The DAIHATSU YONEX Japan Open 2019 is a test event for the badminton competition at Tokyo 2020, and that infuses the event with special significance. Players will expect an extra buzz around the event, and they will know that a strong performance this week will put them in a good frame of mind – besides giving them vital ranking points in the Race to Tokyo. The Olympics are just a year away, and with the countdown beginning, the pressure will start to get more intense.
A more immediate mission for the players is finding their form ahead of the TOTAL BWF World Championships 2019 next month. The Japan Open and next week’s Thailand Open are the last tune-up events for the top contenders in Basel, and they will be eager to find form and iron out deficiencies.
The attention will be highest on the home players. Japan came away with two titles at the Indonesia Open, and that will fortify them for a challenging week on home soil. Akane Yamaguchi’s relief at clinching the women’s singles title was apparent, for she had, rather uncharacteristically, fallen apart in the Sudirman Cup final in May. She is drawn to meet her victim from the Indonesia Open final, Pusarla V Sindhu, in the quarterfinals.
Also dealing with fan expectations is her compatriot Nozomi Okuhara, who has had a rather uneven season by her standards. While she has been consistent in making a few semifinals, the nature of her two recent losses – second-game hammerings of 21-3 to Chen Yu Fei in Australia and 21-7 to Pusarla V Sindhu in Indonesia – will be on her mind.Then there is men’s singles posterboy Kento Momota, who, after a mostly brilliant 2018 season, has had to face up to some inconvenient questions. Shi Yu Qi destroyed him at the Sudirman Cup – a tournament that would have completed Japan’s team event haul, and one that they seemed well-placed to win.
PV Sindhu will look to quickly bounce back from her Indonesia Open final defeat to Akane Yamaguchi and end her 2019 title drought when she leads India's challenge at the Japan Open BWF World Tour Super 750 starting on Tuesday. Saina Nehwal, who had given the Indonesia Open Super 1000 event a miss, will also make a return to the court. PV Sindhu had looked in fine form in the Indonesia Open, getting past the likes of Nozomi Okuhara and Chen Yu Fei in the quarter-final and semi-final, respectively, without breaking a sweat. But the Indian star came a cropper when she went up against Akane Yamaguchi in the title clash, losing in straight games.
The loss was all the more disheartening for Sindhu as she missed a golden chance to end a seventh-month title drought. Sindhu will open her Japan Open campaign against China's Han Yue. If she crosses the opening hurdle, Sindhu will face either Scotland's Kirsty Gilmour or Japan's Aya Ohori in the second round. The fifth seed will also aim to avenge her final loss to Yamaguchi as she is likely to face the World No.4 Japanese in the quarter-finals.
"Overall, it was a good tournament for me at Indonesia and I hope I can take the confidence going forward and do well at Japan," Sindhu had said after the final on Sunday. Saina Nehwal, seeded eighth and the only Indian to win a title this season, will begin her quest for another title against Thailand's Busanan Ongbamrungphan, an opponent against whom she enjoys a 3-1 head-to-head lead. In men's singles, it will be an all-Indian opening round battle between HS Prannoy and eighth seed Kidambi Srikanth. The Indian duo has faced each other five times so far in the international circuit with Srikanth emerging victorious on the past four occasions. Among other Indians in the fray, B Sai Praneeth, who had reached the final of the Swiss Open, will face Japan's Kenta Nishimoto. Sameer Verma, who had missed the Indonesia Open due to a shoulder problem, will look to test his fitness against Denmark's Anders Antonsen, runner-up in Jakarta after a marathon final on Sunday. In the doubles draw, the men's pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty will square off against England's Marcus Ellis and Chris Langridge, who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy will take on Malaysia's Goh Sze Fei and Nur Izzuddin in another men's doubles match. The women's doubles pair of Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy will face the Korean combination of Kim So Yeong and Kong Hee Yong in the opening round.
In a rapid-fire contest which lasted just 28 minutes, the pairings, affectionately known as the Minions and the Daddies, whipped the home crowd – still abuzz from the extraordinary men’s singles final just minutes before – into a delirious frenzy.
Gideon and Sukamuljo romped home to a 21-19 21-16 result in the first all-Indonesian men’s doubles final at the Istora since 2005. It is a venue they have made their own in recent times, claiming the Indonesia Master-Indonesia Open double for the last two seasons. The Daddies kept up to speed with the younger Minions for much of the first game, going point-for-point until 17-17. But the ferociousness of Sukamuljo at the net was hard to keep out for extended periods and eventually he and Gideon drew clear to take the first 21-19. From there it was always likely that the world No. 1’s would wrap in up in straight games. The light-footed duo buzzed around the court with unrivalled energy to bring to close the 2019 Indonesia Open in fitting style for the Jakarta faithful. “Today they were much faster than us,” said Setiawan. “We gave our best to fight with Kevin and Marcus but we didn’t have the pace to keep going.”
Gideon summed up the performance: “In the first game there was a lot of pressure. We were lucky to hit the shuttle at the right positions at the right moment. “Overall, we played very well. We have worked really hard the last two to three months so it’s good to see the training has paid off.” For Ahsan and Setiawan, it continues their strong season after claiming the All England Open in March. “The semifinal was our main realistic target so we were really happy to be in the final. Even though we didn’t win, we are still very proud to be here today,” said Setiawan.
Back in 2005, one of the Daddies – Hendra Setiawan – had partnered Markis Kido to victory over Candra Wijaya and Sigit Budiarto. Tomorrow he will once relive an all-Indonesian final, albeit with a different partner and against different opponents.
The contrast between the two semifinal victories couldn’t have been starker. The Minions – Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo – were electric on court as they destroyed Li Jun Hui and Liu Yuchen 21-9 21-13 – making barely a mistake in the process.
In contrast, Ahsan and Setiawan nearly made a hash of their semifinal against Japan’s Takuro Hoki/Yugo Kobayashi. The Japanese, bustling with confidence, had established their early dominance with the Indonesians unable to penetrate their defence and making numerous errors up front. Ahsan and Setiawan did well to recover, falling back on their skills in the drive game to manoeuvre their opponents off position. A lovely caress at the net by Setiawan gave the Indonesians three game points. He blew one by serving into the net – something that would haunt them in the decider. Ahsan and Setiawan had found their touch, and with a 12-8 lead, had the breathing space they needed. But, much the same way as in their quarterfinal, the Daddies turned raggedy; Setiawan had a horrendous time while serving, sending many of his serves into the net; Ahsan was just as profligate, blowing several winners to the collective groan of the crowd.