England’s Daniel Bethell stole the limelight at the HULIC DAIHATSU Japan Para Badminton International when he beat world champion Pramod Bhagat of India in the men’s Standing Lower (SL3) singles finals, 21-16 21-19.
“I went in with a good game plan, stuck to it and played a solid game. This win is something I can get off my chest, to beat the world champion,” said Bethell, who has lost the last three times he met Bhagat in a final.
This time, however, Bethell was ready for Bhagat who is especially strong when he has to fight back from being down a few points.
“I knew he’d do that so I had to make sure I didn’t make any mistakes. On a half court, it’s easy to make mistakes and unforced errors can decide a match,” Bethell added.
Pramod conceded: “I made a lot of mistakes in the first game when it should have been easy for me. In the second, he played really well and I tried to fight back but he’s just at a different level now.”
Bethell’s teammate Krysten Coombs was less successful, falling to India’s Krishna Nagar in the men’s Short Stature (SH6) singles finals.
“I just couldn’t get going. I’d be in the right spot and then I’d lose the points, and he’d come back. Like I said before, there are a few of us who are so evenly matched, and you never know how it’s going to go,” said Coombs.
Nagar struggled to get into the first game, allowing Coombs to equalise at 18-18 and win 22-20. In the second and third, Nagar seemed to turn on the turbo boosters and won 21-17 21-12.
“It’s a big tournament and an important win because it gives me a chance to play in this venue where the Paralympics will be held next near.
“I knew I lost the first when he took over and I was very negative in the last few points but I had my coach’s guidance and that gave me the confidence to fight back,” said Nagar.
Taking Back the Reigns
Japan’s Ayako Suzuki avenged her women’s Standing Upper (SU5) singles loss at the World Championships earlier this year in Basel when she sent China’s Yang Qiuxia packing, 21-19 22-20, to take the gold medal.
“I came to this match knowing there will be long rallies and I was prepared for her. My strategy to shorten the rallies and kill the shot as quickly as possible worked,” said Suzuki.
This win cements Suzuki’s current position at No.1 in the world and the Race to Tokyo rankings, and puts her further ahead of Yang, her nearest contender who is in second place.
In the men’s Standing Upper (SU5) singles final, Malaysia’s Cheah Liek Hou was a picture of strength and confidence when he took out Indonesia’s Suryo Nugroho, 21-16, 21-17.
“It’s a great ending to the year and it helps me build confidence leading up to the Paralympics,” said Cheah, who’s aim is to claim back the glory of his days dominating SU5.
Cheah, who has six singles and doubles BWF Para Badminton World Championships titles to his name, has had a slow year trying to keep up with the younger, more agile athletes like Nugroho and 2019 world champion Dheva Anrimusthi of Indonesia.
“Dheva has always been my obstacle but since he’s not here, I knew it was my chance. With my new training, I’m able to strategise better and I knew that with Suryo I had to attack from the start. If I had allowed the game to slow down, he’d have an advantage and take the points.”
Cheah is now playing a faster, highly-skilled game since coming under the tutelage of coach Rashid Sidek, bronze medallist in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.
“I practically begged Rashid to coach me and we started working together in June this year. There’s still so much I need to work on and to improve, but I’ll get there in time for the Paralympics,” he added.
Lucas Mazur of France went home with two gold medals; the men’s Standing Lower (SL4) singles and mixed doubles SL3-SU5 with partner Faustine Noel.
Noel and Mazur overpowered the very determined Turkish pair of Iiker Tuzcu ad Halime Yildiz 21-16 21-15, while in the singles Mazur beat Thailand’s Siripong Teammarom, 21-9 21-8.
“There are two parts to being here. To win and to test the conditions in this venue for the Paralympics. We don’t always get the opportunity to play in such a big venue,” said Noel.
“Lucas is always strong and I’m very focused under pressure, so it works. I think I served well today and I usually play well at the net. I’ve been steadily improving and there are still a few months left [before the Paralympics] so I plan to continue this process.”
China’s Cheng Hefang also made it to the top of the podium twice.
She took the women’s SL4 singles title after beating Japan’s Haruka Fujino 21-11 21-12 and went on to win the women’s doubles SL3-SU5 doubles with Ma Huihui against Japan’s Ayako Suzuki and Noriko Ito.