Thailand stun China to reach final of Uber Cup

Thailand's Busanan Ongbamrungphan shows her joy after defeating China's 2012 Olympic champion Li Xuerui 21-11, 21-9 during their Uber Cup semi-final in Bangkok yesterday. The victory earned Thailand a first final appearance against Japan today.
Thailand's Busanan Ongbamrungphan shows her joy after defeating China's 2012 Olympic champion Li Xuerui 21-11, 21-9 during their Uber Cup semi-final in Bangkok yesterday. The victory earned Thailand a first final appearance against Japan today.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGKOK • Thailand's women battled their way into the Uber Cup final yesterday with a shocking 3-2 upset over defending champions and tournament favourites China.

Busanan Ongbamrungphan was once again the star with a nerveless win over 2012 Olympic champion Li Xuerui in the deciding match, as China failed to reach the final for the first time since their 1984 debut.

Roared on by the partisan home crowd, Busanan crushed Li - who was returning from injury - 21-11, 21-9 to set up today's showdown against top seeds Japan.

Earlier, Japan breezed past South Korea 3-1 in the other semi-final.

World No. 2 Akane Yamaguchi eased to a 21-10, 21-13 win over South Korea's Sung Ji Hyun, while Nozomi Okuhara brushed off Lee Jang Mi 21-9, 21-15 after their opponents took the first doubles.

The doubles pair of Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi battled to a 21-11, 17-21, 21-14 win over Baek Ha Na and Lee Yu Rim in the deciding match.

The day, however, belonged to the Thais, whose victory sparked jubilant on-court celebrations.

World No. 4 Ratchanok Intanon won the first singles match, grinding out a 15-21, 21-9, 21-14 win over China's fifth-ranked Chen Yufei.

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

"I thank the Thai sports fans who came to support us."

Thailand lost the first doubles, but Nitchaon Jindapol clawed her way back from a set down to beat Gao Fangjie 19-21, 21-19, 21-12 in another thriller that had the raucous Thai fans on their feet again.

The second doubles went to China, levelling the scores at 2-2. Busanan, just as she did on Thursday when she performed under pressure to clinch a victory against Indonesia, then secured the historic victory.

And world No. 9 Okuhara is under no illusions that the hosts, who are making their first appearance in the final, will be a tough nut to crack. "It will be a tough battle whoever I face tomorrow," said Okuhara, who has yet to lose in this tournament.

Elsewhere, Indonesia and Malaysia will be holding inquiries into their respective Uber and Thomas Cup defeats by Thailand and Indonesia.

Badminton Association of Malaysia president Mohamad Norza Zakaria said: "We will go back and do a post-mortem (on the loss). Most likely we have to rely on a new set of players.

"Because, moving forward, relying on the same set of players will not give us a (brighter) future."

Indonesia's Youth and Sports Minister Imam Nahrawi has also ordered the country's badminton association to undertake self-evaluation, after the team failed to meet their Uber Cup target.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BERNAMA, XINHUA

THAILAND V JAPAN

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2018, with the headline 'Thailand stun China to reach final of Uber Cup'. Print Edition | Subscribe