Japan ended China’s 10-year old stranglehold in Thomas Cup and also entered the Uber Cup Final after a fighting display against India. The winners of 9 Thomas Cup titles since 2004 succumbed to Japanese pressure in the semifinal at New-Delhi’s Siri Fort Complex. Chinese women, however, saved the day for the world’s no. 1 badminton nation as they beat Korea to enter the Uber Cup final for the 16th year running.
In the men’s event, Kenichi Tago began in a dynamic fashion by beating China’s world no.2 Chen Long 21-13, 21-11. The match set the tone for the next matches. Although, the Chinese pair of Chai Biao and Hong Wei took a big lead in the first game, the Japanese duo Hiroyuki Endo and Kenichi Hayakawa came back strongly to take the first game 22-20. In the second game too, the Japanese countered their opponents with a strong display in the closing stages and wrapped up the game 21-19. With a 2-0 lead, Japan went into the third singles match with confidence. Japan’s World Junior champion in 2012, Kento Momota, played a strong first game against the experienced Du Pengyu but Pengyu had the last laugh in taking the first game 25-23. In the second and third games, Momota showed his court-craft in controlling the net play against the Chinese veteran and won the semifinal for Japan with his 23-25, 21-18, 21-14 victory over Pengyu.
In the Uber Cup semifinal, the Japanese women fought back after trailing 0-2 and handed India a 3-2 defeat. Indian women began with high hopes, when Saina Nehwal played powerfully against world no. 12 Minatsu Mitani to give her country a 1-0 lead with a dominant 21-12 21-13 victory in 41-minutes. In the next match, PV Sindhu produced a brilliant performance against world no 13 Sayaka Takahashi in a cliff-hanger that lasted 72 minutes. Finally, Sindhu prevailed 19-21 21-18 26-24 in a match that took both players to the limits of their endurance and kept the spectators on the edges of their seats. In later matches, however, India lost the advantage and succumbed to the Japanese, who won the remaining singles doubles matches.
While Saina controlled her match against Mitani and finished victorious, the second game between Sindhu and Sayaka was a classic. In a battle of nerves and endurance, both players exhibited the same style and committed one unforced error after another. While Sayaka lost many points on net-play; Sindhu yielded points due to poor judgment. In the first game, Sayaka ran away with a 9-6 lead but Sindhu soon wiped out the deficit and had a slender 11-10 lead at interval. But the Japanese kept fighting and prevailed 21-19 in the first game. The second game was a pitched battle as Sayaka built an 11-10 lead at interval but Sindhu was unrelenting towards the end in taking the second game 21-18 and forcing the decider. In the third game, Sindhu began with a 7-2 lead only to lose successive points later. In a series of angled returns, drop-shots and tosses, Sayaka not only reduced the lead to 9-8 but went ahead 11-8 at interval. Then Sindhu raised her game and forced the Japanese to commit errors. When Sindhu led 17-13, it looked as if the game would end soon. But Sayaka was helped by some poor judgment by Sindhu and leveled the score 17-17. With Sindhu showing cracks, Sayaka held a match point at 20-19. But the brave Sindhu not only saved the match point but earned one herself. Sayaka was in no mood to give in just yet, as she commanded with another four match points against Sindhu. Sindhu managed to save all those as their big tussle continued. When Sindhu got another match point, Sayaka hit a return into the net and lost the game and the match, giving India a 2-0 lead.
In the first doubles game soon afterwards, Japanese world no. 4 pair Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi took on Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa. Though the Japanese woman took the first game easily at 21-12, Jwala and Ashwini came back with a fine play and won the second game 22-20. However, the Indian pair lost its rhythm and lost the third game 16-21, allowing Japan to come back in the tie. Japan made it 2-2 in the third singles match, when India’s PC Thulasi lost 14-21, 15-21 against world no. 16 Eriko Hirose.
With both teams level at 2-2, passage into the finals for either team hinged on the crucial last doubles game. India fielded Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu, who had never played as a doubles team until yesterday. Their doubles inexperience was too evident as they lost 14-21 11-21 to world number 5 pair of Miyuki Maeda and Reika Kakiiwa, giving Japan the ticket to the Uber Cup final.
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