Yamaguchi Breaks Tai’s Spell – Finals: YONEX French Open 2018

High-flying Tai Tzu Ying was finally brought down to earth by Akane Yamaguchi in the YONEX French Open 2018 yesterday as the World No.1 suffered only her second loss in ten finals this year.

The Chinese Taipei star has had a stellar season going into the French Open – winning eight of 12 tournaments, and eight of nine finals. Tai’s last final loss was at the season-opening PERODUA Malaysia Masters – a World Tour 500 event – to Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon; her last loss in a major final was – incidentally – to Yamaguchi at the YONEX Denmark Open two years ago.

Tai’s streak of finals victories came to a halt on a day that saw some unexpected results in the other categories. Two-time world champion Chen Long captured his first title since November 2017, while Chinese young guns Han Chengkai and Zhou Haodong broke through with their first major title, beating hot favourites Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo.

Yamaguchi set the pace in her battle against Tai, holding a narrow lead through the first game, and even though Tai caught up at the end with four straight points, the Japanese edged past her to take the opening game.

Tai recovered in the second to take back the initiative, but the effort proved too hard to sustain, with Yamaguchi stepping on the gas from 7-all in the deciding game. The 22-20 17-21 21-13 result gave Yamaguchi her second title of the year, and her first major crown since the Dubai World Superseries Finals in December 2017.

“I’ve lost to her on many occasions, so of course it was a big challenge for me against Tai Tzu Ying, since she’s the top player in the world and obviously very successful in tournaments,” said Yamaguchi. “I chose to not attack a lot and prevent her from playing long rallies today.”

Chen Long won his first title of the year, breaking a title drought that stretched back to November 2017. The former No.1 captured his first French Open title beating compatriot Shi Yuqi 21-17 21-19.

After a dominant show in the opening game by his senior, Shi Yuqi was more combative in the second game. The All England champion stayed ahead for most of the second game, but Chen didn’t let the gap widen, and caught up at 18. The sixth seed finally savoured victory after clinching the last two points to end the contest after 47 minutes.

“I’m extremely happy to have won in Paris, this is the first time I’m winning here,” said Chen Long. “I didn’t think too much during the match, I kept focussing point by point and it worked out well.”

‘Minions’ Upset

Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo – ‘Minions’ to their fans – have been the most dominant Men’s Doubles partnership over the last two years. This year they have won all seven finals they contested. In fact, their victory streak in finals is ten, with their last final loss being at the Denmark Open in October 2017.

However, in yesterday’s final they had their hands full against emerging Chinese duo Han Chengkai and Zhou Haodong, who beat them in the semi-finals of the China Open in September.

Gideon and Sukamuljo will probably rue three missed chances in the opening game. The Indonesians had game points at 20-18 and 21-20 but the Chinese saved all three before converting their first opportunity.

The Indonesians stormed back, winning the second at 8, but the third was again closely fought, with the Chinese pulling ahead at the end, 23-21 8-21 21-17.

“We almost got the first game but couldn’t finish it well, they were ahead of us in the end and I made too many mistakes,” said Gideon.

Stoevas’ Run Ends

The giant-killing run of Bulgaria’s Stefani Stoeva and Gabriela Stoeva in Women’s Doubles came to an end against world champions Mayu Matsumoto and Wakana Nagahara, 21-14 21-19.

The Bulgarians had a sensational week as they achieved their best-ever result at a World Tour event, taking down Olympic champions Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi in the quarter-finals and last year’s runners-up Lee So Hee/Shin Seung Chan in the semi-finals.

The Stoevas fell behind in both games, and had to fight with their backs to the wall in the second with the Japanese gaining an early lead in the second. With leads of 13-5 and 17-10, it looked like Matsumoto and Nagahara were headed for a quick finish, but the Stoevas hung in and came to within a point of equalising at 15-17 and 18-19. However, Matsumoto and Nagahara held their nerve at the death and clinched the title on the 43rd minute for their biggest victory this season after the World Championships.

“After the World Championships we couldn’t win a big tournament, but this time we did it so we are very relieved to have won in France,” said Wakana Nagahara.

Unstoppable Zheng/Huang

While other title favourites like Tai Tzu Ying and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon/Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo faltered at the final hurdle, it was status quo for Mixed Doubles top seeds Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong.

The Chinese top seeds won their eight title of the year from ten finals, holding off Korea’s Seo Seung Jae and Chae Yujung 21-19 21-14.

The Koreans, in the hunt for their first major title, started promisingly and fought on level terms with the Chinese through most of the opening game. Zheng and Huang however edged them at the close, and then surged ahead from 7-all in the second game to clinch the title in 37 minutes.

“The audience this year in Paris created a great atmosphere and you can feel that they are really into the game, I really enjoyed playing in this atmosphere,” said Zheng Siwei. “Our performance this time was really good from the beginning of the match.”

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