My form has returned and it feels good, says China’s Chen Long
After an inconsistent season, the two-time world champion sets up a repeat of last year’s Rio final against Malaysian ace Lee Chong Wei at the Hong Kong Open
Reigning Olympic champion Chen Long, of China, feels he is beginning to hit top form as he reached the men’s singles final at the Yonex-Sunrise Hong Kong Open on Saturday.
The two-time world champion hasn’t been playing his best since winning gold in Rio last summer, winning just one superseries title at last week’s China Open – but that was coupled by some disappointing early exits.
However, the 28-year-old Jingzhou-born shuttler believes his best form is only around the corner, which will be a boost for him in time for the Tokyo Olympics in three years.
Standing in Chen’s way is Malaysian ace Lee Chong Wei, who won the other semi-final, defeating China’s Shi Yuqi 21-19, 21-8 in 39 minutes.
Lee and Chen set up a repeat of last year’s Rio Games final, where the Chinese world No 4 won gold while denying the Malaysian his first after two previous silvers in 2008 and 2012.
“After you have won all the world’s biggest tournaments, it is important to be strong mentally and to keep hungry on court,” said the Chinese ace, who defeated Anders Antonsen of Denmark in three tough games at the Coliseum in Hung Hom.
“The Tokyo Olympic cycle now begins and I am happy my form is starting to come back, especially after last week’s China Open and now the Hong Kong event. Every win is crucial as it will consolidate my self belief.”
Chen said he was delighted to have reached another final again in Hong Kong after his appearance in 2014 when he lost to Son Wan-ho, of South Korea, for the title. The mainlander has won here once before, defeating Lee Chong Wei, of Malaysia, in the 2012 final.
Against Antonsen, who beat him in the second round of the French Open last month, Chen showed a strong determination on court with more attacking shots throughout the 87-minute rally, earning a 21-14, 19-21, 21-17 victory.
Just before the French Open, he crashed out in the first round of the Denmark Open following a 2-0 defeat at the hands of South Korean veteran Lee Hyun-il.
“I have been improving as the tournament wears on,” he said. “I don’t want to give excuses but Antonsen was too good to close out the second game. But I am happy I didn’t lose my rhythm in the deciding game before sealing an important victory.”
Former world number one Lee said he has put his Rio disappointment behind him, the last time they have played each other. The two also has had an equal head-to-head record of 13 wins each.
“I lost the Olympic final to Chen and if I keep thinking about it, I will lose again,” said the 35-year-old. “What I have to do is to make a quick recovery, adjust my form the best I can and prepare for the match.
“This is the last match of the superseries of the year and indeed I am quite happy with my performance as I am playing better with each match.”
Shi reached the semi-finals by upsetting countryman Lin Dan in the previous round, depriving fans the opportunity of witnessing another long anticipated clash between the two greatest players.
“Everybody wants to see me play Lin Dan again, but you never know what can happen in each match. Sometime you win, sometimes you lose. What we have to do is to look forward to doing well in the next match so that we may have the chance of meeting again,” said Lee.
In the women’s singles semi-finals, defending champion Tai Tzu-ying, of Taiwan, dropped her first game at the US$400,000 tournament against third seed Sung Ji-hyun, of South Korea, but the Taiwanese, who has already clinched four out of 11 superseries titles so far this year, prevailed 21-9, 18-21, 21-7.
“I could not find my form in the second game,” said the world number one, who continued her red-hot form. “But I quickly recovered and with the support of the fans in Hong Kong, which is my lucky city, I reached the final again.”
After lifting the Hong Kong Open last year, Tai went through a stunning run of seven months unbeaten, clinching the 2016 superseries final and the next three tournaments and the Asian Championships title until she lost to Nitchaon Jindapol, of Thailand, in the Indonesia Open in late June. The Taiwanese captured her fourth superseries title in the French Open last month.
She will take on Pusarla P Sindhu, the Indian second seed, in a repeat of last year’s final when Tai easily won 21-15, 21-17.
It will also be a top clash of the year as Sindhu is the second-best finisher on tour for winning two superseries titles this year, the India Open at home and the Korea Open.
With strong support from the Indian community, Sindhu marched into the final after overcoming 2013 world champion, Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand 21-17, 21-17 in 43 minutes.
“I hope there will be a change this time,” said the losing finalist of last year. “Tai has been doing so well this year but I won’t think about any victory or any other matches. I’ll just have to go and get myself recovered so that I can be a hundred per cent fit for tomorrow.
“This is going to be a very close game but I need to get prepared for a long match as there won’t be any easy points in the final.”