Tuesday, August 14, 2018
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO
Having stayed heirs apparent for a while now, Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen’s coronation as World champions saved China the blushes as Japan threatened to walk away from Nanjing with three titles.
With Japan having captured the Women’s Doubles and Men’s Singles, and China the Mixed Doubles, there was plenty at stake in the fifth final between the two badminton powers. It was on Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen’s shoulders that China’s hopes rested, and the two 23-year-olds did not disappoint their home fans, as they saw off the challenge from Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda, ensuring that China finished on level terms with Japan with two gold medals.
It was a well-deserved victory for the young Chinese duo, for when they are on song there are few pairs that can match their attacking intensity and long spells of error-free play. That they have toughened up mentally was seen in the TOTAL BWF Thomas Cup final, where they recovered from two match points down to clinch the tie in the fourth match of their final against Japan.
There were faint echoes of that match in the World Championships final as well, as they trailed 16-19 in the second game to Kamura and Sonoda. Li and Liu (featured image) buckled down and it was the Japanese pair that fell into error under pressure.
The week saw several surprises in Men’s Doubles. The casualties in the first round included Olympic bronze medallists Marcus Ellis/Chris Langridge (England) – to India’s fast-improving Satwiksairaj Rankireddy/Chirag Shetty – and Chinese Taipei’s Lu Ching Yao/Yang Po Han, to Scotland’s Alexander Dunn/Adam Hall.
Chinese Taipei’s wretched luck continued over the next few days, with 12th seeds Lee Jhe-Huei/Lee Yang – seen as prospective medallists – crashing out in the second round to Malaysia’s Aaron Chia/Soh Wooi Yik, and Liao Min Chun/Su Ching Heng falling in the third round. Their only solace was the form of Chen Hung Ling/Wang Chi-Lin, who made the semi-finals.
The biggest upset of all was of course that of the hot contenders for the title, Marcus Fernaldi Gideon/Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo. The Indonesians had turned nearly everything they touched to gold in the run-up to Nanjing, winning eight of their last ten tournaments – but in Nanjing, they looked far from their best. Their second round, against China’s Han Chengkai/Zhou Haodong, rang warning bells, for they only just scraped through in three tough games. But a straight-games win over Russia’s Vladimir Ivanov/Ivan Sozonov seemingly put them on track, before they foundered against Kamura and Sonoda, a pair they’ve had trouble with in previous matches.
The Indonesians were mostly clueless on how to get past the quick-footed and defensively strong Japanese duo, and they fell apart 21-19 21-18.
Other Indonesian pairs didn’t have much luck either. Malaysia Masters champions Fajar Alfian/Muhammad Rian Ardianto were also beaten by Kamura/Sonoda in an earlier round, while compatriots Berry Angriawan/Hardianto Hardianto fell at the same stage to another Japanese pair, Takuto Inoue/Yuki Kaneko.
Another prominent casualty in the third round was Denmark’s Mathias Boe/Carsten Mogensen, who fell to Chen Hung Ling/Wang Chi-Lin.
Malaysia had some encouraging performances, and, with some luck, might have returned with a medal. Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong fought toe-to-toe with the eventual champions in their third round, but at the death, a familiar foe returned to haunt them – their service. At 19-all in the third, Tan served short, bringing back memories of the Olympic final when the Malaysians’ service mistakes cost them the title. Li and Liu took full toll as they edged out Goh and Tan in one of the closest matches of the tournament.
Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik were among the surprise packages, as they made the quarter-finals beating Denmark’s Kim Astrup/Anders Skaarup Rasmussen, before they fell short against Li/Liu. As for Denmark, the only pair that could make the quarter-finals was Mads Conrad-Petersen/Mads Pieler Kolding, who went down to defending champions Zhang Nan/Liu Cheng in three games.