A final unlike any other in recent times unfolded at the Impact Arena today, with an unheralded figure emerging as the heroine for Korea in their second conquest of the Uber Cup.
On the losing side were mighty 15-time champions China, with Olympic, world and Asian champions, who were undone at the end by a world No.46 named Sim Yu Jin.
Sim turned in the performance of her life in the critical fifth match against world No.15 Wang Zhi Yi, and China were left to contemplate a stunning final game in which Wang’s challenge imploded.
It was last in 1994 that a Uber Cup final had gone to the fifth match; incidentally, in that final too, China had ended runners-up.
Nail-Biting Opening Match
In the story of Korea’s Uber Cup win, a chapter will be reserved for An Se Young’s epic fight against Chen Yu Fei in the opening singles that set the tone for Korea’s defiance in the face of overwhelming odds. The most arresting images that will remain of that match will be of her doubled up in pain, her legs cramping, yet chasing down every probing shot from her opponent. An Se Young willed herself on in the closing stages to hold three match points, but against an opponent as relentless and steady as Chen Yu Fei, the challenger could make no further progress. Her final attempt went wide, and both ended up sprawled on the floor, in exhaustion and pain.
An Se Young was inconsolable after the defeat, while Chen Yu Fei called it one of the top three wins of her career.
“She might have looked like she was cramping but she could still return every shot,” Chen said. “I told myself to calm down, take it slow and believe in myself. She was in great control even with difficult wind conditions. She played a long match yesterday too so it wasn’t easy for her. She’s a very tough competitor and a great opponent. Cramping makes it hard but she managed to hang in there.”
Korea’s Doubles Strike
China were favourites to consolidate the lead in women’s doubles, with Chen Qing Chen/Jia Yi Fan holding a 5-0 record over Lee So Hee/Shin Seung Chan. The Koreans though achieved the long-sought breakthrough to get their team level.
China would go up again through He Bing Jiao, only for the scratch Korean combination of Kim Hye Jeong/Kong Hee Yong to make it 2-2.
Still, with recent Asian champion Wang Zhi Yi to take on the much-lower ranked Sim Yu Jin, few would have given the Koreans much chance of completing the upset.
Through the varying fortunes of the opening two games, it was Sim who was the more adventurous, cracking winners through improbable angles but at the same time conceding more opportunities. The lower-ranked player was expected to crumble under the pressure of the final game, but the exact opposite happened. With Sim enjoying a brilliant spell early in the third, Wang Zhi Yi fell apart – a straight sequence of 13 points put her far behind, and there was no looking back for the Korean. The engrossing final match had turned into a rout, and Sim Yu Jin had piloted Korea to only their second-ever Uber Cup title, and their first in over a decade.
“I just told her to stay calm during the match,” said singles coach Sung Ji Hyun, who was part of the 2010 team that tasted victory. “She was inspired by her teammates. I was hopeful in the fifth match, but she surprised me with the level of her performance.”