Singapore Badminton Open 2018

Liliyana denied farewell victory

Malaysia's Goh Soon Huat and Shevon Jemie Lai celebrating after taming Olympic champions Liliyana Natsir (above) and Tontowi Ahmad of Indonesia in the Singapore Badminton Open mixed doubles final at the Singapore Indoor Stadium yesterday.
Malaysia's Goh Soon Huat and Shevon Jemie Lai celebrating after taming Olympic champions Liliyana Natsir and Tontowi Ahmad of Indonesia in the Singapore Badminton Open mixed doubles final at the Singapore Indoor Stadium yesterday.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Malaysia's Goh Soon Huat and Shevon Jemie Lai celebrating after taming Olympic champions Liliyana Natsir (above) and Tontowi Ahmad of Indonesia in the Singapore Badminton Open mixed doubles final at the Singapore Indoor Stadium yesterday.
Malaysia's Goh Soon Huat and Shevon Jemie Lai celebrating after taming Olympic champions Liliyana Natsir (above) and Tontowi Ahmad of Indonesia in the Singapore Badminton Open mixed doubles final at the Singapore Indoor Stadium yesterday.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Six-time mixed doubles champ and partner Tontowi ousted by Malaysians Goh and Lai

She had won at the Singapore Badminton Open a record six times, and was looking to claim a seventh victory at her final outing at the Singapore Indoor Stadium yesterday.

Instead, Liliyana Natsir's farewell parade at the Badminton World Federation World Tour Super 500 tournament was rained on, when she and Tontowi Ahmad - top seeds in the mixed doubles - lost 21-19, 21-18 to Malaysian second seeds Goh Soon Huat and Shevon Jemie Lai in the final yesterday.

The Malaysians, ranked eighth in the world, led in both games and allowed the Olympic champions to come back both times, but held their nerves for a famous upset.

The 24-year-old Lai said: "I was very honoured to play against them, as everyone knows they are not only the world No. 1 pair, but also the Olympic champions."

Goh, 28, added: "We knew that she (Liliyana) would be retiring soon, so it's our pleasure to be (playing) against them."

The Indonesians - even the usually reliable Liliyana - paid the price for several unforced errors during the 36-minute affair.

"Perhaps it is because we have come from winning the Indonesian Open (two weeks ago). Given that we only had a week to prepare, I am quite surprised that we made it to the final," said the 32-year-old Liliyana, who will retire at the end of the year.

"We definitely wanted to win, but we could not keep our focus.

"But I am not sad, just thankful that we were able to reach the final. Now we will look forward to preparing for the Asian Games, which is most important to us."

Also celebrating breakthroughs yesterday were Japan's Sayaka Takahashi and Chinese Taipei's Chou Tien-chen, who won the women's and men's singles respectively.

Takahashi, 25, beat China's Gao Fangjie 25-23, 21-14 to claim her third title in four finals this season.

"I won today after much struggle and difficulty," said Takahashi, who also won the New Zealand and Swiss Opens.

"There was some draught on court, it was difficult to control the shuttle and also to time my shots well, but... I was able to win."

"I wanted to win the match in the second game because I really didn't want it to go to the rubber, so that drove me to win the tie," added the world No. 18, who pocketed US$26,625 (S$36, 400) for her win.

She almost quit the game after she partially tore her right anterior cruciate ligament at the 2015 Denmark Open. But the former world No. 11 was inspired to make a comeback when her older sister Ayaka, 28, won the Olympic women's doubles gold in 2016 with Misaki Matsutomo.

"She said, 'Let's play badminton together, let's win together'. If she didn't say those words, I wouldn't be here today," said Takahashi.

Chou beat team-mate Hsu Jen-hao 21-13, 21-13 to clinch the men's singles title.

While the 28-year-old also won the German Open - a Super 300 event - in March, the Singapore Open, a Super 500 event, was his first major victory since the French Open in 2014.

"It's been four years since I last won a major title and this is a breakthrough," said the world No. 7.

"I feel I can win more titles. I don't feel that my skills have deteriorated (with age).

"Instead, I think I have been improving these few years and I will continue to work hard for every competition I play in.

"(Younger players such as Viktor Axelsen) are amazing, with many skills and I will need to find ways to beat them."

Japan's Ayako Sakuramoto and Yukiko Takahata overcame team-mates Nami Matsuyama and Chiharu Shida 16-21, 24-22, 21-13 to win the women's doubles title, while Indonesia's Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan beat China's Ou Xuanyi and Ren Xiangyu 21-13, 21-19 to clinch the men's doubles title.

The results meant that Chinese shuttlers failed to win a title at the Singapore Open for the first time since 2010.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2018, with the headline 'Liliyana denied farewell victory'. Print Edition | Subscribe