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Japan ousts Thomas Cup defending champions China

Kenichi Tago

New Delhi, May 23 (IANS) The Japan's men shuttlers created history here Friday when they ousted nine-time and defending champions China from the Thomas Cup badminton semi-final at the Siri Fort Sports Complex.

Japan caused the biggest upset of the tournament by drubbing the sport's superpower China by clinching the first three matches of their last four tie. In the process, Japan assured themselves of at least a silver medal by entering their first ever final of the prestigious biennial tournament.

China, who have won the last five editions of the tournament, had to be content with a bronze. The last time they failed to enter the final was 12 years back in 2002.

Overcoming a dismal loss against French Brice Leverdez in the quarter-final, Japan's Kenichi Tago posted a confident and comprehensive 21-13, 21-11 victory over World No.2 Chen Long to give Japan an unexpected 1-0 lead. This was the World No.4's fourth win over the Chinese in 10 meetings.

World No.3 Kenichi Hayakawa and Hiroyuki Endo took full advantage of the momentum to defeat Biao Chai and Wei Hong 22-20, 21-19 in the doubles clash to give Japan a 2-0 lead.

There was immense pressure on Pengyu Du in the second singles to keep China alive in the tie because a win in this match would have turned the tide in their favour with two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan scheduled to play the third singles.

Du took off well by taking the first game 25-23 in a cliffhanger against Kento Momota. But the Japanese World No.14 came back strongly to win the next two games 21-18 and 21-14 in a marathon match which lasted an incredible one hour and 25 minutes, following which the Japanese team jumped from their seats in jubilation.

"We are targeting to win the tournament and beating China is just a part of that process. China are a strong team but we had experienced players which makes us a strong team as well. That's why we could win," Momota said.

"The only way to win against them is to take them on in the doubles. They are too strong in singles. Our game plan was exactly the same and we are happy that we successfully executed the plan."

In Sunday's final, Japan will meet the winners of the tie between Malaysia and Indonesia, who are to play Friday evening.

However, the Chinese women did not disappoint as they thrashed South Korea 3-0 in the Uber Cup semi-final and will take on the winner of the India vs Japan tie in the final. China are a record 12-time and the defending champions of the Uber Cup.

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