Yamaguchi celebrates 26th birthday with tough Singapore Badminton Open first-round win

Women’s singles world No. 1 Akane Yamaguchi proved victorious over an old foe and defending champion, India’s world No. 13 P. V. Sindhu.

David Lee

David Lee

The Straits Times


Akane Yamaguchi beat P. V. Sindhu 18-21, 21-19, 21-17 in the first round of the Singapore Badminton Open on Tuesday. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

June 7, 2023

SINGAPORE – Strains of “Happy Birthday” broke out in the Singapore Indoor Stadium stands on Tuesday, but the recipient – women’s singles world No. 1 Akane Yamaguchi – felt only relief after prevailing in her first-round match at the Singapore Badminton Open.

In a blockbuster worthy of a final, her biggest present was a victory over an old foe and defending champion, India’s world No. 13 P. V. Sindhu, whom she beat 18-21, 21-19, 21-17 after 61 minutes.

Yamaguchi said: “Among all the players, Sindhu is the one I have more losses (14) than wins (10) against, so it feels good to go against the odds and secure this win, especially on my (26th) birthday.

“There won’t be any wild celebrations because I’m still playing in the tournament, but I have many messages from my family, friends, and fans to go through and reply.”

In Thursday’s round of 16, the two-time world champion will face Canada’s Michelle Li, who beat Kirsty Gilmour of Scotland 21-11, 21-15.

Despite the 1.79m Sindhu’s height and reach advantage, the 1.56m Japanese made up for her shortcomings by combining deft strokes and rapid footwork to cover the court, and retrieve and repel Sindhu’s attacks, particularly in the second game, recovering from 12-14 down to level the match.

The decider was a nervy affair with both players committing uncharacteristic unforced errors. It ended abruptly though when Yamaguchi’s serve skidded the net cord to leave Sindhu stranded. In a sign of her superior fitness and mental strength, this was her sixth win in nine matches that went the distance in 2023.

Yamaguchi, who bowed in appreciation to her singing supporters, said: “During the third game, maybe it was nerves, fatigue, or the draught, but there were a few factors that led to poor control of the shuttlecock for both players. But I’m happy I pulled through.”

Sindhu, 27, has now lost eight of her 11 three-game matches in 2023 after recovering from a left-foot stress fracture that kept her out of action for five months. She was close to tears afterwards and said: “I would say it was anybody’s game today. Sometimes it’s really hard to lose close matches like this and I’m going to come back stronger.”

“Overall I’m happy that I’m back on court after the injury. But it’s important that I go back and learn from my mistakes… and get the rhythm back.”

Spain’s world No. 6 Carolina Marin also came from behind to beat Denmark’s 19th-ranked Line Kjaersfeldt 16-21, 21-17, 21-12. In the men’s singles, Taiwanese world No. 7 Chou Tien-chen overcame India’s 19th-ranked Lakshya Sen 18-21, 21-17, 21-13 while Japan’s world No. 4 Kodai Naraoka beat India’s eighth-ranked H. S. Prannoy 21-15, 21-19.

There were straightforward wins for China’s world No. 1 pairs as Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan beat Canadians Catherine Choi and Josephine Wu 21-12, 21-13 in the women’s doubles, while Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong overcame Taiwanese Yang Po-hsuan and Hu Ling-fang 21-18, 21-9 in the mixed doubles.

The biggest shock on the US$850,000 (S$1.15m) tournament’s opening day belonged to England’s world No. 18 men’s doubles pair Ben Lane and Sean Vendy, who stunned Indonesia’s top-ranked Fajar Alfian and Rian Ardianto 21-15, 21-18 without trailing throughout.

Lane, 25, credited their success to their friendship and partnership that started in their pre-teens. He said: “We had a tough start to this season losing lots of close matches. It’s good we’re good friends who manage to stay together and get over these losses quickly to focus on what we are working on and our long-term goals.”

Vendy, 27, added: “Being world No. 1 is our goal and beating the world No. 1 adds to the confidence we already have. We are older, more mature, with more experience and hopefully we will be in our prime for the next five to six years.”

Singapore’s only representatives on Tuesday were world No. 25 mixed doubles pair Terry Hee and Jessica Tan. The couple delighted the home crowd by winning the first game 22-20 but ran out of steam against Denmark’s 13th-ranked Mathias Christiansen and Alexandra Boje, losing the next two 13-21, 13-21.

Compatriots Loh Kean Yew and Yeo Jia Min face Hong Kong’s Lee Cheuk Yiu and China’s Zhang Yiman in their respective men’s and women’s singles matches on Wednesday, while women’s doubles duo Jin Yujia and Crystal Wong play Indonesia’s defending champions Apriyani Rahayu and Siti Ramadhanti.

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