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French Open: Day 6 - French Toast for Daren Liew, Minatsu Mitani and Ma Jin

The Yonex French Open ended today with two unlikely names winning the singles – Malaysia’s Daren Liew and Japan’s Minatsu Mitani.

Nobody would have given either Daren Liew, 25, or Mitani, 21, a second thought at the start of the tournament. In the process, even as Liew and Mitani (right, with Nehwal) emerged champions in the Men’s Singles and Women’s Singles respectively, they achieved a remarkable feat. It was the first major title for either player – in fact it was Liew’s first final in any international event while Mitani’s victory was the first for a Japanese Women’s Singles player in a Superseries event.

Liew was a comfortable winner over Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen 21-18 21-17 before Mitani upset the form book with a 21-19 21-11 dismantling of India’s Saina Nehwal. The results herald exciting possibilities for badminton – for Malaysia it means the emergence of a possible No. 2 to lone ranger Lee Chong Wei, while for Japan, which has strong Women’s Doubles pairs but nobody in the singles top-ten, Mitani might just be the prospect they have been seeking.

The other finals saw China take the Women’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles trophies, with Ma Jin featuring in both victories, while Korea won the Men’s Doubles. Ma Jin and Tang Jinhua (left) outplayed Denmark’s Christinna Pedersen/Kamilla Rytter Juhl in the Women’s Doubles final 21-12 23-21, and Ma Jin later teamed up with Xu Chen to win the Mixed Doubles over compatriots Qiu Zihan/Bao Yixin 21-17 19-21 21-18. The last final of the day, the Men’s Doubles, saw Korea’s Lee Yong Dae/Ko Sung Hyun get the better of Thailand’s Bodin Issara/Maneepong Jongjit 22-24 21-17 21-11.

Liew played a smart tactical battle against Axelsen. The Malaysian used the lanky Dane’s height against him by drawing him to the net and getting him to bend forward and twist a lot, following that up by flicking the shuttle behind him. His jump smashes, which were so effective in his semi-final against Jan O Jorgensen, were again sharp and precise; leaving nd Axelsen to chase Liew throughout the match.

Although the tall Dane did manage to fire in his own big smashes from time to time, the Malaysian’s court craft and range of shots proved too much for his opponent.

Saina Nehwal entered the Women’s Singles showdown with 24 wins in her last 25 matches. She was in her third straight Superseries final and, boasting a 3-0 record against Mitani, was expected to win. However, Mitani turned the tables with an astonishing display of defensive badminton that left the Indian disheartened.

Nehwal employed her usual attacking game, but once Mitani had found her length and rhythm, Nehwal had difficulty breaking down her defence. The Japanese world No. 26 kept returning all of Nehwal’s big smashes and placements and even outlasted her in the long rallies. Nehwal did have a window of opportunity at 19-16 in the first game, but she made three uncharacteristic errors and the Japanese grabbed the moment. In the second, Mitani ran away with the match from ten-all, winning 11 out of the next 12 points.

In the opening match of the day, the Women’s Doubles, China’s Ma Jin and Tang Jinhua saved four game points in the second game and take the title against Christinna Pedersen/Kamilla Rytter Juhl of Denmark. The Danes were all at sea in the first game but regrouped in the second and it was a close battle. The difference between the two teams was Tang Jinhua who played some unpredictable overhead strokes that caught Pedersen and Juhl off guard.

The new South Korean combination of Lee Yong Dae/Ko Sung Hyun (right) brought the curtains down on the tournament, winning the Men’s Doubles versus their Thai rivals. This was Lee’s second tournament since capturing the Olympic bronze with Chung Jae Sung who retired immediately afterwards.

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