It was not always pretty but Viktor Axelsen kept his hopes of second successive Dubai World Superseries Finals title alive on Friday evening, resisting a dogged challenge from Chou Tien Chen in their last round-robin match.
His 21-16 14-21 21-15 triumph secured his semi-final berth in the Men’s Singles competition of the million-dollar season finale which he won a year ago but the imposing Dane acknowledged it was a patchy performance.
“I didn’t start well but I managed to step up at the end of the first game. I am happy about that. However, we were both up and down. Physically, I didn’t feel really good so I am happy to be through,” said the 23-year- old world No.1 player.
Essentially a knockout battle, the Group B encounter swung one way, then the next and back as both athletes struggled for consistency, fluctuating from a string of amazing strokes to erratic and uncertain patches.
At one game each, Axelsen surged to the front early in the decider, changing over with a four-point lead. He lengthened that to 13-8 when a call by the umpire – that the shuttle was ‘dead’ before Axelsen touched the net – brought the match to a brief stalemate with Chou inconsolable about the decision.
However, gentlemanly Axelsen deliberately gifted the next point to his opponent to right the situation as spectators applauded loudly. His sense of fair play, though, did not prove costly as the defending champion rattled off another burst of points to close the proceedings.
Meanwhile, China’s Shi Yuqi topped the group with an unblemished 3-0 record, beating Kidambi Srikanth, 21-17 19-21 21-14; the Indian star ending the year disappointingly, having lost every match in Dubai. In Group A, Lee Chong Wei inexplicably capitulated from 16-6 in the second game – having wrested the first –to be beaten 13-21 22-20 21-15 by Korea’s Son Wan Ho. The result left Hong Kong’s Ng Ka Long out in the cold in the three-man cluster (with Chen Long having withdrawn), despite his win over Son on Thursday.
In Men’s Doubles, Marcus Fernaldi Gideon/Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo stayed in contention with a gritty 19-21 21-16 21-18 victory over Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen of China to reach the semi-finals. It has not been the best of weeks for the well-oiled Indonesian machinery but the dynamic duo has found a way to survive, even with Gideon being hampered by a troublesome strain down his left side from his neck to his back.
Two other evening matches saw Pusarla V Sindhu dominate Akane Yamaguchi (21-9 21-13) to top Women’s Singles Group A while Zheng Siwei/Chen Qingchen assured themselves of similar ranking in Mixed Doubles Group A.
The Indian star ran rampant from the outset, never letting her bemused Japanese opponent into the 36 minute match while Zheng/Chen conquered Tang Chun Man/Tse Ying Suet (Hong Kong), 21-10 21-18, in 29 minutes.
In earlier matches Chinese teen Chen Yufei grabbed a semi-final from defending champion Tai Tzu Ying with a hard-fought 21-18 13-21 21-18 win over Ratchanok Intanon, while another defending champion to exit the event was Women’s Doubles duo Chen Qingchen/Jia Yifan (China), who crashed to their second defeat in Group A.
In Mixed Doubles, China’s Wang Yilyu/Huang Dongping finished on top of Group B with a 21-9 11-21 21-11 result over Indonesia’s Tontowi Ahmad/Liliyana Natsir.
England’s 2015 Dubai champions Chris Adcock/Gabrielle Adcock earned a consolation win over Malaysia’s Tan Kian Meng/Lai Pei Jing, 21-13 21-16, to finish third in Group B. Japan’s Kenta Kazuno/Ayane Kurihara did the same in Group A, finishing third after beating Indonesia’s Praveen Jordan/Debby Susanto 21-13 21-17.
In Men’s Doubles, World champions Liu Cheng/Zhang Nan enjoyed a comfortable 21-18 21-13 victory over Denmark’s Mathias Boe/Carsten Mogensen to finish on top of Group B.
Much the same pattern was seen in Women’s Doubles Group B, with Denmark’s Christinna Pedersen/Kamilla Rytter Juhl falling in just 37 minutes – 21-12 21-12 – to Japan’s Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota in their final group match. Both pairs had already qualified to the semi-finals with two wins each.
