By Don Hearn. Photos: Badmintonphoto (live)
5 badminton aces who featured in the finals in the last Super 500 tournament of 2018 got right back into the action to start off the new year with titles at the Malaysia Masters in Kuala Lumpur. Ratchanok Intanon was the only one whose victory ended a one-year title drought but she also ended a two-year wait of a different sort.
In 2018, Intanon had an auspicious start, beating world #1 Tai Tzu Ying in the final. This year she again beat Tai – in the quarter-finals this time – then broke the local hearts by sending off Goh Jin Wei in the semis. In the final she faced Spain’s Carolina Marin, a fellow former world #1 whom the Thai had not beaten in nearly 2 years.
Intanon ran away with the first game 21-9. Then, after the second game score stayed close until the interval, she ran up the score once again against the Spaniard, maxing out at a 19-13 lead. Things looked worrying as Marin put together a 7-point run to game point but Intanon held on to win it in extra points. She may have started and ended last year with Super 500 finals appearances but she will no doubt be aiming to post better results in the in-between stages as she embarks on the 2019 season.
In men’s singles, both finalists had finished last year by getting back to the podium. In Chen Long’s case it was after a one-year title drought but Son Wan Ho (pictured) had waited two. For the two men, in other words, it was about which one would extend the encouraging run of good form he had begun in late 2018.
For Son Wan Ho, like for Ratchanok Intanon, there was also the question of rediscovering the winning formula against a troublesome opponent. The last time Son had beaten Chen Long was back in May 2016.
Son played his usual smart, patient game. He trailed slightly at both mid-game intervals but in both games, he slowly but surely caught and passed Chen. The Korean attacked sparingly, preferring to concentrate on a solid net game as well as precision lifts and backhands.
It was fitting that the match ended not with a smash, but with Chen once again finding his own amazing net game just a smidgeon less consistent than the Korean’s and he netted his last shot as Son loomed on the other side of the tape waiting to pounce on the Rio gold medallist’s reply.
Mixed doubles was the only final that featured neither a current – nor a former – world #1 shuttler. Unfortunately for Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai, they were forced to settle for silver for the second straight week, after they’d come up short in last week’s final at their home Super 300 event.
This weekend, they fell victim to the Hong Kong Open winners’ trend. Like Son Wan Ho, Japan’s Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino had won in Hong Kong and then lost in the semi-finals at the World Tour Finals. And just like Son, they took care of opponents in two close games.
The Thais built up promising leads in both games – 15-10 in the first and then 14-8 in the second – but both times the top-seeded Japanese pair reeled them in. Both pairs are content with either player at the back but the extra pace and angle from Higashino’s jump smash, together with the Japanese players’ superior speed and creativity, meant added pressure on the Thais and they could not maintain their consistency in the late stages of either game.
The afternoon began and ended with victory for a world #1 doubles pair. The women’s doubles was the longest match, as Yuki Fukushima / Sayaka Hirota (pictured above) beat Indonesia’s Greysia Polii / Apriyani Rahayu in three games, but it was the men’s doubles that brought the volume in Axiata Arena to its highest level.
Marcus Fernaldi Gideon / Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo beat local favourites Ong Yew Sin / Teo Ee Yi (pictured) in straight games by really taking control late in each game but the rallies were fast and furious and Ong and Teo did not go down without a fight.
The final was over – and local hopes dashed – in a flash, after just 36 minutes. But if the match was fast, the shuttle was much faster as the smashes, drives, and blocks kept the spectators on the edge of their seats with their shouts accompanying the striking of the shuttle as both pairs attempted to pound it to the floor.
In the end, it was Indonesia and Thailand who went 1 for 2 on the day, while Japan saw its pairs go 2 for 2. 4 nations were represented by just one finalist on Sunday in Kuala Lumpur but of those, only Korea ended up with a title.
All the finalists now make their way down to Jakarta for the Indonesia Masters, where they will be joined by three more World Champions who were not in action this week in Malaysia, among other talented shuttlers.
WD: Yuki Fukushima / Sayaka Hirota (JPN)  beat Greysia Polii / Apriyani Rahayu (INA)  18-21, 21-16, 21-16
XD: Yuta Watanabe / Arisa Higashino (JPN)  beat Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai (THA)  21-18, 21-18
WS: Ratchanok Intanon (THA)  beat Carolina Marin (ESP)  21-9, 22-20
MS: Son Wan Ho (KOR)  beat Chen Long (CHN)  21-17, 21-19
MD: Marcus Fernaldi Gideon / Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo (INA)  beat Ong Yew Sin / Teo Ee Yi (MAS) 21-15, 21-16