Badminton: Olympic champ Li survives first-round scare

Badminton: Olympic champ Li survives first-round scare
China's Li Xuerui reacts after a point against Japan's Akane Yamaguchi during their women's singles first round match at the Japan Open badminton tournament in Tokyo on June 11, 2014.

TOKYO - China's Olympic badminton champion Li Xuerui survived a scare in the first round of the Japan Open Wednesday as she battled from behind to beat world junior champion Akane Yamaguchi.

Her compatriot Lin Dan, who has two Olympics, five world and five All-England titles under his belt, made a solid start in the men's first round by beating fellow Chinese Xue Song 21-15, 21-18, in his first event in the top-flight World Superseries since March 2012.

Top-seeded Li, the women's world number-one, needed 65 minutes to tame Japan's Yamaguchi, a high school girl who won last year's women's title, 17-21, 21-19, 21-18.

"Yamaguchi is good at picking up the shuttle and fighting on. But at times she suddenly turns offensive," said the 21-year-old Li. "She played so well that she wore me out and made me sit on the floor during the match." Li, competing for the first time in the Japan Open, allowed Yamaguchi to take a 20-12 lead after a 4-all tie in the first game. Li's fightback stopped at 17-20.

Yamaguchi, 17 years old and ranked 62nd in the world, who fought through the qualifying round on Tuesday, jumped to a 7-3 lead in the second game.

But Li, the 2013 Superseries Finals champion who has won the Malaysia Open but finished runner-up in three more Superseries events so far this year, caught Yamaguchi at 8-8 and they swapped the lead to 19-all. Li went on to take the next two points.

Yamaguchi struggled after taking an early 5-1 lead in the deciding game. After 9-9, the two shuttlers went tit-for-tat to 17-17. Li surged ahead to 19-17 and took advantage of her serves to win the match.

"Although I lost, I enjoyed myself and I could play my kind of game," the teenager said. "I did not lose easily and it made me confident." In the second round on Thursday, Li will face either Eriko Hirose or Ayumi Mine, both of Japan.

Another Chinese star, second-seeded Wang Yihan, whipped Canada's Michelle Li 21-11, 21-17 in the first round. Wang, the 2011 world champion and the runner-up to Li Xuerui at the London Games, was to take on Japan's Sayaka Takahashi in her next match.

Lin Dan, 30, was unseeded as he was ranked 35th in the world after coming back from a seven-month sabbatical this year to win the Asian championship and the China Masters in April.

Lin was bunched with second-seed compatriot Chen Long in the same half of the tournament with world number-one and top-seed Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia in the other half.

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