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Japan Open: Day 1 - Sakai, Koga Qualify for Main Draw

After a long post-Olympics break, the big guns return to BWF World Superseries action at the Yonex Japan Open 2012, the main draw of which begins tomorrow.

The Chinese have stayed away and world No. 2 Lee Chong Wei, world No. 5 Peter Gade, and No. 12 Taufik Hidayat will resume their on-court battles in the Men’s Singles. They will be hoping to avoid any nasty surprises up front.

Among the three, Taufik Hidayat has the hardest opening round against the hungry Parupalli Kashyap of India. Kashyap has some big scalps to his credit in the last few months and he has run Hidayat close. Although Hidayat has a 5-0 head-to-head record over the Indian, their last four matches have been very tight, with the Indonesian just about scraping through.

Lee Chong Wei plays the Denmark-based Indian Anand Pawar while Peter Gade has the hard task of getting past Hong Kong’s Hu Yun, who must be riding a wave of confidence after reaching the final of last week’s Li-Ning China Masters.

Among the women, the highest seed is world No. 7 Tine Baun and the draw features, among others, Bae Yeon Ju (Korea), Sung Ji Hyun (Korea), Ratchanok Intanon (Thailand) and Tai Tzu Ying (Chinese Taipei). The promising Japanese youngster Sayaka Takahashi is one to watch.

All the attention, however, will be on rising sensations PV Sindhu (India) and Minatsu Mitani (Japan), who caused big upsets last week. While Mitani surprised former world champion Wang Lin and Asian Games gold medallist Wang Shixian, Sindhu accounted for Olympic champion Li Xuerui. It will be interesting to see if their good form continues here.

Local boys Kazumasa Sakai and Akira Koga joined India’s Sai Praneeth and Derek Wong of Singapore as qualifiers for the main draw. While Sakai got past Lee Hock Lai of Malaysia and qualifying draw top seed Ashton Chen of Singapore, both in straight games, Koga had to survive two long matches, both against his compatriots. He beat Tatsuya Watanabe 14-21 21-14 21-16 before ousting Sho Zeniya 21-18 8-21 21-17.

Praneeth won a close first-round encounter against Andrew Smith of England, 21-15 18-21 21-19, and then had a smoother tie against Riichi Takeshita of Japan 21-14 21-15. Derek Wong, second-seeded in qualifying, outclassed Hong Ji Hoon (Korea) and Kento Momota of Japan.

Sakai will take on sixth seed Jan O Jorgensen (Den), while Koga will play Jorgensen’s teammate Hans-Kristian Vittinghus. Sai Praneeth faces Malaysian youngster Liew Daren, and Derek Wong squares off against China Masters semi-finallist Ajay Jayaram. In Women’s Singles qualifying rounds, Yui Hashimoto, Yuki Fukushima, Akane Yamaguchi and Eriko Tamaki, all of Japan, advanced to the main draw.

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