Four years ago, at this very venue — Impact Arena — and at this exact stage of the Uber Cup, Thailand tripped China to prevent them from reaching the final for the very first time since China’s debut in 1984.
Thailand’s success was built upon their strength in women’s singles – with Ratchanok Intanon, Nitchaon Jindapol and Busanan Ongbamrunphan getting the better of Chen Yu Fei, Gao Fangjie and Li Xuerui respectively. Thailand’s eventual runner-up finish to Japan would be their biggest achievement in a major team event.
Several of the protagonists of that China-Thailand contest faced off today, and it was a marker of how effectively China used that setback to return stronger.
Ratchanok Intanon and Chen Yu Fei were again slotted in first singles, but in a reversal of the 2018 result, Chen proved too solid for Intanon to make any headway. Chen Qing Chen/Jia Yi Fan built on that lead, repeating their 2018 win over Jongkolphan Kititharakul/Rawinda Prajongjai, and He Bing Jiao then shut the door on Pornpawee Chochuwong.
Chen Yu Fei remembers well the 2018 defeat and how it spurred her on, leading to an Olympic gold in Tokyo 2020 and multiple other titles.
“It wouldn’t be me now without that match,” Chen. “Right now that semifinal doesn’t affect me anymore, but for me at that time, it was a big shock, and then I used it as motivation to get better. When I returned to this arena I felt sentimental.”
Like Chen Yu Fei, her compatriots Chen Qing Chen and Jia Yi Fan have gone on to become the world’s best pair, starring in an epic Uber Cup final that saw China wrest back the title from Japan last year.
“Losing the semifinal was a huge moment for us, we were determined to bounce back from that failure,” said Jia Yi Fan. “I’ve heard Chen Yu Fei mentioning that loss several times. That really motivated the whole team and we were determined to take back the Uber Cup, which we did in Denmark last year; so this time we want to retain it.
“In 2018 we were a young team and we were inexperienced. We are now more mature, we’ve gone through several major events, and the team is more powerful and more confident.”
China now sport a formidable team, with depth in singles and doubles. Korea’s second singles player Kim Ga Eun admitted they were faced with a mountain of a task in the final, “but all the pressure is on them, and we have nothing to lose”.