More Sports

Takahashi, Matsutomo make quick work of Fukushima, Hirota to reach Japan Open final

Kyodo

Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo on Saturday earned a berth in the Japan Open women’s doubles final, while women’s singles world champion Nozomi Okuhara withdrew with an injury.

The top-seeded duo edged compatriots Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota, seeded eighth, 21-11, 21-15 at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

Fukushima and Hirota were put on the defensive in the 46-minute match, having little chance to display the aggressive style that took them to the finals of August’s world championships, where they were runners-up.

Takahashi and Matsutomo, who captured a gold medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, sealed the win by scoring five straight points in hard-fought rallies after leading 16-15 in the second game.

“I knew the opponents were the same level as us. So I was playing thinking that I had nothing to lose,” Takahashi said. “I noticed that they were pushed back by our attacks, so we continued to play aggressively.”

Takahashi and Matsutomo, the 2014 Japan Open champs, will face South Korea’s Kim Ha-na and Kong Hee-yong in Sunday’s final.

“Kim has been playing well since we started playing, and has a lot of experience,” Matsutomo said. “We need to play like we always do.”

In the women’s singles, Okuhara handed 2016 Olympic gold medalist Carolina Marin a spot in Sunday’s final after withdrawing due to swelling in her right knee that began after her second-round match on Thursday.

“I received treatment and tried my best to recover, but it didn’t get to the point where I thought I could compete,” the local favorite told a news conference. “I was ready to fight emotionally and I wanted to, but my body was telling me that I can’t.”

Earlier in the day, Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei also advanced to the final round in his campaign for his seventh Japan Open title.

The world No. 7 Lee, who earned silver medals at the past three Olympics, defeated China’s Shi Yuqi, ranked fourth, 21-19, 21-8.

The fifth-seeded Lee allowed Shi, the No. 2 seed, to take an 11-4 lead in the first game, but the Chinese made three errors in a row after the game was tied 18-18 to lose it.

“I was behind in the first game, but I thought I had the second and the third,” Lee said. “I was fighting for each point.”

In Sunday’s final, Lee will face Denmark’s world champion Viktor Axelsen, ranked No. 2, who beat South Korea’s world No. 1 Son Wan-ho 21-16, 21-16.

Meanwhile, Takuto Inoue and Yuki Kaneko advanced to the men’s doubles final, rallying from a game down to defeat Russia’s Vladimir Ivanov and Ivan Sozonov 2-1.

In mixed doubles, Takuro Hoki and Sayaka Hirota also reached the final, defeating India’s Pranaay Jerry Chopra and N. Sikki Reddy in three games.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5