Akane Has Her Revenge – Japan Open: Day 5

Akane Yamaguchi avenged her demoralising Sudirman Cup final loss to Chen Yu Fei, routing her Chinese rival today in the semifinals of the DAIHATSU YONEX Japan Open 2019.

Nozomi Okuhara held off Michelle Li.

Yamaguchi’s win ensured the women’s singles title would return to Japan after 2015, when Nozomi Okuhara beat her in the final. The two protagonists will face off once again, with Yamaguchi in line to take her second title in two weeks, and Okuhara searching for her first crown this season.

There was an extra edge to Yamaguchi’s semifinal against Chen Yu Fei, for the Japanese had cracked in the high-pressure Sudirman Cup final in May from 11-6 up in the decider. Chen’s win had swung the tie for China, and denied Japan their first World Mixed Team Championships.

As It Happened

It was a different kind of contest today. Over the last two weeks, Yamaguchi appeared to have raised her already-high level, and she continued in the same vein, pouring on the pressure with her speed, sharpness of attack and retrieving brilliantly. It was the quality of her defence that wore down Chen, for her sure-shot winners kept coming back, and the Chinese was at a loss for ideas, losing 11 of 12 points to let the first game slip by in a trice. She was never in with a chance in the second, unable to keep the deep clears in.

Yamaguchi, never one to betray her emotions, had a broad smile on when she walked off court.

Her opponent in tomorrow’s final, Nozomi Okuhara, held off a second game charge from Canada’s Michelle Li to prevail 21-12 21-18.

Other Results

  • Kento Momota moved to within one win of defending his men’s singles title, neutralising all of Sai Praneeth’s best moves with his percentage game, 21-18 21-12. The Japanese takes on Indonesia’s Jonatan Christie tomorrow; Christie was on target with his attacking game against Denmark’s Jan O Jorgensen, 21-14 21-14. Christie will be eyeing his first top-tier World Tour title to add to his Asian Games gold.
Kim So Yeong (right) and Kong Hee Yong made their first top-tier final.
  • Kim So Yeong and Kong Hee Yeong made their first top-tier final as a pair, blitzing China’s Li Wen Mei/Zheng Yu 21-16 21-11. It was Kim So Yeong’s all-round skills that drove the Koreans; her variations at the net and from the deep, and her ability to convert defensive positions into attack with deft touches, took the game away from the attacking Chinese.

Talking Point

“I played well in patches. Obviously it’s not easy, because whatever plan you make, it’s not easy to beat him, because he was ready to play any game, like you chose to play defence, he can play that, or if you want to rally, he can rally. And if he wanted to attack, he could attack. His game in these types of courts is tough, because he’ll play whatever he wants to play. He’ll make the game really slow, even when you smash, he’ll keep the shuttle really close to the net. On his defence, he always gets the shuttle close to the net, so you’re moving that much more,” – Sai Praneeth, on losing to Momota.

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