RIO DE JANEIRO – Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi reached the women’s badminton doubles final at the Rio Olympics on Tuesday, assuring Japan of at least a silver medal.
Later at the Riocentro Pavilion, an all-Japan women’s singles quarterfinal saw Nozomi Okuhara, ranked sixth in the world, maintain her unbeaten record over Akane Yamaguchi. It wasn’t easy, as Okuhara had to fight back from a game down to win it 11-21 21-17 21-10.
With both sides attacking at every opportunity, the top-ranked doubles combination of Matsutomo and Takahashi defeated fifth-seeded South Koreans Jung Kyung-eun and Shin Seung-chan, 21-16, 21-15.
The Japanese pair will play the Danish duo of Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl in Thursday’s final, after they beat Tang Yuanting and Yu Yang of China 21-16 14-21 21-19.
The Japanese picked up where they left off in the quarterfinals, where they rallied from a listless second game to turn the tide in an overpowering decisive third game.
“Before the match we spoke about how, if we won, we’d have a day off tomorrow, so let’s give it our all even if it means collapsing (on the court),” Takahashi said. “They (Jung and Shin) beat us the last time we played and so today we were able to exact some revenge.
“We won our match yesterday by attacking in the final game and that’s the way we wanted to play today from the instant we walked on the court. We were able to do that and it was a lot of fun.”
Riding a flawless rotation that has become the norm for them during these Olympics, Matsutomo and Takahashi were better able to survive the fast-paced exchanges that ensued with each side trying to overpower the other.
“The South Korean pair comes at you with one hard shot after another, and we wanted to prevent them from doing that. Rather, we were the ones who were able to maintain the attack. That was the good thing today,” Matsutomo said.
“Now it’s a matter of playing the way we’re capable of in the final.”
Matsutomo and Takahashi will at least match Mizuki Fujii and Reika Kakiiwa who won Olympic silver four years ago in London — Japan’s most recent medal in badminton.
The all-Japanese singles affair began with Yamaguchi dominating on serve in the first game, winning 13 points to three when starting the point. Yamaguchi, the younger of the two at 19, carried that to a 21-11 first game victory.
The script flipped in the second as the 21-year-old Okuhara imposed herself on the match, using excellent foot speed to combat her opponent while sorting her own serve out, which she did to win the game 21-17 and send it to a decider.
Okuhara rode the momentum into the start of the final game, building an early lead. However, Yamaguchi was determined to compete, but could not sustain her level as Okuhara won the game 21-10.
“I am so pleased that I could play on this unique stage together with a friend that I have been with at camp since before the tournament started,” said Okuhara, who meets India’s world No. 10 Sindhu Pusarla in the semifinals.
“Akane performed really well and I think we both gave it everything we had out there today. Akane was really strong (in the first game) so I knew that I had to play with that extra bit of heart.”
Okuhara should enter the next match with confidence as she has only lost once to Pusarla, and has beaten her three straight times.
“There will be more tough games ahead like today’s match and hopefully I can take encouragement from the support I get and keep playing my game,” Okuhara said.