The Putra Stadium-2 in suburban Kuala Lumpur had never seen an epic battle like the one fought there on Friday evening. After 111 minutes, China’s Wang Shixian defeated Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara in a badminton match of the highest quality. Shixian reached the semifinal in the women’s singles, where she has been joined by compatriot Li Xuerui, Spain’s Carolina Marin and India’s Saina Nehwal. If there are two Chinese in women’s semifinals, there are three in the men’s category with Denmark’s Jan O Jorgensen being the only non-Chinese as Lin Dan, Chen Long and Wang Zhengming have entered the last four. Except the men’s doubles category, in which no Chinese pair has found its entry, women and mixed doubles categories also witnessed the Chinese domination with three spots each for pairs from China. India’s world no.1 player Saina Nehwal was taken the distance by China’s Sun Yu in the quarterfinal on Friday but Marin literally had a cake walk against Hong Kong’s Cheung Ngan.
The best action on Friday came at Putra Stadium-2, where 20-year old Japanese Nozomi Okuhara played her quarterfinal match against world no.3 Wang Shixian of China. It was a contest between two strongly-willed individuals, none of whom wanted to yield an inch to the other. With the experience gained in her illustrious career, Wang obviously had more weapons in her artillery than the committed Japanese but that didn’t reduce the intensity of the battle. Wang was surprised that the diminutive Japanese returned her best shots as she ran around the court like a cheetah. Okuhara worked harder and harder and flung herself at every shuttle that was sent by Wang on her side of the court. The brilliant Japanese tested Wang and her shots were too tight and measured. Wang won the close first game 21-19 but the flummoxed Chinese was completely taken in by Okuhara in the second game and lost it at 15-21. It was an extra-ordinary match as viewers held their breath as they watched the two contenders at play. With Okuhara hardly making any mistakes, Wang was severely pressurized in the third game as she fell behind 15-18 in the third game. Just as the Japanese looked like closing in for a miraculous finish, Wang returned from dead and fought back. At 21-20, with Wang serving, the shuttle rested on the net-cord for a while and then slowly dropped on Okuhara’s court. It was all over and the disappointed Japanese slumped on to the floor. So exhausted was Okuhara that she didn’t make any moves for a while. From across the net, Wang watched the grief-stricken and agonized Japanese, who appeared overtaken by cramps and tears. Wang herself was too spent out to celebrate her victory after 111 minutes of the nerve-wrecking match that ended in favor of the Chinese at 21-19, 15-21, 22-20.
Wang’s semifinal opponent will be World champion Carolina Marin, who was quick in disposing of the Hong Kong qualifier Cheung Ngan Yi 21-12 21-9. In the other semifinal on Saturday, top seeded and defending champion Li Xuerui will play the newly crowned world No.1 Saina Nehwal of India. Both Xuerui and Saina had tough three-game matches in their quarterfinals. Li Xuerui had to fight out with compatriot Wang Yihan before coming through 14-21, 21-15, 21-12. Saina also had to deal with a Chinese, Sun Yu, who stretched the Indian all the way. After taking the first game at 21-11, Saina lost the second 18-21. In the third game, Saina ran into trouble as she squandered a 14-8 lead and allowed Yu to come back into the match. Towards the end, however, Saina produced some great shots and closed the match at 21-11, 18-21, 21-17.
Men’s singles fifth seed Lin Dan defeated his countryman Tian Houwei, 11-21, 21-16, 21-13 to reach the semifinal. After losing the first game, Lin Dan bounced back smartly to take the next two. In other three quarterfinals; top seeded Chen Long outplayed Japan’s Kento Momota 21-16 21-11, Jorgensen beat Hong Kong’s Wei Nan 21-9, 21-15 and Wang Zhengming defeated compatriot Xue Song 21-16, 21-16.
At Malaysia this year, Men’s Doubles is the only category, which is devoid of Chinese players at semi-final stage. In women and mixed doubles three out of four spots have been taken by the pairs from China. In Women’s Doubles semi-finals, three Chinese pairs; Xia Huan/Tian Qing, Ou Dongni/Yu Xiaohan and Luo Ying/Luo Yu have made the grade. The only exceptions are Korea’s Chang Ye Na and Jung Kyung Eun. Similarly in the mixed doubles, except Indonesia’s Tontowi Ahmad/Liliyana Natsir, all others are the Chinese pairs beginning with top seeds Zhang Nan/Zhao Yunlei, Liu Cheng/Bao Yixin and Xu Chen/Ma Jin.