Thomas Cup for men and Uber Cup for women are the world’s most prestigious team championship events in badminton. While Thomas Cup was first staged in 1948-49, the inaugural Uber Cup was held 1956-57. Since 1984, these events have been held at common venues biennially among member nations of the Badminton World Federation, the international regulatory body for badminton. This year, 28th Thomas Cup and 25th Uber Cup tournaments were hosted by India for the first time at New-Delhi’s Siri Fort Complex during May 18-25, 2014. Japan entered the finals of both Thomas and Uber Cups and created history by becoming the fourth nation after Indonesia, Malaysia and China to etch their name on the Thomas Cup. The Japanese women, however, lost to China in the Uber Cup.
Japan had a brilliant run in both men’s and women’s team events. In Thomas cup they began their campaign by defeating England 4-1 and in the next tie; they blanked out Hong Kong 5-0. In the knock-out phase, which began on May 22, Japan beat France 3-1 in the quarterfinal and overpowered the mighty Chinese 3-0 in the semifinal to set up the final show down with Malaysia, who also triumphed in the semifinal against Indonesia by the same margin.
The Thomas cup final played on Sunday was a keenly fought affair between Japan and Malaysia. In the first match, Japan’s no. 1 player Kenichi Tago met the nearly invincible world no. 1 Lee Chong Wei. With his great run in the tournament over the week, Tago was expected to give a close fight to Chong Wei but the Malaysian proved too good to Tago in taking the match 21-12, 21-16. Despite trailing 10-15 at one stage in the second game; the mighty Malaysian reeled out the next 11 points out of 12 to leave Tago spellbound. The next match was the doubles between the world no. 3 Japanese pair of Kenichi Hayakawa/Hiroyuki Endo and Hoon Thien How/Tan Boon Heong. The match went the full stretch and featured long rallies on many points. The Japanese avoided hard smashes and instead used delicate net side placements. Patience paid for the Japanese as they finally emerged winners with the score of 12-21, 21-17, 21-19. The third match of the final was singles featuring Japan’s Kento Momota against Chong Wei Feng. Momota played with unbelievable confidence and cruised to an easy 21-15, 21-17 victory. This match was followed by another doubles match featuring the Japanese pair of Keigo Sonoda/Takeshi Kamura against Malaysia’s Goh V Shem/Tan Wee Kiong. It was a tense match in which both sides fought bitterly. There were jump smashes, quicksilver exchanges and impossible retrievals but in the end, the calm Malaysians finished victors at 19-21, 21-17, 21-12. With scores level at 2-2, the last singles match held the key. For Japan, everything now rested on the performance of Takuma Ueda, who took on the Malaysian Daren Liew. Ueda took the first game easily at 21-12 but Liew bounced back in the match with a powerful performance in the second game and won the game 21-18. In the tension-filled third game, Liew committed some grave judgment errors in final stages. But Ueda kept his nerves and won the game 21-17 to give his country its first ever Thomas cup title.
In the Uber cup too, Japanese women had an easy passage to the knock-out phase winning all their league matches. In the quarterfinals they defeated Denmark 3-0 but their semifinal encounter against India went all the way to 5 matches. After the scores were level 2-2, the Japanese pair of Reika Kaiiwa and Miyuki Maeda proved too strong against the doubles’ inexperience of India’s Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu. In the final, however, the Japanese faced defending champion China. The mighty Chinese proved too powerful for Japan, who could only win one doubles match, when the pair of Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi beat Bao Yixin/Tang Jinhua 21-18, 21-9. China ran away with Li Xuerui crushing Japanese Minatsu Mitani 21-15, 21-5; Wang Shixian beating Sayaka Takahashi 21-16, 21-12 and the Chinese doubles pair of Zhao Yunlei/Wang Xiaoli overpowering Miyuki Maeda/Reika Kakiiwa 21-13, 21-6
The last singles match between Japan’s Ueda Takuma and Malaysia’s Daren Liew brought the curtains down on the 2014 Thomas and Uber cups. Among the many features of the New Delhi event, India won the bronze medal and put up their best show. The major highlights were; India giving a tough fight to Japan in the semifinal and then whitewashed Indonesia to bag the bronze. Japan defied all pre-event predictions and made history. And finally, France reached the quarterfinal stage for the first time.
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