• Kyodo


Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota booked their place in the final of the All England Open Badminton Championships with a straight-sets win over Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo in an all-Japanese women’s doubles semifinal on Saturday.

The world No. 3 pair overwhelmed Takahashi and Matsutomo, currently ranked seventh, 21-12, 21-12 at Arena Birmingham and placed a roadblock in the way of the Rio de Janeiro Games gold medalists’ bid for an Olympic title defense in Tokyo this summer.

“Up until now we’ve played a lot, and we’ve lost a lot,” Takahashi said of her partnership with Matsutomo.

“But we won a gold medal at the Olympics, so we’ve had good experiences. I don’t know what will happen in the future, but first I just want to take a good little rest and think it over.”

The Badminton World Federation has suspended all sanctioned tournaments from March 16-April 12 in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, effectively making the All England Open the last qualifying event for this summer’s Olympics.

Under existing plans, Olympic qualification will be based on the world rankings released on April 30. The BWF, however, is set to make a further announcement on regulations related to qualification for the July 24-Aug. 9 games “at a later date.”

Mayu Matsumoto and Wakana Nagahara, who were knocked out in the quarterfinals, currently sit second in the world rankings.

Takahashi and Matsutomo were hoping to close the gap on their third-ranked compatriots, but lost vital ground in the first game after giving up eight straight points.

Fukushima and Hirota will look to solidify their Olympic bid in Sunday’s final against China’s No. 6 team of Du Yue and Li Yin Hui.

In the men’s doubles semifinals, Japan’s world No. 6 pair Hiroyuki Endo and Yuta Watanabe defeated Russia’s Vladimir Ivanov and Ivan Sozonov 21-16, 21-15 to set up a gold-medal match against Indonesia’s world No. 1 Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo.

Endo, who finished runner-up at the All England Open three times with Kenichi Hayakawa, and Watanabe are looking to capture the first men’s doubles title for Japan at the tournament.

In the women’s singles, Rio bronze medalist Nozomi Okuhara was defeated 21-14, 23-21 by defending champion Chen Yu Fei of China in their semifinal match and missed out on the chance to win her first title here since 2016.

“(Chen’s) shots from behind were sharp and it took some time for me to get used to it,” Okuhara said. “I fell before I expected. But I don’t think it was as bad as last year’s loss.”

Okuhara, who has already secured her place at the Tokyo Games by advancing to the women’s singles quarterfinals here, was beaten by the same opponent in the semifinals of the 2019 All England Open.

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