Japan broke one of badminton’s longest winning sequences, ending China’s 10-year reign as Thomas Cup champions in the semi-finals today.
China, which had won the last five editions since 2004 in an overall tally of nine titles, cracked under the sustained pressure of an inspired Japanese team in the Li-Ning BWF Thomas & Uber Cup Finals at Siri Fort Complex, New Delhi.
However, China’s women salvaged the day for them, beating Korea by the same score to enter the Uber Cup final for the 16th straight time.
Japan had a perfect day. Kenichi Tago (right) breached the Chinese wall in the opening match and from then on, China appeared to falter under increasing pressure. Just as he had done in his group match against Denmark’s Jan O Jorgensen, Tago started guns blazing against Chen Long. World No.2 Chen was just not allowed to get into rhythm as Tago imposed himself from the start with his powerful attacking game. To make matters worse for Chen, his smashes weren’t accurate as usual, while Tago’s confidence rose with every rally. With the end in sight, Tago switched to a patient game without rushing the strokes and that paid him dividends as he closed out comfortably, 21-13 21-11.
“I have made some technical adjustments,” said Tago. “I’m trying to be a more compact player.”
Chen Long admitted he had not played his usual style. “I just wasn’t aggressive enough. I couldn’t find my rhythm. But I’m not worried because I have confidence in the rest of the team. They will see us through for a win.”
However, that was not to be. The pressure of his loss showed on Chai Biao and Hong Wei in the first doubles against Hiroyuki Endo and Kenichi Hayakawa. Although the Chinese built a handsome lead and had four game points, they started to appear unsure and leaden-footed with the Japanese closing in on them. Endo and Hayakawa won six straight points to take the first game.
As the second game drew to a close, Chai Biao’s serve deserted him. He twice served into the net and was faulted once, shifting the momentum to the Japanese, which they grabbed gleefully to close out the match 22-20 21-19.
The second singles was a contest between youth and experience. Kento Momota (featured image), World Junior champion in 2012, showed maturity beyond his years as he outfoxed veteran Du Pengyu. Momota was astute throughout, creating the angles and frequently catching Du flat-footed with his trickery at the net. Momota had three opportunities to win the game, but his judgement at the baseline failed him and Du rode his luck to take the game.
Momota lost the spring in his step in the second, but he was able to keep the lead by virtue of his superior courtcraft that created openings at will. He controlled the net with his tight net shots, forcing Du to play defensively. Appropriately, the match was won on another net shot, giving Japan (above) the tie at 23-25 21-18 21-14.
* Meanwhile, in the Uber Cup, China faced little problems in reaching yet another final. Facing the might of Li Xuerui and Wang Shixian in singles, and Bao Yixin/Tang Jinhua (above) in doubles, the Korean challenge melted. Sung had her chances in the second game but Li shut her out 21-11 21-19; Bao/Tang were much too authoritative over Jang Ye Na/Kim So Young; Wang Shixian was stretched by Bae Yeon Ju but China took the tie with Wang winning 21-13 16-21 21-10.
* Despite the general surprise over Japan’s upset of China, the man who ensured it – Kento Momota – himself appeared unimpressed.
“We had trained for a win, so it wasn’t special to beat China,” he said. “Even though I lost the first game, I noticed that Du Pengyu wasn’t confident. I wasn’t tired at all in the third game.”
For today’s results, click here.