The finals stage of the YONEX All England would not have been unfamiliar for Hiroyuki Endo. What was unfamiliar for him was actually winning it.
The 33-year-old, who was in his fourth final yesterday – he’d lost the previous three, in 2013, 2014 and 2016 with then-partner Kenichi Hayakawa – finally had a turnaround in fortunes with his current partner – Yuta Watanabe.
The duo made history by becoming the first Japanese men’s doubles winners at the All England, after a 21-18 12-21 21-19 result over two-time champions Marcus Fernaldi Gideon/Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo of Indonesia in 72 minutes. It was their sixth straight win over the Minions.
What is it that the Japanese do so well against the Minions that other pairs are unable to?
Was it their uncanny ability to keep Sukamuljo from being a pestilence to opponents at the net? Was that due to their astonishing defence that saw them stay alive in rallies longer than any other pair could have, thereby challenging the Minions to come up with something better? For the Minions, was it the frustration of not finding quick winners as they normally do?
These factors certainly had a lot to do with Sukamuljo’s reduced stature at the front, a zone he normally makes all his own. Against the Japanese yesterday, it was Sukamuljo who made the critical errors.
The Japanese’s ability to keep rallies going even from impossible positions, and Sukamuljo’s mishits in the face of such odds, gave Endo and Watanabe the opening game, and even though the Minions steadied the ship in the second game, the Japanese carried the edge in the decider with leads of 5-0 and 14-9.
To Gideon’s credit, he hauled the Minions back into contention by taking on most of the attacking load, creating opportunities for Sukamuljo to finish. It was Gideon’s untiring work that gave the Minions a window of opportunity at 19-18.
The lead was lost in a flash; Sukamuljo made an error in interception and soon it was all over for the Minions.
“This is a really special tournament for us, we love playing here and we are so happy we could win today. We are way too happy to put this into words. We cannot believe this has happened, it was an amazing experience and we won’t stop here!” said Watanabe.
On their sixth win in a row over the world No.1 pair, Endo said:
“You have to stay focussed throughout the match against these guys. If you switch off they will punish you. So we worked on that and made sure we were focussed.”
The Indonesians rued their inability to convert their lead at the end, but conceded that the Japanese were the better pair on the day.
“We slowed down the pace in the second game and we found our rhythm,” said Gideon. “But in the third game they sped it up again. We tried our best, we kept pursuing them and we were 19-18 up. Maybe we weren’t lucky at that point.”