Lee, Li capture Japan Open titles

by Shigemi Sato

AFP-JIJI

World badminton No. 1 Lee Chong Wei put his heartbreak over Malaysia’s narrow defeat in the Thomas Cup behind him Sunday to win the Japan Open for a record-stretching fifth time.

The 31-year-old Malaysian took only 35 minutes to stop Hong Kong’s veteran Hu Yun 21-14, 21-12 in the men’s final and lift the title for the third straight year.

In the women’s final, China’s Olympic champion and world No. 1 Li Xuerui struggled in the first game but regained composure to beat Taiwan’s Tai Tzu-ying 21-16, 21-6.

In the Thomas Cup final three weeks ago, Lee beat Kenichi Tago but Malaysia allowed Japan to lift its first ever men’s team championship by a 3-2 decision. His badminton-crazy country had aimed for a first Thomas Cup victory in 22 years.

“I was depressed for two or three days after losing the close game,” Lee said. “I could not have solid training as usual and I have come here in very bad condition.”

But Lee, who has has already won three events in the top-flight World Superseries so far this year in Malaysia, England and India, said he had tried to play his best as the Japan Open was supported by his major sponsor.

Playing with an unusually aggressive flair, he led the first game all the way with a cushion of up to eight points. At 20-14, eighth-seeded Hu returned a high lob into the net.

After leading 7-4 in the second game, Lee was tied by Hu four times. But after 12-12, Lee took nine straight points, smashing in a shot past a stunned Hu at match point.

“It was an unexpectedly easy match for a final,” Lee said. “I had not played aggressively in the Japan Open. But I studied Hu in video last night and decided it would be better if I play aggressively.”

Hu, 32, said: “I feel happy because I had not expected such a result before the tournament.”

“Chong Wei was awesome with his speed and attack,” he added.

Playing in her first Japan Open, the 23-year-old Li scored her second victory in the 12-leg World Superseries so far this year. She has taken the Malaysia Open but finished runner-up in three other events.

Tai, 20 years old and ranked seventh in the world, took an early lead but Li caught her at 6-6. Li surged ahead after swopping the lead to 15-15.

Li jumped to 6-0 in the second game and scored seven straight points from 9-2. She steadily piled up points to win the match in 34 minutes.

“I could refocus myself after I struggled to take the first game. My opponent probably became desperate after dropping the hard-fought first game,” Li said. “The second game went very smoothly for me.”

Li was set to take part in the next Superseries event in Indonesia next week but did not know how many events her coach would let her play.

Li, the runner-up to Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon at last year’s world championships, added she also aimed to triumph at the worlds in August in Copenhagen and at the Asian Games in the South Korean city of Incheon in September.