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Badminton: ‘Magic’ Japan edge Malaysia to win first Thomas Cup title

Japan celebrate after Takuma Ueda beat Malaysia’s Daren Liew in the decisive fifth match to win the Thomas Cup in India. Photos: AFP.

Japan celebrate after Takuma Ueda beat Malaysia’s Daren Liew in the fifth match to win the Thomas Cup. Photos: AFP.

May 25, 2014: Japan became only the fourth nation to win the Thomas Cup when they beat Malaysia 3-2 in a thrilling final in India on Sunday. Takuma Ueda beat Daren Liew 21-12 18-21 21-17 in the decisive battle after 78 minutes of nerve-wracking badminton.

 

Liew sparkled as he responded to the energy of the crowd, but as the tense third game drew to a close, the Malaysian made a couple of fatal errors of judgement. Ueda, who had stayed patient, nailed the tie for Japan when Liew smashed wide and was immediately buried under his teammates who piled over him in celebratory joy.

 

The victory marked a personal triumph for Japan coach Park Joo-bong, who began his role nine years ago.

 

Japan won the Thomas Cup for the first time.

Japan won the Thomas Cup for the first time.

“I’m very happy that Japan has won this title for the first time ever,” Park said. “Our players’ concentration was very strong. There was very high pressure, but we handled the pressure better than Malaysia. I never won the Thomas Cup as a player, but I achieved this magic moment today.”

 

Kenichi Tago, Japan’s top-ranked player, had earlier beaten World No. 2 Chen Long in Japan’s shock defeat of China, but was no match for Malaysia’s World No. 1 Lee Chong Wei, who won 21-12 21-16 after winning 11 of the last 12 points.

 

“I prepared myself for a tough match because Tago had beaten Chen Long,” said Lee. “We never expected to be in the final. Our target was the semi-finals.”

 

Japanese youngster Kento Momota beat Chong Wei Feng 21-15 21-17 in 39 minutes. World No. 3 pair Kenichi Hayakawa and Hiroyuki Endo came from behind to beat Malaysian scratch combination Hoon Thien How and Tan Boon Heong 12-21 21-17 21-19 in a slow-paced match. However, the second doubles – and fourth match of the final – was unlike the first.

 

Bursting with intense action, featuring leaping smashes, diving retrievals and quick-fire exchanges, the match between Malaysia’s Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong and Keigo Sonoda and Takeshi Kamura brought the crowd to its feet, with the Malaysians winning 19-21 21-17 21-12 to make it 2-2 and set up the decider between Liew and Ueda.

 

Park hoped the Thomas Cup triumph could lead to higher popularity for badminton. “Badminton is not very popular in Japan,” he said. “This title definitely will make it a big sport. The attention on badminton has increased since we won silver in women’s doubles at the London Olympics.”

 

Tago, whose mother Yoshiko Yonekura is a two-time Uber Cup winner, also sounded sober amid the celebration. “I’m happy, but when I think China won the title five years in a row, I realise that we also need to achieve that kind of consistency. I hope we can win it the next time, too.”

 

Malaysia coach Rashid Sidek was philosophical about the team’s loss. “We tried our best. Our target was the semi-finals, so the final was a bonus. We were a bit unlucky in the last match.”

 

Source: BWF (www.bwfbadminton.org)

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