A Twist in the Tale – Sudirman Cup in the 2010s

Wednesday, May 15, 2019
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO

The pattern that was set in the first decade of the millennium continued well into the second decade.

Xu Chen and Ma Jin in the 2011 final.

In the women’s doubles and mixed, players like Zhang Ning, Zhang Jun, Gao Ling and Huang Sui were replaced by equally adept names such as Wang Shixian, Li Xuerui, Yu Yang, Wang Xiaoli, Zhang Nan, Zhao Yunlei, Xu Chen and Ma Jin. Lin Dan, Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng continued to dominate their categories.

China blanked Denmark 3-0 in the 2011 final at Qingdao, with Xu Chen/Ma Jin, Lin Dan and Cai Yun/Fu Haifeng wrapping up the tie without conceding a game.

It wasn’t entirely smooth sailing, though, as China were pushed hard in the semifinals by Korea. Xu Chen and Ma Jin all but lost their opening mixed doubles match against Ko Sung Hyun/Ha Jung Eun before making a spirited comeback, saving four match points to win 21-23 21-14 24-22.

Lin Dan easily dispatched Park Sung Hwan in straight games, before Korea made it 1-2 through Lee Yong Dae/Jung Jae Sung’s three-game victory over Cai/Fu.

But China’s strength in women’s singles saw them through, with Wang Shixian steamrolling Bae Youn Joo 21-15 21-12 to take China to the final.

At the next Sudirman Cup – in 2013, Kuala Lumpur – China were in a spot of bother against Indonesia in the quarterfinals. Down 1-2 – Indonesia pulling their weight through Tontowi Ahmad/Liliyana Natsir in the mixed and Angga Pratama/Rian Agung Saputra in the men’s doubles – China fought back through Li Xuerui and Yu Yang/Wang Xiaoli.

Denmark in the semifinals took a match off them, with Mathias Boe/Carsten Mogensen beating Cai/Fu – but China’s overall strength once again proved too great. Korea in the final were no match as China swamped them 3-0, even though Cai/Fu were rested and Liu Xiaolong/Qiu Zihan took their place against Lee Yong Dae/Ko Sung Hyun.

Korea appear in good spirits despite losing the 2013 final to China.

By 2015, a new force had risen – Japan. Just the previous year, the Japanese had won their first Thomas Cup while the women had made the Uber Cup final. A generation of talented youngsters were coming of age.

Japan topped their group beating Russia and Chinese Taipei and ran into Denmark in the quarterfinals.

It was a sensational tie, with an under-strength Denmark fighting back from 1-2 to 2-all and the young women’s doubles pair Sara Thygesen/Maiken Fruergaard nearly causing the upset of the tournament with a narrow lead at the death over Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi.

Lin Dan celebrates in characteristic style after ensuring the Cup for China in 2015.

The Japanese barely held on, coming away relieved after scraping through 19-21 21-7 21-19.

Japan were involved in another thriller in the semifinals against Korea. This time the Japanese had to fight off a 1-2 deficit: Matsutomo/Takahashi made it 2-2 beat Chang Ye Na/Jung Kyung Eun, before the established Korean mixed doubles pair of Ko Sung Hyun/Kim Ha Na were destroyed by a rampant Kenta Kazuno/Ayane Kurihara. Japan were in the final for the first time in history.

Missing Kento Momota (he sat out the semifinals as well), Japan were unable to pose any problems for China. Fu Haifeng, partnering Zhang Nan, gave China the lead; Li Xuerui made it 2-0 over Akane Yamaguchi, and then Lin Dan destroyed Takuma Ueda’s challenge 21-15 21-13 in 49 minutes. China had won their tenth Sudirman Cup.

The Sudirman Cup 2017 in Gold Coast was a historic event, for this was the first to be held in Oceania.

The big surprise in the quarterfinals was Thailand’s upset of Denmark in a thriller, 3-2. The coup was effected by scratch pair Jongkolphan Kititharakul/Sapsiree Taerattanachai over established duo Christinna Pedersen/Kamilla Rytter Juhl in a surprisingly one-sided result, 21-15 21-12.

China faced Japan and Korea faced Thailand in the semifinals.

Thailand could not replicate their quarterfinal heroics against Korea in the semifinals, despite Dechapol/Taerattanachai giving them a 1-0 lead.

Later in the day, China took on Japan.

Yuta Watanbe and Arisa Higashino surprised Zheng Siwei and Chen Qingchen in the semifinals.

The first blow was struck by the relatively new pair Yuta Watanabe/Arisa Higashino, as they took down China’s formidable duo of Zheng Siwei/Chen Qingchen. Lin Dan and Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen gave the defending champions a 2-1 lead, before Akane Yamaguchi made it 2-2 for Japan.

Chen Qingchen returned, and with Jia Yifan, won a pitched battle over Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi.

China had staved off a difficult challenge, but the exertion would take a toll.

Korea were the rank underdogs in the final, especially with Son Wan Ho sitting out due to injury.

China took the lead through Fu Haifeng/Zhang Nan; Korea equalised through Sung Ji Hyun. Chen Long gave his team the lead once again, beating Jeon Hyeok Jin.

Then the tables turned.

Chen Qingchen, who had played a late final rubber in the semifinal tie, looked out of sorts and she and Jia Yifan went down to Chang Ye Na/Lee So Hee. It was even at 2-all now, but China still had the cards in their favour with the in-form duo of Lu Kai and Huang Yaqiong taking on Choi Solgyu/Chae Yujung.

In what would count as one of the biggest upsets in Sudirman Cup history, the favourites unravelled under the pressure, even as Choi and Chae just couldn’t do any wrong. The Koreans ran away victors at 21-17 21-13, completing one of the most dramatic tournaments in recent history.