Badminton World Federation (BWF)

Nozomi Okuhara makes it third time lucky as she finally grabs Hong Kong Open title

  • Japanese ace beats her friend and rival Ratchanok in a thrilling one-hour contest in the final
  • 2017 world champion from Omachi had lost her two previous Hong Kong Open finals
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2018, 10:08pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2018, 11:04pm

Diminutive Nozomi Okuhara stood tall by becoming the first Japanese to claim the women’s singles title at the Sunrise-Yonex Hong Kong Open on Sunday.

She defeated friend and rival Ratchanok Intanon, of Thailand, in a thrilling one-hour contest at the Coliseum in Hung Hom.

The two finalists, who are both 23 and grew up together on tour, hugged each other after the more determined Japanese prevailed 21-19, 24-22.

It was a good day for Okuhara’s teammates as Japan won two more titles from the five finals in the HK$3.2 million tournament, giving a glimpse what the Japanese would be capable of as 2020 Olympic Games hosts.

In the mixed doubles, Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino upset second seeds Wang Yilyu and Huang Dongping, of China, 21-18, 21-14, while in the women’s doubles, top seeds Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota beat South Korea’s Lee So-hee and Shin Seung-chan, champions of the China Open last week, 21-18, 21-17. But Japan lost their two remaining events.

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In the men’s doubles, Keigo Sonda and Takeshi Kamura were no match against Marcus Gideon and Kevin Sukamuljo after the Indonesian world number one pair chalked up their eighth title of the year with a 21-13, 21-12 win. Kenta Nishimoto also lost in the men’s singles final to Son Wan-ho, of South Korea, in three games.

Son, the 2014 Hong Kong champion, clinched the World Tour 500 title with a 14-21, 21-17, 21-13 victory.

Standing 1.56 metres tall, Okuhara, the seventh seed and 2017 world champion, fully utilised her speed and agility on court to score a morale-boosting victory, one week after she lost in the Fuzhou China Open final to mainlander Chen Yufei. It was also her first win in three attempts at the Hong Kong Open title after losing to Taiwan’s Tai Tzu-Ying in 2014 and Spain’s Carolina Marin in 2015 in both finals. No other Japanese has won the title in the 30-year plus history of the Hong Kong Open.

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“This is my last tournament of 2018 and I am so happy to wrap up the year on a high note, especially since Olympic qualification kicks off next year,” said Okuhara, who’s career was derailed after a serious meniscus injury in 2013.

“Four years ago, I was competing at the Hong Kong Open final and two years later I won bronze at the Rio Olympics. I have won gold in Hong Kong in 2018 and two years later, it will be the Tokyo Games.

“The Olympic Games remains the most important target for me, especially it will be held in Japan this time. It will be difficult but I want to win gold medal for the fans.”

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Both players were playing with similar defensive style using long rallies to force the opponents to make mistakes. Okuhara took the first game against the sixth seed with more consistent play in front of about 6,500 fans.

Intanok played more aggressively in the second game and led for most of the game, but mistakes crept into her game as Okuhara killed off her challenge.

“The Japanese players are always difficult to beat as they have a strong mind,” said Intanok, the 2013 world champion. “It was very close. Win or lose is sometimes all down to destiny.”