Badminton: Favourites Japan squeeze past Russia 3-2 for opening victory in Sudirman Cup

Japan won the opening mixed doubles through Takuro Hoki (left) and Wakana Nagahara who beat the pair of Rodion Alimov and Alina Davletova (not pictured) 21-10, 21-15. PHOTO: AFP

NANNING (XINHUA) - Top-ranked Japan eked out a narrow 3-2 win over Russia with top-ranked Kento Momota absent in the men's singles in their Group 1A opener at the ongoing Sudirman Cup in Nanning in China's southern Guangxi region on Monday (May 20).

Japan, one of the favourites for the crown, won the opening mixed doubles through Takuro Hoki, the 2018 Korea Open champion and Wakana Nagahara, the 2018 World Championships women's doubles winner, who beat the pair of Rodion Alimov and Alina Davletova 21-10, 21-15.

After Russia took the following two matches for a shock 2-1 lead, Japan regained their upper hand by winning the women's singles and women's doubles to seal the victory.

"We were both kind of nervous at first, yet we adjusted well and overall played to our level," said Nagahara, while Hoki tips hosts China as the strongest among all the fancied teams, saying "the goal we made for the Sudirman Cup is to defeat China".

The 63rd-ranked Vladimir Malkov upset the 10th-ranked Kenta Nishimoto 21-18, 21-17 in the men's singles after 50 minutes. Russia then took the lead as 2016 All England Open champions Vladimir Ivanov and Ivan Sozonov overcame Hiroyuki Endo, winner in the 2019 Badminton Asia Championships and Yuta Watanabe, gold medallist in the 2018 All England Open 21-19, 21-16 in the men's doubles.

"We have played many times with them and it's a 50-50 match. We played well and nearly performed to our best," said Sozonov.

As for the performance of his teammate Malkov, Sozonov admitted that "it's a surprise for us. It must be an unforgettable match for him. But to play badminton, everything can happen. Japan didn't send their best player in the men's singles, maybe they made a mistake. Today all of our players played well, we deserve the win".

In the women's singles, Nozomi Okuhara, the winner of BWF World Championships 2017 broke Russia's winning streak with an easy victory over the 101st-ranked Natalia Perminova 21-6, 21-16.

Japan then achieved victory in the women's doubles, as the second-ranked Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota beat Ekaterina Bolotova and Alina Davletova 21-5, 21-16.

Japan will play their last group rival Thailand on Wednesday, while Russia must beat Thailand on Tuesday, to stand a chance of being among the top two teams from each group advancing to the quarter-finals.

The eight-day tournament kicked off on Sunday, with 31 countries and regions participating in the biennial world mixed-team championship.

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