Japanese world champion Kento Momota's ice-cool temperament and his ability to step up a couple of gears when the chips are down were the attributes that came to his assistance and helped him annex the Singapore Open badminton title at the expense of mercurial Indonesian, Anthony Sinisuka Ginting by a 10-21, 21-19, 21-13 scoreline in a highly entertaining and absorbing 73-minute final on Sunday.
It was Momota's second Singapore Open crown, behind the one he had won in 2015, and was also his third title win of the year from four appearances in finals while participating in a mere six events in 2019. For the twinkle-toed 22-year-old Indonesian, it was a third successive defeat at the Japanese left-hander's hands after his victory over Momota at the China Open in September 2018, and left him trailing 3-7 in ten career head-to-head meetings.
But while Momota had to dig really deep to settle Ginting's aspirations, there were no such alarms for Chinese Taipei's top seed and World No 1, Tai Tzu Ying, who waltzed merrily through the women's singles final of the $355,000 World Tour Super 500 tournament, downing another Japanese shuttler, second-seeded Nozomi Okuhara, by a 21-19, 21-15 verdict in 41 minutes.
Nevertheless, Japanese shuttlers had the distinction of claiming three of the five titles at stake, with third-seeded Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda pipping fourth-seeded veteran Indonesians, Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan, by a 21-13, 19-21, 21-17 verdict in the men's doubles; and third-ranked Mayu Matsumoto and Wakana Nagahara notching a 42-minute 21-17, 22-20 triumph over unseeded South Koreans Kim Hye Jeong and Kong Hee Yong in the women's doubles.
The only final in which there was no Japanese representation was the mixed doubles, in which the exciting Thailand combination of Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai, coincidentally also seeded No 3, knocked over the unseeded Malaysian duo of Tan Kian Meng and Lai Pei Jing in the only completely one-sided final of the day, at 21-14, 21-6. The winners had knocked out the World No 1 combination of Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong in Saturday's semi-finals.
The men's singles final truly showcased modern badminton at its best, with Ginting moving around on the court like greased lightning, and hitting smashes from every angle with gusto, even as Momota relied on his watertight defence and distinctly superior netplay to keep the effervescent Indonesian at bay.
The 24-year-old Japanese southpaw found it hard in the initial skirmishes to match the raw pace and power of Ginting, two years his junior; and decided to play the waiting game and let the storm burn itself out. Momota had no answer to the spurt that Ginting put on from 3-all to 13-4 with a barrage of leaping smashes, and simply tried to ease himself into the match.
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From the onset of the second stanza, however, Momota stepped up his own pace, and concentrated on keeping the shuttle in play and letting Ginting expend all his energy with his constant smashing, which sometimes tended to be indiscriminate. Still, when the Indonesian powered to a 16-11 lead, it seemed curtains for the top seed.
That was the stage at which Momota moved up yet another gear, and began attacking more himself, following up his smashes to the net for the put-away. Once Ginting's defence was brought under pressure, the Japanese left-hander found it easier to be in control of the rallies and to dictate the pace and trend of the game. Catching up with his antagonist at 17-all, Momota moved ahead, and held off Ginting's desperate attempts to win the match in straight games.
The reigning world champion showed just how special he is when he did not let an initial 2-6 deficit and an 8-11 disadvantage at the change of ends in the decider bother him. As he had done in the semi-finals against Denmark's 2017 world champion Viktor Axelsen, when he had come back from 6-16 down in the second game to grab 15 of the last 17 points, he bided his time and then struck with a vengeance, just when the Indonesian thought he was well on the victory trail.
So switched on Momota, and so in control of the proceedings, that, from 8-12 down, he took 13 of the final 14 points of the match to leave the Indonesian bemused and downcast. Clearly, Ginting had been guilty of expending too much energy in the first two games, and had nothing left with which to fight the marauding Japanese ace when he went into all-out-attack mode.
It was also heart-warming to see the wide smiles and warm embrace exchanged by the rivals at the net at the end of the 73-minute battle; it revealed their true love and enjoyment of the game, no matter what the result. The summit clash also gave an indication of just how much Ginting could improve by the time the 2020 Olympic Games come round, and how he could be a very real contender for the gold.
Indian supporters were left shaking their heads in heartfelt regret at what might have been, when Bhamidipati Sai Praneeth had Momota on the ropes at 20-all in the third game of their first-round clash, but just could not administer the knockout punch. Japanese fans might have thought the same thing about their poster girl, Akane Yamaguchi, who had five match-points against World No 1, Tai Tzu Ying, in the semi-finals, but failed to administer the coup-de-grace.
Having recovered from her semi-final triumph by a whisker and a prayer, Tai was totally in her element in the title clash against the 2017 world champion, Okuhara, as she ran up a useful 13-8 lead with her trademark deceptive drops, flick clears and wristy crosscourt shots at the net.
The pint-sized Japanese player's fightback was concentrated in a brief period at this stage when she made up the deficit, to neutralise at 13-all, and matched Tai point for point until 18-all. But once the Taiwanese held on for a 21-19 opening-game win, she " as Momota was to do against Ginting later in the day " stepped up her pace after 10-all in the second game, and made the issue safe after powering to 16-11.
Although Okuhara reduced the margin to 15-16, Tai once again picked up the pace and blitzed through the final five points, to recapture the title she had won in 2017, beating South Korean Sung Ji Hyun in the final. And, by dint of her title win, Tai went further ahead in the leadership stakes, extending her lead at the top of the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings for the 123rd week, with a single week's break in April last year, when she had been briefly overtaken by Yamaguchi.
Ironically, Momota's win failed to keep him at the top of the men's rankings; and, through the complex workings of the rankings system, he was overtaken for the World No 1 spot by Viktor Axelsen, the man he had beaten so convincingly in the semi-finals of this Singapore Open!