Friday, May 26, 2017
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO
Last edition finalists China and Japan booked a semi-final meeting at the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2017 with one-sided victories today in Gold Coast.
There were no surprises in either quarter-final – Japan versus Malaysia and China versus India – although India’s scratch Mixed Doubles combination Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Ashwini Ponnappa did create some flutters against World No.2 duo Lu Kai and Huang Yaqiong in the opening match before China took the tie 3-0. A short while later, Japan wrapped up their quarter-final against Malaysia 3-1.
Rankireddy, perhaps the find of the tournament, had the Chinese under pressure with his monster smashes, giving Ponnappa the openings she needed to put away the returns that came her way. Lu and Huang struggled to contain the rampant Indians, who played with great assurance and touch at the front court to deny their opponents any opportunities.
Lu and Huang, veterans of many a battle, seized the initiative early in the second and held their lead. The Indians went ahead briefly in the third but Lu and Huang had started to anticipate the Indians’ lines of attack and reeled in quick points. Rankireddy and Ponnappa faltered on the delicate shots at net and the Chinese eventually came away winners at 16-21 21-13 21-16.
“We had a good chance, we had the confidence that we could pull it off,” said Ponnappa. “They’re very experienced, while we’re just starting off as a pair. Satwik has to get used to pressure situations. It’s kind of fun playing with him, because he’s strong and his game style complements mine. I’ve started moving into the net. In the past I’ve always run back and never taken charge. Having a promising player like Satwik to partner with is a huge confidence booster.”
World champion Chen Long had a 4-0 career record going into his Men’s Singles match-up with Kidambi Srikanth and nothing suggested that the Indian would get his first win, for the Chinese was at his fluid, powerful best.
Kidambi did little wrong; he varied the pace, worked the shuttle around and fired sharp winners through the narrow openings he crafted. The Indian stayed close but couldn’t quite wriggle free, for the quick-moving Chinese was invariably at the end of the flicks and half-smashes that Kidambi created. The frustration started to show in the Indian’s game and it was 2-0 for China in 48 minutes: 21-16 21-17.
“My opponent was very good, and he strongly challenged me in the second game,” said Chen. “We have to be our best tomorrow. The Japanese Men’s Singles players are quite young and have already got the opportunity to play at this level, so we have to be cautious. More than the pressure from outside, I will be putting pressure on myself to perform well.”
India’s Men’s Doubles pair were just not up to the level required to trouble Fu Haifeng and Zhang Nan. Rankireddy returned with Chirag Shetty and the duo were blown off court by the Olympic champions, 21-9 21-11, in just 29 minutes.
Japan’s victory over Malaysia followed the same pattern as in their sub-group 1C tie on Wednesday. For Malaysia, everything hinged on their Men’s Doubles pair of Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong getting past Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda (featured image), given Japan’s superior Women’s Singles and Women’s Doubles. Goh and Tan hit their stride mid-match against Sonoda and Kamura, but the Japanese kept up their high-intensity style, and the energy-sapping rallies started to tell on the Malaysians in the third as they fell apart in the hour-long battle: 21-17 16-21 21-11.
Soniia Cheah replaced Goh Jin Wei in Women’s Singles for Malaysia while Japan fielded Nozomi Okuhara. It was too vast a gulf for Cheah to cover, with the nimble Okuhara controlling the match from start to finish: 21-11 21-9.
Lee Chong Wei, as expected, delivered Men’s Singles for Malaysia over Kenta Nishimoto (21-15 21-13), leaving the burden of salvaging the nation’s hopes on Vivian Hoo and Woon Khe Wei. The Malaysian Women’s Doubles duo had taken only one game off Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi in nine previous matches. The Japanese duly made it ten wins in ten matches with a 21-7 21-14 result.
“We played Malaysia in the group stage as well, we weren’t sure who we would face today,” said Takahashi. “After we won the Men’s Doubles, we went in feeling good and there wasn’t any pressure.
“We lost the Sudirman Cup final to China two years ago. All the Chinese players are good. Our role is that of challengers. We always enjoy playing China and we have to prepare our best. They have won the Sudirman Cup six times in a row and we appreciate the opportunity to fight against them. It’s a big challenge in front of us.”