Inspired improvisation saves world No. 1 Tai Tzu-ying from semi-final defeat

World No. 1 women’s shuttler Tai Tzu-ying of Taiwan (PHOTO: EFE/EPA/Ahmad Yusni)

SINGAPORE — Tai Tzu-ying draws frequent gasps of admiration from those watching her play. The Taiwanese world No. 1 shuttler makes up for her slight, 1.62m frame with some of the smartest and most unexpected shot selections seen among the current top players, confounding her opponents and sending them scampering all over the court in vain.

On Saturday (13 April) at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, fans witnessed another admirable trait from the 24-year-old – an icy focus even in dire circumstances.

Saving five match points against an inspired world No. 4 Akane Yamaguchi, Tai turned the tables to reach the women’s singles final of the Singapore Badminton Open with a stirring 15-21, 24-22, 21-19 win.

Yet, when asked about how she felt to be able to save all those match points, she smiled sheepishly and said, “I forgot.

“But overall, I thought I adopted a really relaxed approach. We’ve played each other many times, so there was a lot of familiarity. In the end, it boils down to our improvised shots.”

Down and nearly out against inspired opponent

And how Tai improvised when she had seemed a lost cause at 16-20 down in the second game. Yamaguchi, speedy and aggressive, seemed to have figured out Tai’s strategy and was frequently at the right spots to deliver smashing winners. And when Tai tried to alter her shot placements to throw the Japanese off-guard, she was too error-prone to be of consistent threat.

Fans were ready to applaud an upset victory, but Tai had other plans. She abandoned experimenting with tough shots, and instead turned up the intensity with faster returns.

It worked wonders, as Yamaguchi was sent sprawling flat on the court on at least two occasions, as she chased Tai’s returns to no avail. As the crowd sensed a comeback and roared her on, Tai capitalised on her upturn in fortunes and got herself out of trouble.

A deflated Yamaguchi still summoned plenty of fight in the third game, but Tai had too much momentum and confidence to falter.

Despite her loss, the 21-year-old was full of praise for her opponent, saying, “At the end of the second game, Tai had a ‘nothing to lose’ mentality and she started to come forward. She is very good with everything – her speed, her mentality, her skills.

“It was a difficult match, and I made a few mistakes at some key points.”

Another Japanese awaits in final

Tai will face another formidable Japanese, world No. 3 Nozomi Okuhara, in Sunday’s final. Okuhara was in scintillating form, thrashing an out-of-sorts P.V. Sindhu of India 21-7, 21-11 in the other semi-final.

In the men’s singles, Indonesia’s Anthony Sinisuka Ginting lived up to his “Giant Killer” nickname again, following his victory over reigning Olympic gold medallist Chen Long in the quarter-finals with a 21-17, 18-21, 21-14 win over defending Singapore Open champion, Taiwan’s Chou Tien-chen.

He will need to be at his giant-killing best again in the final, as he faces world No. 1 Kento Momota, who took 46 minutes to see off Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen 21-15, 21-18.

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