In the same group, Korea’s Jung Kyung Eun/Shin Seung Chan finished their group assignments with their first win, over Chinese Taipei’s Hsu Ya Ching/Wu Ti Jung, 21-9 17-2.
The semi-finals will be played on Saturday from 10am-3pm and 4pm- 9pm. The finals will be played on Sunday from 1pm -8pm.
The extravaganza will take place in Dubai for the final time at the Hamdan Sports Complex from December 13-17, and in an absolute treat for badminton fans, Malaysian legend Lee Chong Wei has been drawn in the same group as Olympic champion Chen Long in the men’s singles.
Only the eight top-ranked players from the BWF Destination Dubai Rankings in men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles and mixed doubles have earned a place at the prestigious tournament, which sees them compete for a share of a US$1million prize pool. To qualify for Dubai the players had to amass points from twelve MetLife BWF World Superseries Tournaments held around the world throughout the year.
Speaking at the pre-event press conference and draw on Monday, H.E. Saeed Hareb, Secretary General of Dubai Sports Council said: “This is the fourth and final year Dubai will play host to the BWF World Superseries Finals. The last three years have been fantastic, but I think this year’s event will be the best yet, and I say this because the 2017 edition will be a real celebration. A celebration because the best badminton players in the world return to our city, but also a celebration of the legacy left behind by this major event.
“Thousands now play badminton after seeing the play at Hamdan and the coaching offered by the Shuttle Time Dubai programme, and this is important for Dubai Sports Council that these major tournaments come to Dubai and leave a real legacy behind, and the Dubai World Superseries Finals has done just that.”
The media event was also attended by Thomas Lund, Secretary General of the Badminton World Federation, who said: “We are delighted to be back in Dubai for the annual showpiece to crown the season’s top players. Over the past four years, Dubai has become one of the favourite destinations of the badminton fraternity. Looking at the names of players who have qualified for this tournament, I’m happy to note that they represent the highest standard of badminton.
“As you all know, this is the last edition of the season finale in Dubai. I would like to thank all our partners, particularly Dubai Sports Council, Falcon and Associates, and of course the Royal family for believing in this event and elevating it to the level it is today. Thanks to this partnership, badminton has enjoyed significant success and publicity in Dubai and the wider Middle East and we are optimistic there are bigger things in store for the sport in this region in the near future, especially with the establishment of the United Arab Emirates Badminton Association last year.
“We are pleased to have some great talent showcasing their skills this week. The setting for this event has always brought out the best in players and I have no doubt that we will have another spectacular finish to what has been an incredible season.”
The men’s singles Group A is set to provide some fantastic clashes, with Olympic champion Chen Long in the same group as Malaysian legend Lee Chong Wei. Also in Group A is top seed Son Won Ho of Korea, and Hong Kong’s Ng Ka Long Angus.
Group B will see World champion and defending Dubai champion Viktor Axelsen of Denmark up against Dubai crowd favourite Kidambi Srikanth of India. China’s Shi Yuqui and Chinese Taipei’s Chou Tien Chen make up the group.
In the Women’s Singles the pools are fairly even, with top seed Akane Yamaguchi drawn in Pool A alongside World Championship and Olympic silver medallist Pusarla V Sindhu, Japan’s Sayaka Sato and He Bingjiao. In pool B 2014 winner and 2016 defending champion Tai Tzu Ying will face Sung Ji Hyun, Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon and China’s Chen Yufei.
In a tough Group A in the men’s doubles, Indonesia’s Marcus Fernaldi Gideon/Kevin Sanjaya Sukamiljo who won a remarkable six Superseries titles this year will face 2017 World Champions Li Junhhui and Liu Yuchen of China, Mads Conrad Petersen and Mads Peiler Kolding of Denmark and Japan’s Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda.
In Group B second seeds Denmark’s Mathias Boe/Carsten Mogensen will meet Liu Cheng/Zhang Nan of China, Lee Jhe-Huei/Lee Yang of Chinese Taipei and Takuro Hoki/ Yugo Kobayashi of Japan.
