Badminton: Giving hope for Olympic gold

Okuhara wins battle of former No. 1s against speedy Marin in sport's return from hiatus

A joyous Nozomi Okuhara of Japan after beating Carolina Marin of Spain 21-19, 21-17 at the Denmark Open in Odense. It was the Rio 2016 bronze medallist's first badminton tour title after six recent straight losses in finals.
A joyous Nozomi Okuhara of Japan after beating Carolina Marin of Spain 21-19, 21-17 at the Denmark Open in Odense. It was the Rio 2016 bronze medallist's first badminton tour title after six recent straight losses in finals.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

ODENSE (Denmark) • Nozomi Okuhara showed that she will be a strong contender to win badminton gold on home soil at next year's Tokyo Games after defeating reigning Olympic champion Carolina Marin 21-19, 21-17 at the Denmark Open yesterday.

The 2017 world champion returned to the winners' circle after a two-year absence in style, having last won a title at the 2018 Hong Kong Open.

"I'm happy! Long time no title!" Okuhara, a bronze medallist at the Rio Olympics, told the Badminton World Federation (BWF) website.

"Compared to other opponents, Marin is faster and has a harder attack. I was focused on defence and footwork, and my feet moved very well today. Overall the match went well for me."

The world No. 4 did not drop a single game in five matches en route to the title at the prestigious US$750,000 (S$1.02 million) Super 750 tournament.

The event marked the resumption of the BWF World Tour season following a seven-month shutdown due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Marin was dominant in their last meeting, winning their Indonesia Masters round-of-16 clash in January 21-13, 21-15 to take a 9-7 head-to-head lead into the showdown.

A repeat looked on the cards when the three-time world champion went up 5-3 but she never led again in the opening game after Okuhara drew level at 5-5.

It was a similar story in the second game, when Marin held a 2-0 advantage. But Okuhara won the next three points and never looked back. The 25-year-old sealed the win in the battle between two former top-ranked stars after 56 minutes with a rare smash winner.

Victory over the Spaniard at the Odense Sports Park ended her losing run in finals, having finished runner-up the last six times.

That streak included last year's loss to Tai Tzu-ying here. She also fell to the Taiwanese star at last year's Singapore Open title decider.

World No. 6 Marin said her inconsistency cost her.

"I think the main reason was the mistakes I made. I made all the winners but also all the errors. The game was on me," said the 27-year-old. "It was frustrating. I knew during the game that I was giving her all the points. I tried to keep calm but today wasn't my day. I couldn't come back."

Earlier, Okuhara's compatriots fought it out in an all-Japan women's doubles final. Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota beat Mayu Matsumoto and Wakana Nagahara 21-10, 16-21, 21-18.

English duo Marcus Ellis and Chris Langridge won the men's doubles title, defeating Russian pair Vladimir Ivanov and Ivan Sozonov 20-22, 21-17, 21-18.

Anders Antonsen, silver medallist at last year's world championships, claimed the men's singles title with a 18-21, 21-19, 21-12 win over compatriot Rasmus Gemke.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2020, with the headline 'Giving hope for Olympic gold'. Print Edition | Subscribe