TOKYO (AFP) - China's Olympic badminton champion Li Xuerui survived a scare in the first round of the Japan Open on Wednesday, as she battled from behind to beat world junior champion Akane Yamaguchi.
Top-seeded Li, the world No. 1, needed 65 minutes to tame the Japanese high school girl, who won last year's women's title, 17-21, 21-19, 21-18.
The 21-year-old Li, competing for the first time in the Japan Open, allowed Akane to take a 20-12 lead after a 4-all tie in the first game. Li's fightback stopped at 17-20.
Yamaguchi, 17 years old and ranked 62nd in the world, who fought through the qualifying round on Tuesday, jumped to a 7-3 lead in the second game.
But Li, the 2013 World Superseries Finals champion who has won the Malaysia Open but finished runner-up in three more Superseries events so far this year, caught Yamaguchi at 8-8 and they swopped the lead to 19-all. Li went on to take the next two points.
Yamaguchi struggled after taking an early 5-1 lead in the deciding game. After 9-9, the two shuttlers went tit-for-tat to 17-17. Li surged ahead to 19-17 and took advantage of her serves to win the match.
In the second round on Thursday, she will face either Eriko Hirose or Ayumi Mine, both of Japan.
Another Chinese star, second-seeded Wang Yihan, whipped Canada's Michelle Li 21-11, 21-17 in the first round. Wang, the 2011 world champion and the runner-up to Li at the London Games, was to take on Japan's Sayaka Takahashi in her next match.