After a series of heart-warming performances, heart-break awaited the gallant Indian girls. On the threshold of making the Uber Cup final past five-time champion Japan, India slipped after getting to within five points of what would have been a historic triumph.
The 3-2 defeat in the semifinals meant India would have to settle for bronze, its first medal in the World’s premier team championship.
After Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu put India 2-0 up after the singles, G. Jwala and Ashwini Ponnappa fought gamely against the World No.4 pair Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi but could not take India past the finish-line.
The Indian duo led 8-5 in the decider. A streak of errors saw them trail but they reduced the gap to 16-18. Thereafter, the Japanese pair gave nothing away in closing out a 59-minute thriller.
After that, Eriko Hirose packed off P.C. Thulasi in quick time, and in the deciding second doubles, Saina and Sindhu fell to the World No.5 combine of Miyuki Maeda and Reika Kakiiwa.
Victory after a five-hour battle against India saw Japan reach the final for the first time since winning the title in 1981 at home against Indonesia.
Saina had raced away to a 21-12, 21-13 victory before Sindhu recorded a tense 19-21, 21-18, 26-24 win, converting her fifth match-point. In a match that witnessed long rallies, Sindhu had to save a match-point at 19-20.
Jwala graciously took the blame upon herself. “I couldn’t support Ashwini well today. She was superb at the back, but I did not play well,” she said.Sensational upset
A few hours earlier, Japan had pulled off the upset of the competition by stunning nine-time champion China 3-0 for its maiden entry into the Thomas Cup final. The defeat ended China’s unbeaten Thomas Cup run dating back to 2002. It was reminiscent of Korea’s upset of China in the 2010 Uber Cup finals.
World No.4 Kenichi Tago put Japan ahead by beating Chen Long The first doubles saw the third-ranked Japanese Kenichi Hayakawa and Hiroyuki Endo overcome a 2-16 opening-game deficit to beat the 15th-ranked Chai Biao and Hong Wei 22-20, 21-19.
Sixth-ranked Du Pengyu then lost to rising star Kento Momota, who produced a masterly performance to rally from a game down.
The hard-hitting 19-year-old mixed speed and alacrity off both flanks to close the tie out with a 23-25, 21-18, 21-14 win.
“We were always targeting the Chinese as we thought they were beatable. I am happy that I got a chance to finish things off,” said Momota.
Japan’s Korean coach Joo Bong Park said: “It came as a big surprise to us all. If Momota had not (beaten Du), the tie could have gone either way, with Lin Dan to play the third singles.”
The results (semifinals):
Thomas Cup: Japan bt China 3-0 (Kenichi Tago bt Chen Long 21-13, 21-11; Kenichi Hayakawa & Hiroyuki Endo bt Chai Biao & Hong Wei 22-20, 21-19; Kento Momota bt Du Pengyu 23-25, 21-18, 21-14).
Malaysia bt Indonesia 3-0 (Lee Chong Wei bt Tommy Sugiarto 21-19, 21-13; Boon Heong Tan & Thein How Hoon bt Mohammad Ahsan & Hendra Setiawan 21-19, 8-21, 23-21; Chong Wei Feng bt Rumbaka Dionysius Hayom 21-10, 21-17).
Uber Cup: China bt Korea 3-0 (Li Xuerui bt Ji Hung Sung 21-11, 21-19; Yixin Bao & Jinhua Tang bt Ye Na Jang & Kim So Young 21-11, 21-12; Wang Shixian bt Bae Yeon Ju 21-13, 16-21, 21-10).
Japan bt India 3-2 (Minatsu Mitani lost to Saina Nehwal 12-21, 13-21; Sayaka Takahashi lost to P. V. Sindhu 21-19, 18-21, 24-26; Misaki Matsutomo & Ayaka Takahashi bt G. Jwala & Ashwini Ponnappa 21-12, 20-22, 21-16; Eriko Hirose bt P. C. Thulasi 21-14, 21-15; Miyuki Maeda & Reika Kakiiwa bt Saina & Sindhu 21-14, 21-11).