NANJING • Shi Yuqi produced the strongest evidence that a changing of the guard in Chinese badminton is imminent by powering into the men's final of the World Championships.
The supremely agile 22-year-old handed his compatriot Chen Long a comprehensive 21-11, 21-17 beating in the semi-finals yesterday. After a perfectly weighted drop shot ended the 44-minute contest, he slid to his knees and held his arms aloft in triumph.
This was the world No. 3's second straight victory over the 29-year-old Chen, the Olympic gold medallist and two-time world champion. Shi had also beaten eighth-ranked Chen at this year's All England Open quarter-finals in March.
He went on to capture the sport's oldest tournament, beating another great, Lin Dan, in the final in Birmingham. Shi had also beaten the 34-year-old Lin on Thursday in the round of 16 in Nanjing.
He faces Japan's Kento Momota in today's final after the Japanese world No. 7 beat unseeded Malaysian Daren Liew 21-16, 21-5 in the other last-four clash.
Despite his impressive wins over Chen and Lin, Shi, who is competing in his native Jiangsu province, played down his new-found status as China's best player.
"I have my advantages, but they have their own strengths," he told the Badminton World Federation website but noted he had youth and speed on his side.
Kento Momota beat Shi Yuqi in their only meeting, in the second round en route to the Asian title this year.
He was looking forward to the final and gunning for revenge against Momota, whom he described as a "complete and focused player in good form".
The 23-year-old Momota is the Asian champion - he beat Shi en route to lifting the title earlier this year in their only career meeting - and is seeking his own redemption.
His highly promising career hit a major roadblock in 2016 when Japanese badminton chiefs suspended him for more than a year for visiting an illicit casino, denying him a place at the Rio Olympics.
He has been working his way back to the top of badminton ever since and is currently in the form of his life.
He needed just 38 minutes to dispatch Liew, who was hampered by an ankle injury he suffered in Friday's quarter-final.
Momota, who finished third at the 2015 World Championships, is the first Japanese to reach the men's singles final at the event.
He said: "I will fight to the last minute, taking advantage of my agile footwork and strength in front of the net to make the final a typical Momota match."
His country is guaranteed at least one gold after Wakana Nagahara and Mayu Matsumoto beat Indonesia's Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu 21-12, 23-21 to set up an all-Japanese women's doubles final against last year's runners-up, Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota.
In the women's singles, Spain's Carolina Marin will attempt to win her third world title after she beat China's He Bingjiao 13-21, 21-16, 21-13 in the semi-finals.
Marin will face India's P. V. Sindhu, who beat Japanese Akane Yamaguchi 21-16, 24-22.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA
Finals: StarHub Ch201, 1pm