New Delhi: The crowd at the Siri Fort Sports Complex here watched some high quality badminton on Sunday evening, as Japan clinched their maiden Thomas Cup title edging Malaysia 3-2 in the final.
The battle that lasted for six long hours, finally ended when Takuma Ueda of Japan broke the deadlock in the fifth and deciding rubber, beating Darren Liew 21-12, 18-21, 21-17 in a 78-minute cliff-hanger. Liew’s defeat also dashed Malaysia’s dream of regaining the Thomas Cup after 22 years.
After the teams were locked 2-2, Ueda and Liew played an epic battle that had the spectators on the edge of their seats. Backed by their band of supporters, neither of the two was ready to give up an inch without a fight.
On paper, the 25 th-ranked Ueda was the favourite against his 66 th-ranked opponent. He won the first game rather easily before Liew made a spirited comeback to bag the second game.
Earlier, Kenichi Tago of Japan lost to Lee Chong Wei 12-21, 16-21. However, Japan’s doubles pair of Kenichi Hayakawa and Kiroyuki Endo defeated Boon Heong Tan and Thien How Hoon 12-21, 21-17, 21-19 to draw level in the match. Kento Momota then took Japan ahead 2-1, defeating Wei Feng Chong 21-15, 21-17. But Keigo Somoda and Takeshi Kamura lost to V Sem Goh and Wee King Tan 21-19, 17-21, 12-21 to level the scores at 2-2.
In the decider, Liew’s attacking game had the Japanese in all sorts of trouble as he picked up a series of points in a row. However, in the third game, Ueda had the last laugh. When Liew hit the shuttle wide to hand Ueda the last point, the entire Japanese squad rushed onto the court to celebrate.
“I have never experienced anything like this before,” said Ueda after the final. “I was under pressure after my seniors lost. I squandered my lead in the second game but was determined to winů this feels very special,” he added.
Overall, it proved to be an extraordinary campaign for Japan. No one gave them a chance when they were pitted against China in the semi-finals.
Yet they managed to oust the nine-time champions and then downed Malaysia, considered a traditional powerhouse of world badminton, in the final. Japan’s women’s team also reached the final before losing to mighty China.
But then, given the balance of the two teams in the final, Japan were the deserving winners. Except for world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei, all Malaysian players were ranked below their rivals.
One felt sad for Lee Chong Wei, who once against displayed his amazing skills to win the opening singles for Malaysia, but still ended up among the losers.