NANNING, CHINA (AFP) - Shi Yuqi came from behind to shock world champion Kento Momota as hosts China whitewashed Japan for an 11th Sudirman Cup title on Sunday (May 26).
Japan have never won the badminton world mixed-team championship and their search goes on after they were well beaten 3-0 in the Chinese city of Nanning in southern Guangxi region.
China's dominant victory over the top seeds is an ominous indication of the depth they possess in their ranks with next summer's Tokyo Olympics on the horizon.
Roared on by the home crowd, China went 1-0 up through their men's doubles pair of Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen, who beat Hiroyuki Endo and Yuta Watanabe 21-18, 21-10. They then took a 2-0 lead after a captivating women's singles between Chen Yufei and Akane Yamaguchi.
Japan, who were also thumped 3-0 by China in their maiden final in Dongguan four years ago, needed their talisman Momota to beat Shi in the men's singles to keep the tie alive.
The world No. 1 had defeated second-ranked Shi four times in five previous meetings, including last year's world championships final.
It looked like more of the same when the 24-year-old Momota won the first game 21-15, but Shi suddenly found rhythm and his subdued Japanese rival faded spectacularly.
The 23-year-old Shi raced to the second game 21-5 and took that searing momentum into the decider, winning the third game - and with it the Sudirman Cup - 21-11.
Shi sealed the championship with a smash and was mobbed by his teammates, who raced onto the court after his surprise win.
China, the long-time pre-eminent power in badminton, reclaim the trophy that they lost to South Korea two years ago on the Gold Coast, Australia.
Momota said it had been "a painful lesson" and admitted that he had felt the pressure knowing he had to win to keep Japan in the final.
"I was surprised that Shi played this well," he added, also conceding that the rousing home support had affected him.
If the men's singles showdown fizzled to a conclusion, the women's singles was a thriller, ending with the Chinese prevailing 17-21, 21-16, 21-17 in 1hr 21min.
Both players finished the match on the court floor, Chen on her back in celebration and her opponent on her backside in desolation.
"I feel that I played a bit slow in the beginning, which caused me to waste a lot of energy," said 21-year-old Chen, explaining how she surged back from going a game down and also trailing in the third.
"I couldn't keep up with her, but after a change in my game strategy, I took the lead."