Malaysia Open: Iwanaga/Nakanishi Thump Another Barrier

Having bagged one first for their partnership in November, Rin Iwanaga and Kie Nakanishi netted another big breakthrough at PETRONAS Malaysia Open 2024.

By beating third seeds Kim So Yeong/Kong Hee Yong 21-16 21-16, the world No.15s ensured a maiden Super 1000 quarterfinal appearance, two months after taking their first title at Syed Modi India International.

“Winning in India boosted our confidence and we’ve carried that into the new year. This is the most confident we’ve felt since we came together,” acknowledged Nakanishi.

“Previously against higher-ranked pairs, our approach was to be on the front foot. Today we were measured, there was more variation in our shots and Kim/Kong couldn’t anticipate our next move.”

The win erased the bitter memory of losing to the same combo at the same arena a year ago in the tournament’s first round.

“It does feel sweet. I remember how frustrated we were last year when we lost,” recalled Iwanaga.

The final quarter of 2023 was a productive one for the Japanese. They made their first back-to-back semifinals (Arctic and Denmark Opens) before smashing their duck in Lucknow.

So what changed after an underwhelming start to last season which resulted in early exits at six of the year’s opening seven events?

“Plenty of times we lost good leads in the past but over the last year, we worked hard on our focus. We can see the fruits of that now, we’ve got better at managing those situations,” explained Nakanishi on how the duo have come on.

Iwanaga added: “Our communication on and off the court has improved too. These days, we discuss our performances a lot more, not just during matches.”

Iwanaga/Nakanishi were more relaxed than their opponents.

Iwanaga/Nakanishi’s year-starting 15th position is a career-high since pairing up in 2019 and now they are eyeing another milestone.

“We agreed at the start of year we should try and qualify for the (HSBC BWF) World Tour Finals. Our biggest target is to finish 2024 in the world’s best eight,” said Nakanishi.

Iwanaga was a tad more ambitious – the 24-year-old has not given up on qualifying for Paris 2024 Olympic Games despite being fourth in the Japanese pecking order.

“We have to believe we can sneak in,” she enthused. “We must try to do well at tournaments left in the qualifying window.”

Their next opponents Ashwini Ponnappa/Tanisha Crasto – incidentally the pair Iwanaga/Nakanishi defeated in the Syed Modi final – are also first-time Super 1000 quarterfinalists after surprising seventh seeds Mayu Matsumoto/Wakana Nagahara 21-19 13-21 21-15.

“We lost to them at the Hong Kong Open so we went back and learned and understood where we went wrong and what we needed to do better,” said Ponnappa.

Crasto added: “Our attitude in the third game was the turning point. We went all-in with a big smile and took it till the end and kept fighting.”

Results (Day 3)

Order of play (Day 4)


“When the match started I wasn’t feeling the best but I’ve been working on my speed and building my stamina. Thinking quickly and being positive is what won me the match. I know he’s the world champion but I didn’t think about that. The pressure was on him, not me. I did everything my coach told me and it paid off.”Lin Chun-yi after ousting Kunlavut Vitidsarn 21-18 21-16

“They are riding a huge confidence wave. We need to be physically and mentally prepared. It won’t be easy. This time around they are the world No.1s.”Muhammad Rian Ardianto on quarterfinal opponents Liang Wei Keng/Wang Chang

“We had so much fun on court, and we feel amazing. We had to get them to lift for us to attack to follow our game plan. At match point, we kept reminding each other to enjoy the experience. A quarterfinal spot is dream-like.”Ayako Sakuramoto on the key to victory after she and Rena Miyaura defeated teammates Nami Matsuyama/Chiharu Shida

Miyaura (left) and Sakuramoto elated with their win.

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