Chen Discovers His Mojo – Singles Finals: TAHOE China Open 2017
Sunday, November 19, 2017
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO

Chen Long broke a two-year Superseries drought, winning the TAHOE China Open 2017 on home turf in emphatic fashion over Viktor Axelsen, 21-16 14-21 21-13.

Earlier, in the Women’s Singles final, Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi stopped young Chinese Gao Fangjie to claim her first Superseries title of the year: 21-13 21-15.

The Olympic champion versus the World champion in the Men’s Singles final had prolonged spells of spellbinding badminton. Axelsen had demolished Chen at their last meeting in Glasgow, but the Olympic champion had shown some signs earlier this week that he was getting back to his best. The lightning-quick blocks to big smashes were back, so were the single-step lunges to cover all corners of the court. Axelsen was sharp through the first two games, but Chen was the one who got the vital lead at the beginning of the third, staying steady even as the Dane faltered just that bit.

A 39-shot rally early in the third showed how hungry Chen was to prevent a repeat of 2016, when he fell to another Dane, Jan O Jorgensen, on the same stage. It was a day when Chen backed his desire with iron control and defensive stamina, giving him the openings he needed for his smashes. Axelsen faded away at the end, giving the hosts their third title of the day – a big comeback after they drew a blank last year.

“I trained well after the French Open to do well in Fuzhou,” said Chen. “After the Olympics, I played a few finals but I was inconsistent. I’m still finding myself, I’m trying to regain my pre-Olympic form. I’m trying to regain my hunger. It’s been a while since I won a title. The key point was to motivate myself and to have a strong desire.

“I’m anticipating a long rivalry with Viktor. I always enjoy playing him. I just had to win on my home court. My last Superseries win was in Denmark two years ago, so I’m happy that I won in China.”

Yamaguchi Outclasses Gao

Akane Yamaguchi finally tasted Superseries success this year after faltering at the ultimate step in Australia, Denmark and France. She was up against home heroine Gao Fangjie, who’d surprised everybody by making the final.

Gao, a Li Xuerui copy in many ways, showed the assurance of her senior compatriot for extended spells in both games. Moving well, hitting steep shots that forced her opponent to dart forwards and sideways, the lanky Gao gave a great account of her abilities.

However, Yamaguchi’s speed and retrieving ability was sufficient to weather the challenge. The Japanese kept forcing her younger challenger to play the extra shot, after which the error inevitably followed.

“She’s tall and fast, and her smashes are good,” said Yamaguchi. “I kept defending and took my chances to grab points when I got the openings.”

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