Rio Reloaded! – Day 5: YONEX-SUNRISE Hong Kong Open 2017
Saturday, November 25, 2017
TEXT BY GAYLE ALLEYNE | BADMINTONPHOTO

For the first time since they clashed in the Rio 2016 gold-medal showdown, Chen Long and Lee Chong Wei will oppose each other tomorrow – and the winner will lift the last-ever Superseries tour title.

The Men’s Singles titans advanced to the YONEX-SUNRISE Hong Kong Open 2017 final in contrasting fashions today; Lee in a swift, late-night domination of Chen’s team-mate, Shi Yuqi, while his Olympic conqueror was stretched the distance in outwitting Danish young gun, Anders Antonsen.

In the aftermath of victory on the cusp of midnight, a relaxed-looking Lee relished the prospect of meeting Chen more than a year after losing their duel for the coveted honour in South America.

“I don’t think about the past. Both of us are in good form now and I will try to do my best,” said the 35-year-old racket wizard who romped to a 21-19 21-8 result against Shi at Hong Kong Coliseum.

Continuing the ominously-good touch which he showcased versus Korea’s Son Wan Ho in yesterday’s quarter-finals, the Malaysian strode to an early lead against Shi and, though the 21-year-old fought back in the first game, there was always a sense that his rival was in control and so it turned out to be. By contrast, there were stages when Antonsen was on par with Chen and possibly even in the ascendancy in their gripping encounter that closed the first session of play.

Determined to go down fighting the 20-year-old attacked relentlessly at the end of the second game to force a decider in which he started better than his experienced opponent. However, shaking off the vestiges of rust from his post-Rio relaxation, the Chinese pulled himself together with a strong all-court response that hinted he is nearly back to his best.

Absorbing the adulation for his 21-14 19-21 21-17 triumph, the 28-year-old stated as much.

“I am not back to the level I was at for the Olympics but I am getting better and better. I was down in the third game but I focused on each point and I am happy to be in another final,” said a confident Chen who will feature in the last Superseries tour final before the Badminton World Federation ushers in a new tournament series in January.

Meanwhile, the top two Women’s Singles seeds justified their billing as both swept aside worthy challengers to reach the marquee match, thereby sealing a repeat of last season’s Hong Kong final.

World No.1 and top seed, Tai Tzu Ying, always looked a winner against Sung Ji Hyun, though four straight errors by the Chinese Taipei player gifted the second game to the Korean across the net. That was the end of Tai’s charity, however, and she cantered to victory for the loss of just seven more points: 21-9 18-21 21-7. She will face No.2 seed, Pusarla V Sindhu, who kept her cool to prevail versus Thailand’s wily ace, Ratchanok Intanon, in straight games. The lanky Indian won their first match in more than a year, 21-17 21-17.

“I hope I can change the result from last year. Tai has been doing really well so I have to recover now and get ready for tomorrow. I think my level is about 90 to 100 per cent and I am confident. Overall I am a better player, both mentally and physically, than last year and I hope to have a good match in the final,” said Pusarla, who triumphed after challenging a line call which was shown to be out on her side.

There will also be a sense of déjà vu about the Mixed Doubles final but only from as far back as last weekend as the same pairs who squared off for the title in China will do likewise in Hong Kong. Having claimed their home Superseries crown, Zheng Siwei/Huang Yaqiong are eyeing a second straight championship. They disposed of team-mates, Wang Yilyu/Huang Dongping (21-10 21-18), to reach the final where they will again have Mathias Christiansen/Christinna Pedersen in their way. The recently-paired Danes are enjoying their new partnership and would love to cap their last event of the season atop the podium.

“It’s hard to believe this is our second final in a row on the Asia tour. We didn’t expect this when we left Denmark but we are happy and proud about how we have been playing. Today we were under pressure. We had to struggle and fight,” said veteran Pedersen of the 21-15 22-20 success versus Japan’s Takuro Hoki and Sayaka Hirota.

Denmark will also be hunting glory in Men’s Doubles after Mads Conrad-Petersen and Mads Pieler Kolding also repelled a Japanese threat in the form of Takuto Inoue/Yuki Kaneko. Shaking off complacency that cost them the first game despite a 19-15 lead, the No.6 seeds regrouped to win  20-22 22-20 21-15. The road to their first Superseries title will not be any easier tomorrow as they will be up against favourites, Marcus Fernaldi Gideon/Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo.

Gunning for their sixth crown in eight finals on this year’s MetLife BWF World Superseries tour, the top-seeded Indonesians shot down Chinese arch-rivals, Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen for the fourth time this season: 21-13 16-21 21-13.

“Facing the Danes is not going to be easy. We need to stay calm and adapt to the conditions and try to control the match,” said Sukamuljo.

Indonesia also have an interest in the Women’s Doubles showpiece as a gutsy performance by Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu propelled them past China’s Huang Dongping/Li Wenmei after saving match point in the second game (11-21 23-21 21-15). The French Open champions will battle Chen Qingchen/Jia Yifan for the title. China’s top pair held off a spirited challenge from Thailand’s Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Rawinda Prajongjai who were in their first Superseries semi-final (21-19 21-19).

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FEATURED IMAGE: China’s Chen Long savours another point en route to victory against Anders Antonsen of Denmark.

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