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Okuhara, Yamaguchi secure spots in Japan Open quarterfinals

Kyodo

World champion Nozomi Okuhara breezed past India’s world No. 2 Pusarla Sindhu in straight games at the Japan Open badminton tournament on Thursday, advancing to the quarterfinals of the women’s singles competition.

Eighth-ranked Okuhara, bronze medalist at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, had claimed a hard-fought victory against Sindhu at the worlds in August in a match that lasted 1 hour, 50 minutes. But this time she won 21-18, 21-8 in less than 50 minutes before a home crowd.

“I was nervous before the match, but I thought that the worst thing that could happen is being crushed under the weight of my fans’ expectations,” Okuhara said. “I went into the match asking myself what I have to do.”

After Sindhu led 18-16 in the first game at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, Okuhara scored five points in a row to win it before cruising through the second game to improve her career head-to-head record with her rival to 5-4.

“Maybe my opponent was affected by the atmosphere of it being a home game for me,” Okuhara said. “I don’t know if I can win the next time we face each other. There’s not as big a gap in the level of our game as there was between our scores today.”

World No. 4 Akane Yamaguchi advanced to the quarterfinals, defeating South Korea’s Kim Hyo-min 21-12, 18-21, 21-8.

Yamaguchi, the second seed and 2013 champion, had an error-prone second game against the 47th-ranked Kim, but started the third game by scoring five straight points en route to sealing her win in 66 minutes at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

“I made many errors and I played at the same level as my opponent in the second game,” Yamaguchi said. “I tried to speed up in the third game after noticing that my opponent was missing more shots.

“Since my rankings have gone up, I have noticed my opponents are attacking aggressively when we play,” said Yamaguchi, who dropped two slots in the latest ranking released Thursday but has consistently been in the top 10 since last fall.

Yamaguchi will face Rio Olympic gold medalist and No. 5 seed Carolina Marin of Spain in the quarterfinals on Friday.

In men’s singles, Denmark’s world champion and No. 3 seed Viktor Axelsen beat Kenta Nishimoto 21-17, 21-18 to claim a spot in the quarterfinals.

The world No. 1 women’s doubles pair of Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi defeated Indonesia’s 50th-ranked duo Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu 21-15, 12-21, 21-15.