Miyuki Maeda and Reika Kakiiwa are one of the top combinations in women’s doubles, but during their rise to the top in world badminton they have never faced the Chinese pair of Yunlei Zhao and Xiaoli Wang before the final of the Uber Cup Saturday. While Maeda and Kakiiwa is the regular pair, their opponents are individually much higher rated with Wang and her regular partner Yu Yang, who is No.1 in the world and the established pair of Zhao and Tian Qing just below top-10.
Maeda and Kakiiwa were playing the second doubles tie, which was a must-win match for the Japanese as they had lost the two singles and were still alive in the contest because Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi had beaten Yixin Bao and Jinhua Tang in the first doubles.
Japan banked on their doubles combination to launch a fightback against the might of the Chinese. However, China’s Xuerui Li and Shixian Wang shifted the pressure onto the Japanese pair.
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A combination of factors could have affected Maeda and Kakiiwa Saturday. They had lesser time to recover than the Chinese because their semifinal against India was in the evening session Friday, while the Chinese played earlier in the day.
Also clinching a must-win game against the Chinese requires not only the highest level of skill, but nerves of steel. Japan have not reached the final of the Uber Cup since 1981— the year they had last won the title. China on the other hand were 12-time champions playing their sixteenth final.
However, what made the difference in the final was that China’s second doubles pair could breach through the defence of the Japanese.
Zhao and Wang not only defended well but they stunned the Japanese with raw power when it came to smashes. The first game went neck and neck till eight all, but after that the Chinese looked the better side, bombarding the opposition with smashes. Losing the first game 13-21 had a demoralising effect on the Japanese pair, from which they could not recover. The second game was a one-sided affair as China bagged 12 points in a row to lead 17-2.
As China won the second doubles and sealed the final in their favour with a 3-1 scoreline, the largely poker-faced bench ran onto the courts and celebrated in a human circle. After their men were stunned by Japan in the semifinals of the Uber Cup, the onus was on the women not to trip versus the same opponents. Four years ago, Korean women had stunned China to win the 2010 Uber Cup and break their 12-year dominance.
Though the Chinese had corrected the anomaly by winning the title in the last edition with a revenge win over Korea, anything short of defending the title would have been considered a failure, more so as it would have come on the back of the semifinal exit of the men’s team. Li Yongbo, China’s head coach said winning consecutive titles only strengthened China’s reputation as the best team in the world. “The men won’t be in the finals, but sometimes you can’t win everything. The victory in the Uber Cup shows China have not lost the edge,” Li Yongbo said.
The Japanese on the other hand chose to look at the positives.
“In the last edition, we won the bronze. This edition, we have advanced to the finals and have bagged the silver. There are many teams like Thailand and Japan that are improving and we are happy we were good enough to face China in the finals,” Japan’s head coach Park Joo-Bong said.
Joo-Bong statement had a consolatory tone, one which only reiterated the fact that when it came to the Uber Cup there was only one gold standard.