KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 3 — The young Malaysian badminton squad’s fine run in the Sudirman Cup 2021 tournament in Vantaa, Finland came to an end in the semi-finals, following a 1-3 loss to Japan, last night.
This was Japan's second victory over Malaysia in the tournament, as they also beat the national squad 4-1 in the final Group D match.
As good as Malaysia were in defeating traditional rivals Indonesia in the quarterfinals yesterday, last night’s effort was not enough to end a 16-year drought against Japan.
In the opening encounter, national men’s doubles pair and Tokyo 2020 Olympic bronze medalists Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik were stunned by Takuro Hoki-Yugo Kobayashi's aggressive play throughout the 42 minutes of the match.
Hoki-Kobayashi, who are ranked 16th in the world, recorded a 21-15, 21-14 victory, giving Japan the first point, before Akane Yamaguchi put the team comfortably ahead 2-0 in the women’s singles matchup.
World number five Yamaguchi was in a class of her own, easily beating S. Kisona 21-7, 21-5 in 26 minutes.
With the pressure piling on the Malaysian camp following the two defeats, the atmosphere at the arena remained lively, with the spectators present showing strong support for the national squad.
Not wanting to bow out without a bang, the country's top men's singles player Lee Zii Jia, who is also the team captain, pulled off a brilliant win against world number one Kento Momota, to collect the first point for Malaysia.
In the thrilling action, Zii Jia, who trailed 7-11 at one point, bounced back with an energetic performance to lead 15-14 and tie the score at 20-20, before earning a 22-20 victory.
Zii Jia’s confidence grew in the second set as he led 11-7, but Momota clawed back to tie the game at 12-12, and the match then turned intense with both players trading points till the score reached 19-19.
But a calm and collected Zii Jia collected two points in succession to beat Momota 21-19, and he celebrated the meaningful victory by throwing his shirt into the air.
With the victory, Malaysia looked to restore parity through national women's doubles pair Pearly Tan-M. Thinaah, but despite their relentless fighting spirit, it was not enough against Mayu Matsumoto-Misaki Matsumoto, who beat the former 21-19, 21-17 in 55 minutes.
Despite being shown the way out, the country's young squad has actually surpassed the target of reaching the quarterfinals set by the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM).
Malaysia will continue the fight in the Thomas and Uber Cup 2021 campaign which is scheduled to take place from Oct 9-17 in Aarhus, Denmark, which sees them drawn in Group D along with Japan, England and Canada in the Thomas Cup, and in Group D with China, Denmark and Canada for the Uber Cup. — Bernama