China win Thomas Cup to deny Japan clean sweep

BANGKOK • China's men's badminton team made amends for their early exit two years ago when they reclaimed the Thomas Cup yesterday by beating Japan 3-1 in a come-from-behind win.

Top seeds China, who boast some of the world's best players, were the tournament favourites despite having not won the championship since 2012.

But the men's team faced added pressure when their women counterparts failed to make the final of the concurrent Uber Cup for the first time.

The Impact Arena in Bangkok was packed in anticipation of a tough battle and the contest did not disappoint.

Japan's flashy left-hander Kento Momota, who was barred from the sport in 2016 after being caught gambling in an illegal casino but returned to action last year, stunned world No. 5 Chen Long 21-9, 21-18 to give the underdogs crucial early momentum.

It was the second time Momota, 23, had stunned Chen this year, after beating him at the Asian Championships last month.

China's deep bench rallied after the stunning loss, with the world No. 3 doubles pair of Liu Cheng and Zhang Nan levelling the contest after beating Japan's Takuto Inoue and Yuki Kaneko 21-10, 21-18.

Singles star Shi Yuqi, 22, then gave China the lead when he made light work of Japan's Kenta Nishimoto in a 21-12, 21-17 win.

Clinching the winning point for China were the world No. 4 doubles pair of Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen, who fought back from a set down to seal a nail-biting 17-21, 21-19, 22-20 win over Keigo Sonoda and Yuta Watanabe.

That sparked jubilant scenes as their team-mates ran onto the court to join in the celebrations.

The lanky Li, whose powerful smashes kept his opponents on the defensive, told reporters after the match that the competition had left him so worn out that he was too tired even to change his shirt.

After failure to excel in the past two tournaments, head coach Xia Xuanze was relieved to finally taste victory. "It's a big relief and I can have a drink now," he said.

Japan had been eyeing a clean sweep after the women's team clinched the Uber Cup with a 3-0 win against Thailand on Saturday.

But it was not to be, even though men's coach Park Joo Bong said his players had exceeded expectations. "It was a very good fight (but) finally we could not finish the win," he said. "But I'm happy."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 28, 2018, with the headline 'China win Thomas Cup to deny Japan clean sweep'. Print Edition | Subscribe