Japan’s world champion Nozomi Okuhara responded to her fans’ expectations on Wednesday by setting up a rematch of her world championships final against India’s Pusarla Sindhu in the women’s singles at the Japan Open.
With her fans cheering her on at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, world No. 9 Okuhara, the bronze medalist at last summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics, beat Hong Kong’s Cheung Ngan Yi. Okuhara needed 40 minutes to beat the world No. 15 21-15, 21-13.
Cheung used quick shots to force Okuhara to run, but the local hero was up to the task, her speed allowing her to track down and return her opponent’s shots.
Okuhara made several errors throughout the match that gave her opponent hope, but didn’t lose control.
“I was very nervous,” Okuhara said. “The first match of the tournament is always difficult. I worried if I could get used to the atmosphere of the venue, and the shuttles used here before my opponent did.
“I’m not satisfied with my performance, but a win is a win. I played safely to ensure a win, instead of attacking aggressively.”
In her second-round match on Thursday, Okuhara will meet Sindhu, who she defeated in August’s world championships final. That match, lasting 1 hour, 50 minutes, was a rematch of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics semifinal that Sindhu won.
However, Okuhara lost 2-1 against Sindhu at the Korea Open on Sunday.
“It might be a match everyone is looking forward to,” Okuhara said before Sindhu defeated Minatsu Mitani in her tournament opener.
“I want to play like I always do, and never forget to keep running for the shuttle until the match is finished,” Okuhara said.
Earlier in the day, Spain’s two-time world champion Carolina Marin defeated China’s Chen Xiaoxin in straight games.
Marin, the Rio Olympic gold medalist, started her campaign for her first Japan Open title with a 21-11, 21-11 win over Chen, who defeated her in the Indonesia Open in June.
The world No. 5 Marin, the world champion in 2014 and 2015, allowed world No. 18 Chen to stay in the first game until finding her rhythm and scoring nine straight points to take a one-game lead.
Marin, the fifth seed, eased through the second game while dragging her opponent across the court with her shots.
“Of course I feel very happy with my performance and how I managed the game,” Marin said. “I think it was a tough match. I did my best, so of course I’m happy.”
In the men’s singles, Denmark’s world champion Viktor Axelsen and Kenta Nishimoto of Japan each won to set up a second-round showdown.
World No. 2 Axelsen edged Thailand’s Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk 21-8, 21-13, while No. 61 Nishimoto defeated Jonatan Christie of Indonesia 22-20, 21-15.