21-15 against world No. 3 Viktor Axelsen but then saw the Dane race to a 16-6 lead.

The Japanese 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 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.

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."


SINGAPORE OPEN

Finals: StarHub Ch201, 1pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 14, 2019, with the headline 'Big guns reach finals'. Print Edition | Subscribe