BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – Nozomi Okuhara became the first Japanese in 39 years to win the women’s badminton singles title at the All-England Championships on Sunday, beating Wang Shixian 2-1 in the final.
Okuhara, who celebrated her 21st birthday the same day, defeated her Chinese opponent 21-11, 16-21, 21-19 not long after Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo won the women’s doubles 21-10, 21-12 over Tang Yuanting and Yu Yang for Japan’s first All-England victory in the discipline in 38 years.
“I felt compelled to follow in their footsteps,” Okuhara said, referring to Takahashi and Matsutomo, who play for the same club team.
Japan just missed out on a hat-trick of championships as Hiroyuki Endo and Kenichi Hayakawa lost 21-23, 21-18, 21-16 to Russia’s Vladimir Ivanov and Ivan Sozonov in the men’s doubles final.
With the win, Okuhara, Japan’s first female champion here since Hiroe Yuki in 1977, also punched her ticket to this summer’s Rio Olympics.
“I’ve never had a better birthday,” said Okuhara, who had beaten world No. 1 Carolina Marin of Spain in a three-game semifinal. “I’ll remember this tournament for sure.”
Okuhara was down by as many as four points in the third game, after Wang roared back to take the second. But Okuhara, ranked eighth in the world, dug deep to outlast Wang, capturing the last five points in the 1-hour, 39-minute match.
“I’ve been working hard to win the All-England title,” said the Nagano Prefecture native.
“I never gave up, and that’s what allowed me to come back. I was going to keep running until I had nothing left. It gives me a lot of confidence to have won amid the attention.”
Takahashi and Matsutomo became the first Japanese pair since Atsuko Tokuda and Mikiko Takada in 1978 to capture the women’s doubles crown.
Takahashi and Matsutomo never relinquished control against Tang and Yu, capitalizing on their mistakes to defeat a Chinese duo for the third successive match. En route to the final, the newly crowned champions got past London Olympic gold medalists Tian Qing and Zhao Yunei in the quarterfinals, and Luo Ying and Luo Yu in the last four.
“Everyone is out to win this tournament,” Matsutomo said. “We always wanted to play in the special atmosphere on center court. We were thrilled to be out there, regardless of whether we won or lost.”