With so much to play for, the last round of group stage matches at the Dubai World Superseries Finals on Friday certainly didn’t disappoint. Live in Dubai, Gruffudd Owen talks us through the highlights of the day
1. Viktor Axelsen comes of age
His reaction said it all. Punching the air before throwing his racquet into the crowd, Viktor Axelsen’s thrilling 14-21, 21-14, 21-19 win over Lee Chong Wei on day three of the Dubai World Superseries Finals – his first in ten attempts against the world no. 1 – is a hugely significant result for the young Dane, and not just because it secures his passage into the last four.
In the best match of the tournament so far, Axelsen showed he has the talent to get the better of a man who has ruled men’s singles badminton for nearly a decade.
While Lee Chong Wei may be nearing the end of his golden career, there were still some stunning, near-superhuman moments from the Malaysian – although he might want to forget the somewhat anticlimactic service fault that handed the match to his opponent.
“I’m standing there waiting for the return, so it was a nice Christmas gift!” an exhausted but jubilant Axelsen said after his memorable triumph.
2. Sweet revenge for Sindhu in Olympic rematch
With a passionately partisan crowd willing on her every serve, smash and return, PV Sindhu laid to rest the ghost of Rio by eliminating her Olympic adversary Carolina Marin from the Finals, bullishly swatting aside the Spaniard in straight games (21-17, 21-13).
While both players entered the match having suffered defeats on day two, it was Sindhu who was able to recover from this setback to book her place in the semi finals.
“I just played my game today. I didn’t think about winning or losing, just about giving my 100 percent,” Sindhu revealed afterwards.
“The group was very complicated, but I never thought about that because it adds so much pressure.
“Even though the match finished in two games, there were long rallies, and she also played aggressively.”
An aggressive player she may be, but some soul-searching back in Spain is surely required for Marin after an unfulfilling end to an otherwise glorious year. Knocked off top spot in the world rankings prior to the Finals and exiting the tournament without a single win, the 23-year-old is a determined fighter and will doubtless be plotting a return to the summit of women’s badminton in 2017.
3. A two-horse race?
Japan’s Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi are the world’s best women’s doubles pairing for a good reason. Olympic gold medallists in Rio and winners of four Superseries events this season, they breezed through their group without dropping a game, giving them a strong chance of reclaiming the title they won for the first time in 2014.
But Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan quietly impressed in Group B as well. Although the Chinese pair just about qualified for the Finals as eighth seeds and have only one regular season Superseries title to their name – the French Open in October – they won every game in their group, including a 21-17, 21-18 victory against Vivian Hoo and Khe Wei Woon on Friday. Can the 19-year-olds be the ones to threaten the dominance of the Japanese?
Play begins on the fourth day of the 2016 BWF World Superseries Finals at 10:00 (UAE time) on Saturday 17 December. The tournament takes place at the Hamdan Sports Complex in Dubai.
2016 BWF World Superseries Finals semi final draw in full
Tian Houwei (China) vs Jan O Jorgensen (Denmark)
Viktor Axelsen (Denmark) vs Son Wan Ho (Korea)
Sung Ji Hyun (Korea) vs PV Sindhu (India)
Tai Tzu Ying (Chinese Taipei) vs Sun Yu (China)
Mads Conrad-Petersen/Mads Pieler Kolding (Denmark) vs Takeshi Kamura/Keigo Sonoda (Japan)
Chai Biao/Hong Wei (China) vs V Shem Goh/Wee Kiong Tan (Malaysia)
Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi (Japan) vs Christinna Pedersen/Kamilla Rytter Juhl (Denmark)
Chen Qingchen/Jia Yifan (China) vs Chang Ye Na/Lee Yo See (Korea)
Praveen Jordan/Debby Susanto (Indonesia) vs Chris Adcock/Gabrielle Adcock (England)
Joachim Fischer Nielsen/Christinna Pedersen (Denmark) vs Zheng Siwei/Chen Qingchen (China)
Gruffudd Owen will be reporting live from the event - go to www.vision.ae or @visionsportae on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook for more updates