Badminton: Hosts Thailand stun China and will take on top seeds Japan in Uber Cup final

Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand hittng a return against Chen Yufei of China during their match in the semi-finals of the Uber Cup badminton tournament in Bangkok on May 25, 2018.
Akane Yamaguchi of Japan hits a return against Sung Ji-Hyun of South Korea during their women's singles semifinals match at the Thomas and Uber cup in Bangkok, on May 25, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (AFP) - A fired-up host nation Thailand shocked defending champions China 3-2 on Friday (May 25) to enter badminton's Uber Cup final for the first time.

In the other semi-final, top seeds Japan charged into Saturday's championship match, beating South Korea 3-1, with doubles pair Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi securing their shot at the title.

Thailand and China were involved in a titanic battle, in which the hosts took the first two singles ties and the 14-time champions won the doubles matches.

But cheered by the adoring home crowd, Busanan Ongbamrungphan rolled past Li Xuerui, the 2012 Olympic champion who recently returned from a lengthy injury layoff, 21-11, 21-9 in the third singles.

It was the first time China had failed to make the final since joining the competition in 1984.

World No. 2 Akane Yamaguchi got Japan off to a flying start, easing to a 21-10, 21-13 win against South Korea's Sung Ji Hyun, while Nozomi Okuhara dispatched Lee Jang Mi 21-9, 21-15.

South Korea had levelled at 1-1 with the first doubles pairing but Matsutomo and Takahashi battled to a 21-11, 17-21, 21-14 win in the deciding match.

The ninth-ranked Okuhara has yet to lose in this year's biennial Uber cup, which is being held in Nonthaburi in northern Bangkok.

"My senior team-mates encouraged me to bring out my best, so I was only thinking about doing my badminton," she told reporters afterwards.

"I think it will be a tough battle whoever I face tomorrow."

Thai star Ratchanok Intanon took the first singles in a thrilling 15-21, 21-9, 21-14 win over China's Chen Yufei, who is ranked one place behind her in fifth.

With crowds shouting "Thailand! Thailand!" she hit smash after smash to come back after losing the first game to win two in a row.

"I was a bit excited because every point was important, especially in the final rounds," she told reporters afterwards.

"I thank the Thai sport fans that come to support."

Thailand lost the first doubles, but Nitchaon Jindapol clawed her way back from a set down to beat Gao Fangjie in a 1hr 31min thriller that had the crowd on their feet.

The comeback win for the home favourite was sparked by a remarkable scoop from the floor when she was 13-11 down in the second set.

But Huang Yaqiong and Tang Jinhua gave China a lifeline by coming from behind to clinch the second doubles over Puttita Supajirakul and Sapsiree Taerattanachai in 1hr 38min.

The tournament is held alongside the men's Thomas Cup, whose semi-finals are being held on Friday night, with China, Japan, Indonesia and Denmark all hoping to move forward.

Denmark are returning champions, but China has fielded an all-star cast of players as they seek to regain a title lost on home soil two years ago.

Olympic champion Chen Long is joined by this year's All England champion Shi Yuqui - and the player he conquered in the final, Lin Dan.

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