Korea delivered a stunning knockout punch to China, denying the hosts a Thomas Cup semi-final place for the first time since their debut in 1981-82, at the TOTAL BWF Thomas & Uber Cup Finals 2016 today.
In Son Wan Ho, Lee Yong Dae/Yoo Yeon Seong and Kim Gi Jung/Kim Sa Rang, Korea found their heroes. In game after game of high intensity and pressure, the Koreans stood firm under the assault of their opponents and a vocal, full-house crowd, coming away victors 3-1.
The other major result of the day was the exit of defending champions Japan, who made a brave comeback against Denmark from 0-2 down to take it to the last match. Denmark booked their semi-final against Malaysia while Korea take on Indonesia.
China’s women however did not fumble, brushing aside Chinese Taipei 3-0 to make the Uber Cup semi-finals against India. Second seeds Japan stayed on course, with an equally dismissive 3-0 result over Denmark.
It was Son Wan Ho (featured image) who set up Korea’s astonishing win. Son played a near-perfect game, moving on silken feet and smashing with power and precision. Chen appeared just a bit under par, possibly suffering the after-effects of his previous group match against Japan’s Sho Sasaki. Korea, in fact, might feel thankful to Japan for stretching China in the last Group A tie. The frenetic pace of the game eventually told on Chen, for he wasn’t his usual error-free self, even as Son bided his time and took his chances.
“I wasn’t nervous today,” said Son, who recorded a 21-12 16-21 21-15 result in 88 minutes. “I wanted to make my contribution to the team in singles since we have strong doubles pairs. I felt Chen Long was in a hurry, and that gave me the openings I needed to win.”
A downcast Chen admitted he was outplayed by the better man: “I prepared well for today’s match, but it’s a pity I couldn’t win. He was more patient than me. I got impatient when I couldn’t get a point after two or three attacking shots, while he waited for his opportunity.”
The Men’s Doubles between Lee Yong Dae/Yoo Yeon Seong and Fu Haifeng/Zhang Nan saw fortunes shift subtly. Both pairs blazed away in magnificent exchanges of attacking badminton: each ferocious smash eliciting a jaw-dropping return; Lee and Yoo had their noses in front but the Chinese stole the first game at the end, and that seemed to dispirit the Koreans, who fell behind in the second. With two match points for China, it seemed all over for Korea. It was at this point that their impenetrable defence stood up to the barrage from Fu and Zhang and turned the tide. Three match points saved, the momentum shifted to Lee and Yoo, even as the emotional toll of losing the game proved too high for Fu and Zhang to handle: 23-25 23-21 21-12.
“It was difficult to recover from yesterday’s match,” said Fu. “The loss of the second game affected us. Perhaps we became too defensive in the third. I have never faced this situation of losing the first two matches in my Thomas Cup career since 2004.”
Lin Dan wasted little time in making his way past Lee Dong Keun, leaving the task of rescuing China to youngsters Li Junhui and Zheng Siwei. Kim Gi Jung and Kim Sa Rang however could bank on more experience and it took just 32 minutes for the Kims to wrap up proceedings, 21-15 21-18.
“It’s the first time we’ve made it to the semi-finals and we’re thankful,” said Kim Gi Jung. “We were inspired by Son Wan Ho and Lee and Yoo’s victory. We were prepared and ready to carry out our responsibilities.”
Denmark had a 2-0 lead over Japan thanks to Viktor Axelsen and Mathais Boe/Mads Conrad-Petersen. Neither Sho Sasaki, nor Hiroyuki Endo/Kenichi Hayakawa, could find the form that saw them stretch China.
Japan fought back strongly through Takuma Ueda and Takeshi Kamura/Keigo Sonoda, who made it 2-all. Ueda outplayed Jan O Jorgensen, who has looked distinctly below his level in this tournament, while Kim Astrup/Anders Skaarup Rasmussen were blown away 21-15 21-17 by Kamura/Sonoda.
Hans-Kristian Vittinghus stayed consistent under pressure against Riichi Takeshita (23-21 21-17) to finally win the tie for his team.
“It’s a great feeling. I knew I would be going in at 2-all. I have spent the last two weeks preparing for this. It was a tense situation. It was about sticking to my plan and keeping my cool. Japan showed great fighting spirit coming from two matches down. I was excited and calm at the same time,” said Vittinghus.