Japanese pairs sweep doubles titles at All England Open

Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota, the world’s No. 3 pairing, were crowned women’s doubles champions on Sunday at the All England Open badminton tournament, one of the few sporting events that went ahead amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Later Sunday, in the last of the day’s five finals, the sixth-ranked men’s doubles team of Hiroyuki Endo and Yuta Watanabe also tasted victory, making it two titles for the host of the upcoming Olympics and giving the nation some good news amid the COVID-19 gloom.

Fukushima and Hirota beat China’s Du Yue and Li Yinhui 21-13, 21-15 in the opening game held at Arena Birmingham after they defeated seventh-ranked Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo in an all-Japanese semifinal on Saturday.

The win allows Fukushima and Hirota to shake off the “silver collectors” nickname they had been given in Japan after placing second in the last three world championships and second in the 2018 All England Open.

“We were always runner-up (in major competitions) so I’m really happy we cleared that hurdle. The competition went on amid the coronavirus chaos and I had to focus wholly on the game,” said Fukushima.

“Two years ago we reached the final, last year we only went as far as the last four, and this year we came with plenty of determination. It’s great that we took one game at a time and as a result we achieved a win together,” Hirota said.

In the men’s doubles final, Endo and Watanabe, who are in their fourth year together, beat Indonesia’s Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo 21-18, 12-21, 21-19 for Japan’s first men’s doubles title in the 110-year history of the All England Open.

“This is a special competition. I’m so glad we were finally able to win. I want this to be a confidence-booster,” the 33-year-old Endo said.

“We were given one chance and we went for it. It was a match that gave us confidence. We gained a lot in this competition,” said Watanabe, who is 11 years younger than his playing partner.

Viktor Axelsen of Denmark claimed the men’s singles title, while Tai Tzu-ying of Taiwan won the women’s singles crown.

The Badminton World Federation has suspended all of its sanctioned tournaments from March 16 to April 12 in response to the global coronavirus pandemic, effectively making the All England Open the last qualifying event for Tokyo 2020.

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