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Okuhara advances to world final

Kyodo, AP

Nozomi Okuhara came from behind to win a women’s singles semifinal on Saturday, becoming the first Japanese to reach a world badminton championships final in 40 years.

The 22-year-old Okuhara, who is ranked 12th in the world, defeated India’s Saina Nehwal 12-21, 21-17, 21-10 in 74 minutes. It was Okuhara’s first win over the 16th-ranked Nehwal in three career meetings.

Earlier, Rio Olympic women’s doubles champions Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo failed in their bid for gold, suffering a 2-0 loss in their semifinal.

The Japanese top seeds blew a 15-10, first-game lead before losing to the fourth-seeded Chinese pair of Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan 21-17, 21-15.

“Midway through the first game, we surrendered consecutive points and had to change something,” Matsutomo said. “When we got into the game, our decision-making was not up to snuff.”

Men’s doubles fourth seeds Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda were soundly beaten 21-12, 21-15 by unseeded Indonesians Mohammad Ahsan and Rian Agung Saputro in the men’s doubles semifinals.

Looking to be the first Japanese men to reach a world championships doubles final, Kamura and Sonoda did not move as well as they had in their quarterfinal victory the day before. The pair never led in the first game and was only briefly up in the second.

“One tough match after another eroded our stamina, and we became passive,” Sonoda said.

Kamura, whose mistakes were noticeable, gave the veteran Indonesian duo credit.

“They did their homework and didn’t give us the freedom to do what we do best,” Kamura said. “It was a comprehensive defeat.”

In other matches, Chen Long’s hold on badminton’s biggest title was loosened by Viktor Axelsen.

Chen won the world title in 2014 and 2015 and the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, and the Chinese star was looking good this week, having not dropped a game in reaching the semifinals.

But he was blown away by Axelsen 21-9, 21-10. The Dane jumped ahead 13-2 in the first game and won 11 straight points in the second to lead 15-6. It was all over in 39 minutes.

“He played the perfect game,” Chen said.

To become the first Danish or European male to win the world title in 20 years, Axelsen will have to go through badminton’s greatest player, five-time champion Lin Dan, on Sunday.

“Denmark is a small country but I am very proud we can compete with the bigger countries,” Axelsen said.

Lin has reached the final for the first time since his last world title in 2013 by taking out No. 1-ranked Son Wan-ho of South Korea 21-17, 21-14 in an hour. The first game was tight until it was 16-16, and the second was not a contest from 10-9 up, as Lin powered away.

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