Dubai: It was a day in the sun for the Land of the Rising Sun. Japan's twin representatives in the stellar singles events of the BWF World Superseries Finals reigned supreme at the Hamdan Sports Complex, with left-handed Kento Momota proving too strokeful and accurate for Denmark's nervous and erratic Viktor Axelsen, and Nozomi Okuhara running China's 2011 world champion Wang Yihan ragged, leaving her breathless and stunned at 20-22, 18-21.
Kento Momota. Pic/AFP
Few could have predicted the 38-minute, 15-21, 12-21 capitulation by the willowy Dane, who had produced such a command performance in the semi-finals against China's world champion Chen Long only the previous day. At the time, even the 4-1 head-to-head record that Momota holds against Axelsen appeared beside the point, so perfectly did the Dane play against the redoubtable Chen.
But there was one other statistic worthy of close scrutiny. Axelsen's record in finals is nothing to write home about, with the Dane ending runner-up in each of the three Super Series finals he has played this year, as also in five such finals in his entire career.
By contrast, it has been a sterling year for the Japanese southpaw, with victory coming in each of the two Super Series finals he has contested in 2015, in addition to the crucial first singles victory for his country in the Thomas Cup final.
Temperamentally, he appeared streets ahead of his lanky European rival, as he controlled the net beautifully, and used the left-hander's natural advantage in unleashing steep angled crosscourt smashes. Axelsen's nerves simply failed the test, and his usually reliable half-smash let him down totally.
Momota it was who first broke away after a quiet start, to go 11-8 up at the interval. Axelsen kept up with his opponent until 14-16, after which Momota floored the gas pedal, and bagged the opening game.
The stocky Japanese powered ahead 7-3 and 9-4 in the second before going into the break at 11-8, just as in the first game. After the breather, however, Momota simply revved up his engine to reel off seven points without reply. The 21-12 end-result was a foregone conclusion.
The women's final should have been the classic strokemaker versus tireless retriever battle, but the nine years that Yihan conceded to the 20 year old Okuhara provided the young Japanese with too much of an advantage in the longer rallies.
Okuhara seemed in total control as she led 14-6 before the Chinese star showed glimpses of the stroke-making ability of her salad days, and pulled back, point by point, actually restoring parity at 16-all. It was Yihan who squeaked ahead to 20-19, but Okuhara, who did not drop a game right through the tournament, pulled it back, and pipped Yihan 22-20.
It was a Homeric battle in the second game, with Yihan leading all the way at 10-5, 11-8 and 15-12. At this stage, the Japanese prolonged one rally, pinning Yihan to the baseline and retrieving everything thrown at her, to knock the stuffing out of the Chinese ace. Yihan had an 18-15 advantage, but Okuhara came up with a six-point reel to win her biggest title to date, and a $80,000 top prize.
Old warhorses Hendra Setiawan and Mohammad Ahsan of Indonesia won a humdinger of a men's doubles final against China's Chai Biao and Hong Wei, coming back from the tame loss of the opening game, to leave their indelible impress on the paired event with a 13-21, 21-14, 21-14 triumph.
China's top-seeded Luo Ying and Luo Yu took the women's doubles title from Denmark's Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter-Juhl when Pedersen retired in the third game, complaining of dehydration and stomach pain. At the time, the Danes were trailing 21-14, 9-21, 4-14.
The mixed doubles crown was annexed by the husband-wife combination of Chris and Gabrielle Adcock of England, who won relatively untroubled from Ko Sung Hyun and Kim Ha Na of Korea by a 21-14, 21-17 scoreline.
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