ASIAN TEAM CHAMPS – Japan sets sights on Uber Cup

Japan’s women’s team proved that they are a strong title contender in the upcoming Uber Cup finals by beating China, 3-0 as they and Indonesia emerged as the Asian Champions […]

Japan’s women’s team proved that they are a strong title contender in the upcoming Uber Cup finals by beating China, 3-0 as they and Indonesia emerged as the Asian Champions for women’s and men’s team final respectively

Story and photos by Chee Ying Fan (live in Alor Setar)

In the E-Plus Badminton Asia Team Championships 2018 in Stadium Sultan Abdul Halin, Alor Setar, Malaysia, Japan succeeded where they failed two years ago, in taking the women’s team title.  In 2016 as well, Japan got out to a 2-0 lead after Nozomi Okuhara beat Wang Shixian in her first experience playing first singles for Japan only to watch the Uber Cup-holders storm through the last 3 matches.  This time the new World Champion was there to seal the deal for Japan at second singles.

Starting off the final tie were two young shuttlers.  Chen Yufei has only recently overtaken team-mate He Bingjiao in the women’s singles world rankings and she had to take on Superseries Finals winner Akane Yamaguchi to begin the tie.  It was Yamaguchi who led the way for Japan, getting her team off to a strong start by beating Chen, 21-16, 12-21, 21-14.

“This is one of the best matches that I played in this tournament,” Yamaguchi said afterward.  “I didn’t feel good here and I do not know the reason. I do not move as fast as I wanted but no matter how I feel, this is a team event and winning a point for Japan is very important. I am glad that I won.”

The Chinese team was obviously not at full strength in the doubles department, with none of their 4 top ten women’s doubles players on hand and without world #17 Huang Dongping or veteran Tang Jinhua.  It was down to Open semi-finalists Du Yue / Li Yinhui to take on Olympic gold medallists Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi.

“We felt relaxed in this match,” Ayaka Takahashi said after prevailing in straight games.  “China did not send their strongest women’s doubles.  Therefore, we will improve and train harder for the Uber Cup Finals.”

The pressure was then on He Bingjiao to win to keep China in the tie.  He won the first game but Nozomi won the second game, sending smashes that caused He to dive all over the court. He even injured her right hand while diving and called for the tournament doctor. He later mentioned that her hand was in pain but it didn’t affect her game so much because she is a lefty and her injured hand is the right hand.

“I made many mistakes in the third game. I need to improve on my fitness,” said He. Nozomi won the third game by a convincing 21-10.

Japan is already assured of being the #1 seed for Uber Cup Finals but if they can maintain this edge in singles and count on their doubles pairs remaining consistent, they will certainly replace the defending champions as the favourites for the Cup in Bangkok.

Women’s team final result:  Japan 3, China 0
WS1:  Akane Yamaguchi (JPN) beat Chen Yufei (CHN)  21-16, 12-21, 21-14
WD1:  Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi (JPN) beat Du Yue / Li Yinhui (CHN)         21-13, 21-16
WS2:  Nozomi Okuhara (JPN) beat He Bingjiao (CHN)  19-21, 21-16, 21-10
WD2:  Yuki Fukushima / Sayaka Hirota (JPN) vs. Cao Tong Wei / Zheng Yu (CHN)  [not played]
WS3:  Sayaka Sato (JPN) vs. Gao Fangjie (CHN)  [not played]

Indonesia the best as top Chinese rest

Indonesia arrived for the men’s team event in Alor Setar nearly at full strength but world #1 Marcus Fernaldi Gideon rode the bench with an injury after winning one match and two of the defending champions’ scratch pairings suffered key defeats in the earlier rounds.  China was under-strength in both singles and doubles and their youngsters were no match for the Indonesians in the final tie.

Indonesia benefitted from a key upset in the opening match.  Shi Yuqi – who reached #2 in the world last summer – was riding high after winning the India Open last weekend.

Jonatan Christie was also in form, after beating veterans Srikanth Kidambi and Son Wan Ho en route to the team final.  He staged a remarkable comeback at the end of third game to beat the world #7.  Shi was leading 18-12 but Christie scored 8 consecutive points to win the match and put his team ahead in the tie.

“I was trailing far in the third game and seemed like I would lose the match but God had his plan,” Christie said.  “I felt the shuttle is very heavy compared to yesterday. Both of us are young and fit, so I needed to play a clever game.”  Christie looked up and pointed his finger upwards after he won his tie.

Shi felt he hurt his arm and mentioned, “I am not sure if it affected my game after that but my arm feels numb.”

It was a close match but Mohammed Ahsan / Angga Pratama clinced the second point for Indonesia in straight games with their powerful attacking play. Qiao Bin had to win his match to keep China’s hopes alive and he did it by beating Anthony Ginting.

Qiao said afterward, “The pressure was great but I was able to handle the pressure.  In the second game, Ginting played a faster game. Both of us had an equal chance again in the third game and I just played my best.”

Qiao was given a yellow card for throwing his racket to Ginting’s court and diving under the net to catch his racket as his way of celebration after he won the match.

The scratch pairing of Olympic champion Hendra Setiawan with Rian Agung Saputro played fast and aggressively to beat former World Junior Champions Han Chengkai / Zhou Haodong in straight games to make Indonesia the men’s team champion in Asia. Their teammates were preparing to rush to the court during the match point, chanting, Satu lagi (one more). The Indonesian then sang “Happy Birthday” to Susi Susanti, their team manager, whose birthday is on February11th. Indeed, their victory was a great birthday gift to her.

All teams will now focus on the Thomas and Uber Cup finals which will be held in Bangkok in May.  Denmark is the defending champion but China will be the top seed, by virtue of the combined rankings of their top players and pairs.

Men’s team final result:  Indonesia 3, China 1
MS1:  Jonatan Christie (INA) beat Shi Yuqi (CHN)  16-21, 21-17, 21-18
MD1:  Mohammad Ahsan / Angga Pratama (INA) beat He Jiting / Tan Qiang (CHN)  21-19, 21-18
MS2:  Anthony Ginting (INA) lost to Qiao Bin (CHN)  12-21, 21-11, 14-21
MD2:  Rian Agung Saputro / Hendra Setiawan (INA) beat Han Chengkai / Zhou Haodong (CHN)  21-14, 21-19
MS3:  Firman Abdul Kholik (INA) vs. Zhao Junpeng (CHN)  [not played]

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