Chinese teen sensations Jia Yefan and Chen Qingchen have beaten the current world no. 1 women’s doubles pair, Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi, in a major upset at the latest BWF Superseries championship in Dubai. Although the field of badminton women’s doubles has long been dominated by Chinese players, Matsutomo/Takahashi’s no. 1 ranking marks one of the very rare occasions that the top women’s doubles spot has been held by a non-Chinese pair.
Earlier this year the world no. 8 Chinese pair beat the Rio Olympic Gold and Silver medallists to win the French Open and appeared confident coming to the Dubai World Superseries finals.
The Japanese had a rocky start, dropping the opening game 15-21, before fighting back and taking the second 21-13. Matsutomo and Takahashi managed to find their rhythm in the second game as their offensive improved and they started to win more rallies. Jia and Chen seemed unable to focus in the rallies and gave away several unforced errors. By the end of the second set, the Chinese seemed to be saving energy for a third set.
In the third and final decider the Chinese teenagers fired up and led by a narrow margin throughout the game. At 18-16 the Chinese were just three points away from winning. Matsutomo and Takahashi narrowed the deficit to 18-17 by using a co-ordinated defensive strategy to move Chen around the court, which led to her making an unforced error whilst off balance. However, a flick serve to Jia was punished with a deep smash at Matsutomo’s right hip and brought the score to 19-17.
Both sides displayed skillfulness, speed and power as they fought to break through their opponent’s defences in the next rally. A drive shot from Takahashi caught the net and bounced off the tape, Chen dived and caught the shuttle with a hairpin net drop. Matsutomo retrieved the net drop with a lift, giving the Chinese the attack. A weak reply by Takahashi was punished by Chen with a net kill, bringing the Chinese to Championship point. The next rally sealed Japan’s fate as Takahashi returned the serve to Jia’s waiting forehand and the left-hander drove the shuttle deep cross court beyond Matsutomo’s reach. The Chinese pair thus triumphed 21-15, 13-21, 21-17.
Japan won’t go home empty-handed
It’s a disappointing finish to what has been an amazing year for the Japanese pair, who won Japan’s first ever badminton gold at Rio and were named dual-winners of the World Badminton Association’s Female Player of the Year award, the first Japanese players to claim the honor.
“This year has been great for us. There were two memorable victories — the All England and the Olympics,” Matsutomo said at the ceremony in Dubai.
For the Japanese, disappointed as they must be, they have created history in their own right.