Japan’s men stun China 3-0

Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu brought India closer to a dream victory over Japan but the visitor was not without hope.

A few hours after the Japanese men stunned nine-time champion China 3-0 to for a maiden entry into the Thomas Cup final, Saina and Sindhu put India 2-0 ahead to dampen the spirits of the Japanese ladies in the Uber Cup semifinals here on Friday.

Like in the tie against Indonesia, much depends on the experienced pair of G. Jwala and Ashwini Ponnappa to put the finishing touches to the tie by upstaging the World No. 4 pair of Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi. Indeed, it appears a tough task for the Indians who were expected to take a leaf out of the book of the Japanese men. Should the Japanese play to their rankings, India will find it tough to stop the Japanese in the third singles and second doubles.

Looking to enter the title-matches this weekend, five-time winner Japan was hopeful of reaching the Uber Cup final for the first time since winning the title in 1981 at home against Indonesia.

Starting as favourites

At least in the first two singles, involving Saina and Sindhu, the Indians started as ranking favourites. The eighth-ranked Saina, four ahead of Minatsu Mitani entered the match with a 3-2 advantage on their head-to-head clashes. Sindhu, ranked 11th, is ranked two rungs higher than Sayaka Takashi.

But the way the Japanese men had made a mockery of rankings in humiliating China in the morning, it was clear that Japan had reasons to be optimistic given the absence of options with the Indians.

Though Mitani had won their previous two encounters, Saina’s recent return to form and the backing of the home crowd made her a clear favourite.

Saina did not let her supporters down as she needed just 41 minutes to end Mitani’s resistance 21-12, 21-13. She was in control throughout the contest and was never threatened by the Japanese.

In the second singles, Sindhu almost followed a course similar to the escape-to-victory she recorded in Thursday’s tie against Indonesia.

The 18-year-old recorded a tense 19-21, 21-18, 26-24 victory in 72 minutes by converting her fifth match-point. In this match that witnessed long rallies, Sindhu came out stronger in the decider after saving a match-point at 19-20. She held her nerve and produced some amazing retrieves amid rising tension to come out stronger.

The winner of the India-Japan tie will take on China in the final on Saturday.

Earlier, Japan’s victory over China became the biggest upset in Thomas Cup in the recent years. It was reminiscent of Korea’s upset of China in the 2010 Uber Cup finals.

Repeat dose

World number four Kenichi Tago, who had beaten Chen Long for only the third time in nine meetings in Malaysia Open this January, repeated the bitter dose. In fact, his 21-13, 21-12 victory in just 43 minutes was his most authoritative triumph over the Chinese.

In the first doubles, the third-ranked Japanese pair of Kenichi Hayakawa and Hiroyuki Endo won 22-20, 21-19 in a close encounter against the 15th-ranked rivals Chai Biao and Hong Wei. The Chinese led 20-16 in the first game but could capitalise.

Now it was left to sixth-ranked Du Pengyu to keep China in the contest. But rising star Kento Momota was not to be denied.

Momota wasted two game-points to squander the opening game but thereafter, produced a masterly performance. The hard-hitting 19-year-old, mixing speed and alacrity, unleashed an array of smashes on both flanks to eventually close the tie at 23-25, 21-18, 21-14 and triggered off wild celebrations among the Japanese players and fans alike.

“We were always targeting the Chinese as we thought they were beatable despite the fact that they had very good singles players. I am happy that I got a chance to finish things off,” said Momota after the match.

Japan’s Korean coach Joo Bong Park indicated the team was not expecting to win. “It (the win) came as a big surprise to us all. What was even more surprising was the way Momota won the second singles against Du. If he had not, then the tie could have gone either way with Lin Dan to play the third singles,” said Park.

The results (semifinals): Thomas Cup: Japan beat China 3-0 (Kenichi Tago bt Chen Long 21-13, 21-11; Kenichi Hayakawa and Hiroyuki Endo bt Chai Biao and Hong Wei 22-20, 21-19; Kento Momota bt Du Pengyu 23-25, 21-18, 21-14).

Malaysia leads Indonesia 2-0 (Lee Chong Wei bt Tommy Sugiarto 21-19, 21-13; Boon Heong Tan an Thein How Hoon bt Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan 21-19, 8-21, 23-21).

Uber Cup: China beat Korea 3-0 (Li Xuerui bt Ji Hung Sung 21-11, 21-19; Yixin Bao and Jinhua Tang bt Ye Na Jang and Kim So Young 21-11, 21-12; Wang Shixian bt Bae Yeon Ju 21-13, 16-21, 21-10).

India leads Japan 2-0 (Saina Nehwal bt Minatsu Mitani 21-12, 21-13; P.V. Sindhu bt Sayaka Takahashi 19-21, 21-18, 26-24).

More In: Other Sports | Sport