Japan Stay on Track – Sudirman Cup ’19

Friday, May 24, 2019
TEXT BY GAYLE ALLEYNE | BADMINTONPHOTO

Showcasing their most potent line-up, Japan romped into the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2019 semifinals this afternoon, blanking their spirited Malaysian challengers in Nanning, China.

Malaysia’s Lee Zii Jia congratulates Kento Momota of Japan.

Surviving the probing questions asked by Ong Yew Sin and Teo Ee Yi in the opening men’s doubles match, the top seeds – featuring singles and doubles players world-ranked no lower than No.3 – strode impressively into the medal round with singles stars, Nozomi Okuhara and Kento Momota, completing the mission at Guangxi Sports Centre Gymnasium.

Super-cool Momota toyed with Lee Zii Jia before finalising the 3-0 result, 21-18 21-16. Earlier, the energetic Okuhara calmly overcame an early flourish from Soniia Cheah to claim Japan’s second point, 21-16 21-13. These straightforward outings contrasted sharply with that of their teammates, Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda, who had all but the kitchen sink thrown at them in the first 95 minutes.

Previously beaten by Ong and Teo, the world No.2 duo was under pressure from the outset as their rivals charged to a significant lead and seized the first game. Cruising at 18-13 ahead in the second, the Japanese appeared on track to level the proceedings easily but that was not to be. The Malaysians clawed back to cause Kamura and Sonoda a major headache before the Japanese won their sixth game point to force a decider. Game three was equally dramatic as the Malaysians produced another comeback from 12-16 adrift to 18-all in the fast-paced shoot-out.

At 19-19, there was a prolonged delay as Teo required medical attention for a cut to his chin which was sustained when he and Ong collided as both fell to the court. That misfortune did not quell their intensity and they continued fighting but Kamura and Sonoda eventually triumphed on their third match point.

Ong Yew Sin (left) and Teo Ee Yi fought courageously for Malaysia.

“In the first game we were not very calm. In the second and third games, we played more patiently. We’re just happy that we won,” declared Sonoda.

“We’ve lost to them before so we expected this match to be very hard and their strategy made it even tougher. It was difficult to cope with their drives.”

Meanwhile, the Malaysians rued their missed opportunity, Ong stating “we tried everything to win but we couldn’t get to match point”. His partner Teo dismissed concerns that he may have been affected by his injury.

Coach’s Considerations

Japan’s head coach Park Joo Bong was ultimately pleased with the 3-0 rout but acknowledged he will have to think strategically about his semifinal line-up versus Indonesia (who later advanced 3-2 over Chinese Taipei) given the trouble which his men’s pair encountered today.

“It was a very important point for us and my players had some tension. It’s not their best performance and it was quite a tough match. We will have to discuss tomorrow’s plan,” said Park.

Overall, he felt his players performed and concentrated better than in their group-stage ties against Russia and Thailand.

Women’s singles ace, Nozomi Okuhara, collected Japan’s second point.

Okuhara’s Opinion

In her post-match interview, Okuhara noted that though “Japan is very strong…this is a team tournament” and the “crucial factors to winning are teamwork and confidence in each other”.

“We are doing well in these aspects and I think my teammates will work hard and are good enough. Hopefully, we can win the title.”