WORLD TOUR FINALS SF – Ahsan/Setiawan keep title defense hopes alive
Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan score their first win over Choi/Seo but the title at the World Tour Finals they are now eyeing is something they have ample experience with.
By Don Hearn. Photos: Badmintonphoto (live)
Only one defending champion from the 2019 World Tour Finals made the trip to Bangkok for this year’s edition. However, these past 3 weeks, Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan (pictured top) had not exactly been exuding the confidence of a defending champion, let alone a World Champion. After losing in the quarter-finals and then the semis of the last two tournaments, the Indonesians suffered a third straight loss to Korea’s Choi Sol Gyu / Seo Seung Jae (pictured right) on Thursday.
But then it came down to the crunch and the Ahsan and Setiawan who showed up to play the Koreans on Saturday was a far cry from the pair that had come up short against them twice in 3 weeks. Choi and Seo were far more passive than in their past two wins and while Choi was not serving quite as badly as previously in the week, it was still a liability, particularly against two of the best service returners in the game.
After 2-1 in the opening game, the Koreans never recaptured the lead in the entire match. While that first game came down to a thrilling finish, with some brilliant play on both sides, it was the Indonesians who snatched it and won the second game easily.
“Our strategy today was to enjoy the game,” explained Mohammad Ahsan afterward, “because if we could enjoy the game then it would strengthen our strategy and we could attack them. The Korean pair have very good defence and drives, but today we attacked first to win points. We just tried to enjoy it.”
“I’m happy also,” added Hendra Setiawan. “Before we had lost twice to the Koreans, but today we won so I feel happy, but we must prepare for tomorrow. I feel good that we have reached the final again. Maybe they were tired because Seo plays in mixed doubles too, but today we tried to play our strategy. We think our level is getting better and better. Mostly importantly, we enjoy the game.”
All triples and double for Sunday?
The overwhelming sensation on semi-finals day at the World Tour Finals was of déjà vu. While only the Axelsen-Chou match had an iteration last Saturday and only the Korea-Thailand women’s doubles match was a throwback to the previous semis, the winners were all nearly the same. In particular, finals day may see 3-week winning streaks in as many as four disciplines and even a 2-week winning streak in the other.
Once again, the home Thai fans – who are unfortunately not allowed in the hall with the pandemic raging – will have just one Thai finalist to cheer for from their homes. Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai (pictured above) again made it through to Sunday, this time beating France’s Thom Gicquel / Delphine Delrue in straight games.
Korea’s An Se Young finally got to play a semi-final against someone other than Carolina Marin but her win against Marin, gave her the unenviable task of having to beat world #1 Tai Tzu Ying (pictured). It was their first meeting since An’s storied upset of the Chinese Taipei player at the 2019 Sudirman Cup but this one was a totally different affair.
An kept things close in the opening game but throughout the match, she was depending on Tai’s errors for points. Tai Tzu Ying found her touch in the second game and had no trouble dispatching the 18-year-old in two.
Similarly, Thailand’s Pornpawee Chochuwong had none of the luck that saw her stun Carolina Marin at home last winter. The Spaniard won in straight games to set up a third straight Sunday showdown with Tai Tzu Ying.
Ahsan and Setiawan will be the pair standing between Lee Yang and Wang Chi Lin (pictured) and a third straight title. The Indonesians lost last weekend to the eventual winners but with a title and a big payday on the line anything could happen in the final. Lee and Yang were given a run for their money on Saturday by world #32 Ben Lane / Sean Vendy but they continued their run this week without dropping a game and saw their way into the final.
“The English pair are fast,” said Lee Yang after the match. “They were pushing the game and I felt we were defending a lot and I was tired too. We needed to change the speed to match our opponents. We didn’t enjoy the whole match. We’re tired. My mind is tired. Our opponents played soft attacks on us and that had us moving a lot on court.”
On their upcoming final against the defending champions, Lee said, “Just because we beat them last week doesn’t mean it will happen again. It will be a lucky win.”
Women’s doubles and men’s singles will feature the same nation’s winner as last week. The same two Korean pairs as last week will contest the final again while Anders Antonsen takes over from Hans-Kristian Vittinghus in being the next challenger for Viktor Axelsen. Antonsen had to work hard to see off Wang Tzu Wei (pictured) but the Dane surged ahead to take the deciding game 21-16.
In women’s doubles, Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Rawinda Prajongjai (pictured bottom) found themselves up against Kim So Yeong and Kong Hee Yong for the third straight week. Unfortunately for the Thais, the result this time mimicked last week’s quarter-final, rather than the semi from two weeks ago, when they got the better of the Koreans.
WD: Kim So Yeong / Kong Hee Yong (KOR)  vs. Lee So Hee / Shin Seung Chan (KOR) 
MD: Lee Yang / Wang Chi Lin (TPE)  vs. Mohammad Ahsan / Hendra Setiawan (INA) 
WS: Carolina Marin (ESP)  vs. Tai Tzu Ying (TPE) 
MS: Viktor Axelsen (DEN)  vs. Anders Antonsen (DEN) 
XD: Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai (THA)  vs. Seo Seung Jae / Chae Yoo Jung (KOR)