Japan’s first BWF World Championships celebrated a Japanese winner on Sunday – a much-needed balm for the country’s shuttlers who were carrying the baggage of an underwhelming performance at their home Olympics last year.
The Olympic context was inescapable. A year has passed since Tokyo 2020, but the question was still asked of the Japanese contenders: What really happened at their home Olympics? The World Championships in Tokyo was an opportunity to redeem themselves to some extent. This time, Akane Yamaguchi was unbreakable under pressure.
That Yamaguchi’s victory in the final came against Chen Yu Fei must have perhaps made it all the more sweeter, for at the last year’s edition that Yamaguchi won, the Olympic champion wasn’t in the draw.
Chen Yu Fei started somewhat sluggishly, but once she got going she was her typical fast, consistent, and precise self. But Yamaguchi was all that, and more. She muscled the shuttle down despite the slow conditions; she scurried into every corner, retrieving irretrievable shots, until the consistent pressure wore Chen down.
Even as the normally stoic 25-year-old Japanese sported a broad smile, she referred to her Olympic disappointment: “There are some things that I have digested about my performance at the Olympics, and some things that I haven’t. Here, it was a similar situation to the Olympics. I came here not thinking of Tokyo 2020, but to take the next step in the sport. I did feel a lot of pressure despite preparing well. Before the World Championships I knew there would be pressure, so I tried not to think of it.
“It’s special to be winning this title in Japan. I told myself if I lost the first game I shouldn’t be disappointed. I rushed a bit in the second game. I tried to be more patient in the final game. At the end of the match I got emotional because the crowd was so supportive and it was a special moment.
“I’ve won many tournaments but I don’t think I have been so emotional.”