WORLD TOUR FINALS – Thais won, Tai won too, Taiwan two
Lee Yang and Wang Chi Lin stretched their streak to 3, winning the men’s doubles title at the World Tour Finals, while Chinese Taipei picked up two as Tai Tzu Ying finally got the better of Carolina Marin.
By Don Hearn. Photos: Badmintonphoto (live)
Four titles looked poised to go three-peat winners on Sunday at the BWF World Tour Finals in Bangkok and the other could actually have become a mere repeat. In the case of the Chinese Taipei shuttlers, Lee Yang and Wang Chi Lin were among the four looking for a 3rd straight title in as many weeks, while one player, Tai Tzu Ying was hoping to block a similar feat by her opponent and avoid a third straight relegation to second best.
In Tai’s opener against Carolina Marin (pictured right) of Spain, it looked like it was all going badly yet again for the world #1. Marin was fast and strong, as usual, and Tai was having trouble with errors, again as usual, at least for this month.
But then Tai snatched her first game win over the Spaniard this year, in three matches played. She dominated the European in the second game 21-8 and was riding high going into the decider.
Carolina Marin again looked like the one with more belief and desire and she opened up an ominous 15-10 lead after the change of ends. But Tai slowly but surely whittled away at the lead, playing fast, taking chances, being both aggressive and more consistent. Her last lift went over the head of Marin and into the lefthander’s backhand corner. Marin, trailing by just one at match point guess wrong and let the shuttle drop and the title narrowly slip away.
“Finally, I won,” said Tai Tzu Ying after claiming her trophy. “When I can remain calm and patient, I can win the game. In the end it was a tight game and I was tired and happy at the same time. For every match, I hope I can be patient in my style of play, so before this match today I kept telling myself that I had to play patiently. In the previous matches, all my mistakes were caused my own impatience. Although I told myself to play patiently, at some point, I still lost some of it and I made some mistakes and that cost me against Marin because she is fast. I need to put in a lot more effort to keep up with Marin’s pace.”
The men’s doubles final may have been sandwiched in between two three-game contests but the fact that it finished in two belies the excitement of that match itself. It was the first final of the day to feature a three-peat hopeful, in Wang Chi Lin and Lee Yang (pictured), who came in on a 14-match winning streak. But it was also the only final that featured a defending champion, the others having been taken out of the running when the Chinese withdrew before the draw, and when the Japanese team cancelled its trip in early January.
2019 World Tour Finals winners Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan got off to a slow start, trailing 4-11 at the first game interval. They came roaring back, however, and snatched the lead at 15-14. The Chinese Taipei pair regained their focus in time, however, and closed out the opener 21-17.
The second game was neck-and-neck throughout. In the closing minutes, former Olympic champion Hendra Setiawan made an uncharacteristic error on a net kill, but followed it up with an almost-as-uncharacteristic jump smash winner while floating to his backhand sideline. The Indonesians took the momentum to earn a game point at 20-19 but couldn’t finish it off and the Chinese Taipei pair soon did, with first a big smash and then a crisp drive from Wang Chi Lin.
“We were nervous coming in the finals here,” said Lee Yang afterward. “We were playing our idols. I thought: ‘Oh my god, oh my god.’ Three titles is incredible. It’s really amazing and we will keep improving ourselves. We focused a lot on the match and used our speed and we were faster than them today.”
“Today’s win has made us really, really happy,” added Wang Chi Lin. “We faced our idols. We had no pressure coming into this match. We just tried to use our speed to challenge them.
“This title is unbelievable. We feel really good because we have lost to them in the past, so in two weeks we have beaten them twice. It’s really big. This gives us confidence. We are tired now but because we’re young, we used our fighting spirit on court. Every game and every win is our best memory of being here.”
Team-mates battle hard
The afternoon in Bangkok began with yet another final match-up between Korea’s top two women’s doubles pairs. Of their six meetings, in fact, only one has not been in a tournament final and the two pairs appear to be trading honours.
Kong Hee Yong and Kim So Yeong, winners at last weekend’s Toyota Thailand Open, looked strong to take a second straight title, winning the opening game and earning 3 match points in the second. But Lee So Hee and Shin Seung Chan (pictured above) proceeded to save all 3 and then 3 more in extra points before finally taking it 26-24 to force the decider, which they also won narrowly.
Unfortunately for Viktor Axelsen, he continued the trend set by Carolina Marin and was unable to complete the streak of three straight Sunday victories. He started off dropping the opener against compatriot Anders Antonsen (pictured) but came roaring back in the second game. The decider was close right up until the homestretch, but Antonsen took the lead for good when he countered Axelsen’s straight smash with a clever, crosscourt backhand block to go up 18-17. After that, it was just power and consistency as the younger man completed a 5-point run to clinch the title.
Third straight for the home team
The other ‘three-peat’ of the afternoon came, to the delight of home fans, from mixed doubles world #3 Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai (pictured). They played a close opening game, where they maintained a slight edge but then they and the Koreans took turns completely falling apart for an entire game. As a result, the mixed doubles ended up being the only match on the day with zero suspense in the home stretch. The deciding game was, however, a master-class put on by the Thai combination, who showed their incredible defense and anticipation as they romped to a 21-8 victory.
WD: Lee So Hee / Shin Seung Chan (KOR)  beat Kim So Yeong / Kong Hee Yong (KOR)  15-21, 26-24, 21-19
MD: Lee Yang / Wang Chi Lin (TPE)  beat Mohammad Ahsan / Hendra Setiawan (INA)  21-17, 23-21
WS: Tai Tzu Ying (TPE)  beat Carolina Marin (ESP)  14-21, 21-8, 21-19
MS: Anders Antonsen (DEN)  beat Viktor Axelsen (DEN)  21-16, 5-21, 21-17
XD: Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai (THA)  beat Seo Seung Jae / Chae Yoo Jung (KOR) 21-18, 8-21, 21-8