What is the value of a single point?
The question, and its variations, are likely to haunt Takuro Hoki and Yugo Kobayashi, and perhaps the rest of their team, for a long time.
One point proved too far a distance to traverse for a Japanese team on the verge of making history. Hoki and Kobayashi had four opportunities to take that one point that would have taken them past China for a place in the title round of the TotalEnergies BWF Sudirman Cup Finals 2023. It would have been Japan’s first Sudirman Cup win over China, bringing with it a likely shot at a first-ever Sudirman Cup title. It would have marked a great comeback for a team that had been routed 0-5 in a group tie to Korea just a few days ago. For China, a loss would’ve been their first-ever on home soil in six editions of this tournament.
Those possibilities hung tantalisingly in the air when Hoki and Kobayashi steamed ahead in the final game of the fourth match. Japan were 2-1 up courtesy wins in the mixed doubles (Kyohei Yamashita/Naru Shinoya) and women’s singles (Akane Yamaguchi), while China had pulled one back through Shi Yu Qi in men’s singles.
Until 20-16 the Japanese had stayed sharp, forced their chances, and looked on course. Whether it was tentativeness on their part, or the more steely nerves of the Chinese, Liu Yu Chen and Ou Xuan Yi did what badminton dreams are made of – save all four match points, and convert their own first opportunity even as the stadium erupted, with coaches and teammates clutching their heads in disbelief at what they had witnessed. Liu and Ou had pulled out one of the biggest escape acts in Sudirman Cup history.
There was simply no looking back for China from that moment. Chen Qing Chen and Jia Yi Fan were all over Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota; the second game was a washout at 21-6. Both winners and losers shed copious tears.
The semifinal will be remembered as one of the great ties in a team event for, until the last match, it had been a pulsating contest. The opening mixed doubles had set the trend, with Yamashita and Shinoya holding off two match points to give Japan the lead.
Shi Yu Qi and Kodai Naraoka were involved in a bruising 91-minute battle before Shi evened the score for China after Kodai saved four of seven match points.
Akane Yamaguchi, under pressure after two straight losses, rediscovered her form in time, dominating Chen Yu Fei in a 48-minute contest, setting the stage for a contest that will be recounted often for years to come.
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