HONG KONG: Badminton’s top-ranked players both made shock departures from the Hong Kong Open on Saturday (Nov 17) after Kento Momota was stunned by Son Wan-ho and Tai Tzu Ying retired with a waist injury.
Son triumphed 18-21, 21-16, 21-19 in an exhausting 89 minutes after seeing off a late boost from the exhausted Japanese star in the decider.
Momota led through the first game but slipped for long enough for his opponent to level at 17-all after conceding six consecutive points.
He kept the edge after the interval before Son broke into the lead at 12-11 with a gravity-defying let after a tap at the net.
The Korean led through most of the third game but Momota kept at his heels, drawing level five times before an agonising miss on match point.
Momota has been in searing form since his return to the sport after a gambling scandal saw him slapped with a 12-month ban.
But the 24-year-old has had a slow run through the Hong Kong tournament.
He beat Chinese great Lin Dan in the first round but complained of burnout after his first three matches all went to three games.
Son, 30, is through to his first top-flight singles final since his win at the 2016 Korea Masters.
He now takes on eighth seed Kenta Nishimoto, who bounced out hometown hero Lee Cheuk Yiu 21-18, 21-12 in 47 minutes.
Lee told AFP on Friday he had never expected to make it to the semis. He fought hard to qualify on the opening day but had a dream run after second seed Shi Yuqi’s first-round retirement.
Taiwan’s Tai approached the umpire to submit her withdrawal moments after the first break against Nozomi Okuhara, after yielding the first game 12-21.
Okuhara had raced away with the match, leading 8-1 in three minutes before Tai fought back.
The 24-year-old top seed told reporters afterwards she was unfazed by her departure, and looked forward to the rest of the season.
Okuhara next faces Ratchanok Intanon, who blitzed second-ranked Akane Yamaguchi 21-9, 21-16 in the quarter-finals.
Intanon bounced back from a first game wipeout to win her match against South Korea’s Sung Ji-hyun 10-21, 21-11, 21-17.
The former world champion stayed well clear of her opponent through the second game as Sung struggled to catch up to the third, levelling at 12 and 15 before succumbing to Intanon’s powerful smash.
One more tie at 17 was enough to focus the Thai, who swept the last four points of the decider.
“Sometimes I played slow but it’s not like I have no power,” she said afterwards.
“Mentality is more important … Sometimes it wasn’t my game but I tried to more enjoy the game. Today I feel like I controlled the pressure.”
Tenth-ranked Sung had a strong run through the tournament, knocking out seeded opponents P V Sindhu of India and China’s He Bingjao.
In the women’s doubles, top seeds Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota are through to the last day after a marathon 105-minute 20-22, 21-9, 21-12 win over their Indonesian opponents.