Sunday, May 28, 2017
TEXT BY GAYLE ALLEYNE | BADMINTONPHOTO
Perennial title-holders, China, withstood all that Japan threw at them tonight to advance to tomorrow’s finale of the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2017 in Gold Coast, Australia.
The defending champions reached their 12th final with a sterling semi-final effort that blended the old guard, in Men’s Singles supremo Lin Dan, and the new generation of athletes entrusted with upholding their nation’s badminton legacy, in Men’s Doubles pair Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen and Chen Qingchen/Jia Yifan in Women’s Doubles.
Displaying the mettle for which they are well known, the Chinese rebounded from the shock demise of Zheng Siwei and 19-year-old Chen in the opening Mixed Doubles match to triumph 3-2 against long-time adversaries, Japan; runners-up two years ago in Dongguan. Chen shook off her failure in the Mixed discipline admirably to sound the death knell in the decisive Women’s Doubles match. She and Jia Yifan outgunned Olympic gold medallists, Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi, 21-12 21-19; the latter evidently far from their best when their country most needed it.
“We are very excited to win the most important point for China. We prepared well and we asked our coaches to give us this chance tonight. Now we want to get a good’s night rest and get ready for the final,” said an exuberant Jia as her team-mates celebrated.
China will now clash with Korea, who defeated Thailand 3-1 earlier in the day, for the BWF World Mixed Team Championship at Gold Coast Sports & Leisure Centre which has hosted an absorbing week-long tournament. Tonight provided another thrilling instalment as fortunes see-sawed one way and then the other with the challengers striking first, thanks to exciting young duo, Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino’s upset victory over the world No.1 partnership of Zheng and Chen.
Down to their last of five match points in a nail-biting decider, the Japanese composed themselves to face serve. Watanabe’s firm return straight at Zheng seemed to catch him by surprise and he parried it erroneously. Watanabe flung himself into the air and then hugged his partner at the 21-12 14-21 21-19 result.
“Yes, we did it! I thought we could upset them. I am so happy,” declared the compact Watanabe.
That joy, however, was short-lived as the iconic Lin Dan coolly put his team on level terms, winning Men’s Singles 21-16 21-19 versus Kenta Nishimoto. The 33-year-old star admitted feeling “nervous” as he badly wanted to deliver for China. Next up were his young compatriots, Li and Liu, in one of the key matches. The Chinese twin towers manfully imposed their power hitting on their opponents – Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda – in the second game, having eked out the first after saving a game point. Liu produced some sizzling kills at net while his partner proved equally lethal in attacking from deep. The barrage of shots wore down the Japanese who succumbed 23-21 21-16, sending China ahead 2-1 in the tie.
On to Women’s Singles where Akane Yamaguchi efficiently kept Japan’s chances alive with a controlled the 21-17 21-15 win over Sun Yu, again locking the scores 2-2. This left matters in the balance with both teams needing to clinch the Women’s Doubles match. As it was, China’s attacking prowess and grit overwhelmed Japan’s usually resolute defence and, despite the world No.1 pair’s fightback to 19-19 in a tense second game, their rivals reaped the rewards for their offensive style.
“We knew this tie against Japan would be tough and we expected to play until the fifth match. We told our players to play until the last point. Nothing is finished before the last point,” said China’s joint head coach, Zhang Jun emphatically.