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(Photo: Badminton Photo)
Antonsen saved his best for the final
Date: 1/31/2021 2:10 PM
Published by : Alan Raftery
Finals day in Bangkok, Thailand, crowned the champions of the BWF World Tour Finals, with a few big surprise results. 

With what has been a difficult 2020 with limited badminton, this month has been a welcome escape for badminton fans and today’s season finale simultaneously felt like closure to the disrupted season and a teaser of what will hopefully return in 2021. 

Today we saw Antonsen do what no man looked close to doing in Thailand, and that is to pick apart Viktor Axelsen’s game. The countless times the two must of played against each other in training with the absence of tournaments meant they were familiar with each other's games. 

The journeys of the world number three and four have been very different. Axelsen picked up two titles, seeking his third in a row and lost just one game along the way. He also was just two wins away from surpassing Lin Dan’s 31 match winning streak in 2006. 

Antonsen in stark contrast, lost in the first round against Daren Liew, then slogged his way to a semifinal loss to compatriot Hans-Kristian Vittinghus and has lost a total of seven games before today. He needed to come up with something drastically different to defeat Axelsen. 

The tactical battle
Several players have referred to clear fast and slow side of the hall, along with a side drift that they have had to adjust to these past few weeks. Antonsen, playing on the slow side first, understood that powerful attacks would not be effective in the first game and that Axelsen, when lifting out from the frontcourt would struggle to control the length of his lifts. 

With discipline and precision in this approach, it was working well for Antonsen. Leading 14-10, Axelsen did demonstrate his dangerous attacking play when given the chance, but Antonsen held his cool and won the opener 21-16. 

-He was a little bit tenser. I was playing freely and playing on my chances. I didn’t really have much to lose. I was playing a lot of stick smashes, drop shots and slices to not attack too hard. I was trying to get a good length in my lifts because he has a great attack. Patience! 

The second game saw Viktor gain a 5-0 lead, with Antonsen this time struggling to adjust. Then in a blink of an eye is was 11-1 at the break. The decision by Antonsen to not pursue this game was perhaps the key to the match. He showed nothing of an attacking game despite being on the fast side to his opponent, and the game stumbled it’s way to a 21-5 win for Axelsen. 

The decider was a straight shootout. Antonsen reverted to his structured approach in the first game. Axelsen did his best to attack through, but Antonsen was 11-8 up at the change of ends. It was showtime now, Antonsen switched to an almost all-out attack, particularly focusing on Axelsen’s forehand. 

At 15-9 up, it was looking ominous for Axelsen who needed to react, which he did. Gaining confidence in his own defence, Axelsen dragged the game back to 17-17. However, Antonsen still had more left, and at key points being on the fast side gave him the edge to surge towards 21.

-It was tough. I was just about to lose it. He was coming back fast. I got a little bit too aggressive at times, only attacking and playing net and he was controlling the baseline really good. And it got into my head about how close I am to winning, so I had to get back my focus. 

After winning the final point, collapsing to his knees Antonsen let out all of his emotion that he was containing throughout his disciplined performance. This is Antonsen third and biggest World Tour title win to date. 

-It means a lot. It is amazing to get a title as big as this one. I am shocked. It is hard to process and I really do not know what to say. It is overwhelming. I did not expect to go all the way. I have had a tough month because things have not been working well for me. I have been struggling a lot so to be the winner here is unreal. 

Antonsen has no time to rest just yet in Thailand as nearing the end of the interviews he exclaimed. 

-I have a bus to the airport in one hour and I haven’t even packed my stuff yet! 

Marin so close to the treble
The reigning Olympic and European champion throughout the season has had a challenging run, with a number of lost finals. Here in Thailand, Marin announced that she is a new player in 2021 and promptly took two titles in a row, each time defeating world number one Tai Tzu Ying. 

Coming into yet another final against Tai, she was confident as she noted that her opponent was looking a little tired after some close three-game matches. Today, however, the notorious ‘Comeback Queen’ struck again. 

In the opening game, Marin looked very assured winning 21-14. The second game, much like in the men’s singles final, was one-sided, as Tai swiftly won 21-8. Coming down to the decider, it was Marin who took the initiative after the break. Leading 15-10 at one point. The point at which Tai began to make her move, levelling it at 19-19. Perhaps taken aback by this run, Tai capitalised on a few misjudgements by the Spaniard to win her third season finale and leaving Marin still without one. 

 -I am not really happy with that result, but it has been a really good three weeks for me. Two title victories and one more final. It is really difficult for any player to do that. Tai Tzu Ying played better than me at the end of the match, Marin said positively. 

Describing the tougher than normal conditions in the arena, Marin stated. 

-I felt more drift today on court, so I think she played with that quite obviously in the second game. In the third game, I was ready again. I started on the slow side and finished on the fast side. When we changed sides, she could control the shuttle more than me. 

For the full results from the finals day, click here

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