China Ace Final Test

China added another story to their imposing Sudirman Cup edifice, claiming their 12th crown beating Japan 3-1 at the TotalEnergies BWF Sudirman Cup Finals 2021.

Neither nerves nor exhaustion came in the way. Every opportunity was taken, few given. It was a day when young stars showed themselves as impervious to pressure as the more battle-hardened ones. Japan, seeking to overturn the result at the last edition where they were blown away 3-0 by China, had to be content yet again with finishing second-best.

Zhou Hao Dong and He Ji Ting provided the breakthrough for China.

Chinese coach Zhang Jun later talked of trust in the young members of the team, in their ability to stand their ground on the big occasion. The plan to field players in two categories was shelved, and China went with He Ji Ting and Zhou Hao Dong in the men’s doubles.

The gambit worked. Takuro Hoki and Yugo Kobayashi were combative for over an hour against the young Chinese, but the Japanese erred in their over-reliance of the lifts and challenging the Chinese to penetrate their defence. Unflagging, He and Zhou buzzed with attacking energy even late in their match to give China the lead.

“We’d lost a close match to the Danes in the quarterfinals and we learnt our lessons – we tried to be more patient,” said Zhou.

Yamaguchi Keeps Japan Alive

Akane Yamaguchi was conscious of her demoralising defeat to Chen Yu Fei in the last Sudirman Cup final. Today Yamaguchi was all aggressive intent. Unwilling to stay back in the rallies and let Chen dictate the terms, the Japanese kept up a sizzling pace that Chen found hard to match; even when her opponent found empty spaces, Yamaguchi threw herself to keep the point alive. It was this greater intent that swung the match Yamaguchi’s way, for Chen was otherwise her usual precise and steady self.

Akane Yamaguchi kept Japan in the hunt.

“At the last Sudirman Cup I was in the same circumstances and I lost, so I didn’t want a repeat. Also, she is the Olympic gold medallist so I determined to challenge her,” said Yamaguchi.

“I just wanted to play a steady game. I knew she had played some long matches and would be tired. I hadn’t played so many long matches, so I was quite fresh.”

Shi Trumps Momota

The men’s singles match had the most curious twists after a high-quality opening game that was won by a relentlessly attacking Shi Yu Qi. The effort seemed to have wiped him out, for he was a passenger in the second, saving his energies for the third.

Whether it was the accumulated effort of the week or simply the mental fortitude required, Kento Momota capitulated. The world No.1 kept lifting the shuttle for Shi to smash down, and the Chinese got plenty of opportunities to knock off the remaining points to give China a 2-1 lead.

Shi Yu Qi took advantage of an under-par Momota.

Momota denied that tiredness had played a role in his somewhat listless play in the third game.

“I was overwhelmed by my opponent’s attacking ability, that’s why I lost. I wasn’t that tired, but I couldn’t find a way to win,” said Momota.

Shi, celebrating his finest moment after his comeback from the injury he sustained in July 2019, promised to get better than he was before injury.

“I let the second game go to recover my breath,” said Shi. “I had to save all my energy for the third game. I’m at 90 per cent of my best. It’s a great thing to win, but my goal is not to return to my previous level – I’m going to get to 120 per cent of that!”

Chen/Jia See Team Through

Chen Qing Chen is mobbed by her teammates after the women’s doubles victory gave the title to China.

Japan’s women’s doubles hopes hinged on a scratch combination, but Mayu Matsumoto and Misaki Matsutomo were always in the reckoning against Chen Qing Chen and Jia Yi Fan. The Chinese were tested all the way; they simply demonstrated amazing solidity under pressure.

And with the 21-17 21-16 victory, the Sudirman Cup stayed with China.

“After the Olympics, we could motivate the team once again,” said coach Zhang Jun. “We lacked some of our best men’s doubles players for the Sudirman Cup, and we had some difficulties against Thailand and Denmark, but we decided to use our young players and we trusted their ability, and they did really well today.”

 

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