Celebrations and Concessions – Sudirman Cup ’19

Sunday, May 26, 2019
TEXT BY GAYLE ALLEYNE | BADMINTONPHOTO

Two years after facing the cold glare of a media inquisition, Xia Xuanze happily passed that unenviable duty to Park Joo Bong and instead basked in Sudirman Cup glory.

China’s head singles coach, and co-author of today’s stunning 3-0 drubbing of Japan in the World Mixed Team Championship final, cut a far different image to his sullen features in Gold Coast in 2017 when the Chinese lost a dramatic showdown 3-2 to Korea. However, a smiling Xia reflected on how that bitter defeat in Australia contributed to today’s magnificent result in the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2019.

FLASHBACK: Xia Xuanze (far left) watches as the Sudirman Cup is prepared for presentation to Korea in Gold Coast in 2017.

“The last Sudirman Cup was the first time I led our team in such a big tournament. We gained a lot of experience which laid a good foundation for today’s success. Through this process, we have made a lot of progress in our training, competition preparation as well as our knowledge of our opponents.

“So, indeed, the last loss of the Sudirman Cup to Korea was instrumental to today’s victory.”

Strategies for Success

Elaborating on specific preparations for the final versus Japan, he said “we tried to study Japan’s team selections and determine which players we would face today”.

“We made all sorts of preparations. We were prepared to go to the fifth match. I think both teams were evenly matched and Japan was very strong. Winning men’s doubles gave us a lot of confidence which led to the (two) singles victories.

Shi Yuqi (right) is embraced by Jia Yifan as other teammates rush to greet him after he sealed China’s Sudirman Cup victory.

“We took our opponents very seriously. We got an advantage by winning the first two matches but this was a lot of pressure for Shi Yuqi because he really wanted to win the third point for China, so he was more nervous than Kento Momota.

“It was indeed beyond our expectations that we would win 3-0.”

Asked how he would celebrate, Xia chuckled and replied: “Sleeping!”

Sleepless Nights?

By contrast, Park – who last night declared “We’ll go all out (in the final)” – may be up pacing for hours tonight, contemplating how and why top-seeded Japan melted down so spectacularly.

Xia Xuanze congratulates Chen Yufei on her women’s singles win.

Before a packed press conference room, the badminton icon was at pains to explain his team selections as well as his players’ performances in what proved an anticlimactic final. Though acknowledging there was pressure on his team in the final, Park insisted this was not the main reason that Akane Yamaguchi and Kento Momota lost their singles matches.

“Yamaguchi was leading 11-6 in the third game but she could not continue her good rhythm. That was a very big mistake,” he noted.

“Momota played very well in the first game but in the second game he slowed down a lot. He played in the group stage, quarterfinals, semifinals and he finished late yesterday. Maybe his recovery was not enough. He tried to speed up but he couldn’t. He is also very disappointed.”

Pressed further on his singles choices, the head coach explained that Yamaguchi was preferred today because her head-to-head record versus Chen Yufei s better than Nozomi Okuhara’s. Regarding Momota’s workload throughout the tournament – playing four of Japan’s five men’s singles matches in the Sudirman Cup – Park conceded their hands were tiied.

“In the first match against Russia, Kenta Nishimoto was not very good. We feel there is a gap (in performance level) between Momota and Nishimoto so we had no choice. Momota had to play.”

Hiroyuki Endo (left) and Yuta Watanabe failed to deliver in men’s doubles for Japan.

As for men’s doubles, his rationale was that he hoped Hiroyuki Endo and Yuta Watanabe could repeat their Asian Championships success versus China’s Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen – but that didn’t happen.

Tokyo 2020 Commitment

Despite looking stone-faced, Park admitted this second 3-0 loss to China in two Sudirman Cup finals (the first being in 2015 in Dongguan) was a major blow to him.

“It is a comprehensive defeat for me. I cannot say our players played their best and I’m sorry about that. I commit myself to preparing better for the (Tokyo 2020) Olympic Games.”