What had promised to be a genuine firecracker of a final turned out to be a damp squib as China, bolstered by magnificent displays from their singles exponents, Chen Yufei and Shi Yuqi, steamrolled Japan 3-0 to win back the Sudirman Cup Mixed Team Championship they had surrendered two years back to South Korea.
This happened to be China’s eleventh title in the 15 editions of the biennial tournament, and the host nation’s players conclusively proved that they have such phenomenal strength and depth, that they deserve to be recognised as the world’s premier badminton nation.
On the other hand, it was a wake-up call for Japan, on the eve of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where they hope to dominate in at least three of the five disciplines. The Japanese have never won the Sudirman Cup, and their lengthy wait only got extended by another two years.
The final had been expected to go down to the wire, with Japan hoping to dominate the two singles matches, and China the men’s and mixed doubles, with the women’s doubles expected to work as the tie-breaker. However, home advantage worked in China’s favour as they swept the first three matches of the final in Nanning, and rendered the last two matches, the women’s and mixed doubles, superfluous.
There was no doubting the superiority of reigning men’s doubles world champions, Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen, as they hacked down Hiroyuki Endo and Yuta Watanabe, who were preferred to their higher ranked compatriots, Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda. The clash produced plenty of rallies, but the superiority of the hard-hitting Chinese duo was never in doubt, as they notched a 21-18, 21-10 win in six minutes shy of the hour mark.
The Japanese were counting heavily on World No 4, Akane Yamaguchi, to bring them back on level terms against Chen Yufei, placed one spot above her on the Badminton World Federation’s (BWF) rankings, but trailing 5-9 against the diminutive Japanese in career meetings.
However, Korean coach Park Joo Bong’s team was doomed to disappointment in the battle of the 21-year-olds, when the Chinese player roared back from the loss of the opening game to beat her Japanese rival 17-21, 21-16, 21-17 in a titanic 81-minute struggle. The scoreline was uncannily similar to the tense come-from-behind 15-21, 21-16, 21-17 verdict in Yamaguchi’s favour at the Badminton Asia Championships, exactly a month ago.
Yamaguchi seemed on the way to repeating the Badminton Asia result when she took the first game from an even 17-17 position. But Yufei, spurred on by the vociferous crowd, packing the Guangxi Sports Centre Gymnasium to the rafters, led most of the way in the second stanza; and kept her cool when her antagonist made a supreme effort to come within a point at 15-16.
The Japanese player took a useful 11-6 lead at the change of ends in the decider, but was immediately pegged back by a seven-point reel from the local girl. Yufei once again managed to find that extra gear from a 15-15 deadlock, and took six of the last eight points to virtually ensure the Sudirman Cup for her team.
However, world champion Kento Momota stood solidly in the way of a clean sweep, with a terrific record against World No 2, Shi Yuqi, that showed four victories in their last five meetings, including the last World Championships final. The Japanese left-hander showed his mettle when he led from start to finish in the opening game, accelerating away from 13-11 to win it at 21-15, and keep alive Japan’s hopes of taking the tie the full distance.
But what happened next had spectators rubbing their eyes in disbelief. Playing with amazing speed, power and positioning, the 23-year-old Chinese star made Momota look like a veritable novice as he took the second game for the loss of a mere five points. Shi maintained the pressure in the decider, leaping to a massive 13-3 lead, and ensuring that he shut Momota completely out of the match.
The Chinese player richly merited the final winning margin of 15-21, 21-5, 21-11 in an hour and nine minutes, even though Momota appeared a trifle slower on his feet than usual in the second and third games, probably bothered by a sore knee that he had first experienced during his semi-final clash against Indonesia’s Anthony Sinisuka Ginting.
Just how dominant the Chinese were at this tournament could be judged by the fact that they dropped just one match in five ties leading up to the title – Denmark’s 2017 world champion Viktor Axelsen beating Olympic champion Chen Long in the China-Denmark quarter-final clash. The host nation did not drop a single match in their two group clashes, and the semi-finals and final, thus earning bragging rights as the most dominant all-round badminton nation on earth.
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Updated Date: May 27, 2019 10:11:43 IST