Unheralded Kanta Tsuneyama defied the odds tonight to catapult Japan into its second Thomas Cup final in four years, giving the country a shot at double glory following its women’s progress to the Uber Cup showpiece earlier today.
In an evening of high drama in Bangkok, the 21-year-old ousted Danish veteran Jan Jorgensen in the fifth match of a gripping semi-final of the TOTAL BWF Thomas & Uber Cup Finals 2018, knocking out the defending champions and triggering wild celebrations in the Japanese camp.
Playing like a man on a mission and performing beyond his coach’s expectations, the world No.34 Men’s Singles player downed an erratic Jorgensen, 21-18 21-11, to seal a nail-biting 3-2 victory at Impact Arena. Tsuneyama (featured image) and company must beat China – who defeated 2016 runners-up Indonesia 3-1 – if they are to lift the Thomas Cup like they did in New Delhi in 2014.
It was a singles sweep which saw the Land of the Rising Sun past the title-holders, with a trio of heroes with tongue-twisting names – Kento, Kenta, Kanta – ironically beating the three Danes who had secured Europe’s first capture of the coveted Men’s World Team Championship two years ago.
World No.1 Viktor Axelsen was the first to be tamed – surrendering almost meekly in the wake of a superior performance by Kento Momota – 21-17 21-9 in 40 minutes that answered any lingering doubts about the status of the Japanese star in the current pecking order of the men’s solo discipline. Having not played Axelsen since April 2016 when he was world No.2, it was as though Momota picked up just where he left off before his suspension, dominating his rival and ultimately frustrating the imposing Dane into costly errors.
Denmark came good in doubles on either side of Kenta Nishimoto’s win in the second singles match versus Hans-Kristian Solberg Vittinghus. First, Mathias Boe combined with Mads Conrad-Petersen to shock livewires, Takeshi Kamura/Keigo Sonoda, 21-18 21-15, and then Kim Astrup and Anders Skaarup Rasmussen fought back to beat Takuto Inoue and Yuki Kaneko (17-21 21-16 21-15). In between those matches, the blossoming Nishimoto calmly thwarted Vittinghus, 21-19 21-12.
Deadlocked 2-2, the tie then went to the deciding third singles clash in which Jorgensen was favoured but Tsuneyama had another storyline in mind and quickly set about an incredible performance that upended Denmark’s title defence.
“As the last Japanese player, I was determined to give it my all. I’m very happy to score the last point and to see my team-mates smiling,” said Tsuneyama, who grew in confidence as he sped to the finish.
In the dizzying aftermath, Japan head coach Park Joo Bong admitted his player had exceeded expectations.
“This is a surprise. We were not expected to win the third singles. We thought if we are going to beat Denmark then we have to win the second doubles but when we lost that, it was very difficult. He (Tsuneyama) performed very well – very good defence and rallies and his control was very good. It’s a team event and his motivation was very high,” noted Park, adding that it will be a significant challenge to face China on Sunday.
The Chinese punched their ticket to the final compliments two Men’s Singles triumphs and a Men’s Doubles win over esteemed Indonesians, Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan.
A relieved Chen Long opened China’s account with a determined 22-20 21-16 win over Anthony Ginting before Men’s Doubles top guns, Marcus Fernaldi Gideon/Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo, responded to level the score 1-1. The Indonesians prevailed in a hot battle with World champions Liu Cheng/Zhang Nan (12-21 21- 17 21-15). Thereafter, Shi Yuqi made further inroads, taking down Jonatan Christie, 18-21 21-12 21-15, in the second singles match to give China a 2-1 advantage.
In the second doubles clash, Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen had too much fire power – plus the luck of the net – for Ahsan and Setiawan who managed to force a decider before wilting under the relentless attack, with Li being particularly lethal towards the end. The towering pair prevailed 21-17 18-21 21-12 to send China to its first final since 2012 on home turf in Wuhan.
“China has not done well in the last two Thomas Cups and I lost my matches both times. I am really happy to get the first point today and hopefully things will turn out better this time,” declared Olympic gold medallist Chen after beating Ginting.
And how right, he turned out to be!