In the Women’s Doubles top seeds Shiho Tanaka/Koharu Yonemoto of Japan are drawn in Group A with world champions and Dubai defending champions Chen Qingchen/Jia Yifan of China. Also in the group are China’s Yu Xiaohan/ Huang Yaqiong and Korea’s Chang Ye Na/Lee So Hee.
Group B sees World Championship silver medallists Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota of Japan up against the World Championships bronze medallists Christinna Pedesen/Kamilla Rytter Juhl of Denmark, Jung Kyung Eun/Shin Seung Chan of Korea and Hsu Ya Ching/Wu Ti Jung.
The Mixed Doubles Group A defending champions Zheng Siwei/Chen Qingchen will face Hong Kong’s Tang Chun Man/Tse Ying Suet, Indonesia’s Praveen Jordan/Debby Susanto and Japan’s Kenta Kazuno/ Ayane Kurihara.
In a tougher draw, Group B is led by world champions Tontowi Ahmad/Liliyana Natsir (Indonesia), who will face 2015 Dubai World Superseries Finals winners and 2016 runners-up Chris and Gabrielle Adcock of England. Also in the group are Wang Yilyu/Huang Dongping of China and Tan Kian Meng/Lai Pei Jing of Malaysia.
India has its best chance yet of scooping the men’s and women’s Singles titles next week at the Dubai World Superseries Finals, with Kidambi Srikanth and Pusarla V Sindhu arriving to the Emirates on a high after posting some exceptional results throughout the year.
Only the top eight ranked players qualify for the prestigious season-ending event, which will be held in Dubai for the last time this year at the Hamdan Sports Complex from December 13-17.
Srikanth and Sindhu will get to Dubai brimming with confidence after also being named last week as Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year at the Indian Sports Honours.
Srikanth had an outstanding season, becoming the only Indian and only the fourth player to have won four Superseries titles in a year, while Sindhu won two titles and the silver medal at the World Championships.
Srikanth posted early season victories in the BCA Indonesian Open and the Crown Group Australian Open, and had hoped to carry this form into the World Championships in Glasgow in August. Disappointingly, though, he was eliminated in the quarter-finals by Korea’s Son Won Ho.
He overcame the setback though and rallied to take the Danisa Denmark Open and the Yonex French Open, his performances equalling the record of four titles in one season held by Lee Chong Wei, Lin Dan and Chen Long.
He was also runner-up in the OUE Singapore Open, and made it to the quarter-finals in two other events. His efforts saw him reach a career-high world ranking of No. 2 in November, and finish second in the Destination Dubai Rankings, just behind Son Won Ho. Despite not winning a title Son had a consistently good season and just managed to overtake Srikanth on the point-score in the last event.
Meanwhile India’s new golden girl Sindhu got her season off to a good start, winning her home title, the Yonex Sunrise India Open, by defeating her rival Carolina Marin in a rematch of the epic Olympic final which saw Marin take the gold.
The 22-year-old Sindhu went on to take her second major career silver medal at the World Championships in Glasgow, where she went down to Nozomi Okuhara in the final, despite holding two match points.
She returned to winning form in the Victor Korea Open in September, before finishing runner-up to defending champion Tai Tzu Ying in the final qualification event, the Yonex Sunrise Hong Kong open in November.
But neither Srikanth nor Sindhu will have an easy run to the finals, with Srikanth up against Olympic champion Chen Long, as well as legend Lee Chong Wei and world champion and Dubai defending champion Victor Axelsen in a star-studded field.
Sindhu’s run may be a little easier with the withdrawal through injury of the two players who have denied her gold at the Olympics and World Championships – Marin and Okuhara. But she will still have to contend with defending champion and world No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying, who collected a staggering five Superseries titles this year, as well as Japan’s powerhouse Akane Yamaguchi and Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon.
The competition is also set to feature a brilliant line-up of top pairs across all men’s and women’s doubles and mixed doubles disciplines, with matches in all categories commencing on Wednesday December 13.
Tickets are on sale at https://dubai.platinumlist.net/.