Worlds’s numero uno shuttler Lee Chong Wei’s dream of leading Malaysia to their sixth Thomas Cup title came crashing down after the five-time champions suffered a 2-3 loss against Japan in the finals of the prestigious badminton tournament in Delhi on Sunday.
A two-time silver medallist at the world championships and Olympics, Lee had hoped to break Malaysia’s 22-year jinx at the Thomas cup but his hopes went up in smoke after Daren Liew suffered a 12-21 21-18 17-21 defeat against world no. 25 Takuma Ueda in the last match of the tie at Siri Fort Sports Complex.
For Japan, who reached the final stage 13 times, it has been one of the best days in their badminton history as they clinched their maiden Thomas cup title, barely 24 years after their women’s team finished runners-up in Uber Cup.
Social networking sites were flooded with pictures and wishes for the Malaysian team following their entry into the finals after 12 years and Lee reposed the faith of his fans by giving them a positive start. He thrashed world no. 4 Kenichi Tago 21-12 21-16 in the first singles.
However, the doubles pair of Kenichi Hayakawa and Hiroyuki Endo, ranked three in the world, rallied from behind to eke out a hard-fought 12-21 21-17 21-19 win over Boon Heong Tan and Thien How Hoon to bring Japan back in the tie as Lee sank in his chair on the sidelines.
A lot was expected from young Chong Wei Feng, who has been in rampaging form in the tournament so far. But the world No 27 failed to get across 14th ranked Kento Momota and lost 15-21 17-21 in the second singles as Malaysia lagged 1-2.
Malaysia’s makeshift pair of V Shem Goh and Wee Kiong Tan then notched up a thrilling 19-21 21-17 21-12 win over world no. 13 combo of Keigo Sonoda and Takeshi Kamura to make it 2-2.
With the tie hinging on the third singles, World No 66 Liew took the court but he lost the first game and was 10-16 down in the second as clouds of disappointment hovered over the Malaysian camp.
But Liew came up with a brilliant fight from there on to first draw parity at 18-18 and then caught Ueda offguard at the forecourt to go into a 19-18 lead and finally took the match to the decider when the Japanese hit wide.
The decider was another rollercoaster ride as Ueda lead 11-8 at the break but Liew kept breathing down his neck for most part of the game before Ueda earned three-match point when the Malaysian made a wrong judgement of the shuttler.
Liew then hit the shuttle wide as Japan entered their name in record book.
Earlier, in the first singles, Lee started on a dominating note, leading 12-6 and soon extended it to 15-6.
Tago tried his best to make a comeback but it turned out to be a huge mountain to climb for the Japanese.
In the second game, Tago grabbed the first two points but it turned out to be hard battle after that but Tago managed to held on to his two-point lead at 11-9 at the interval. The Japanese conjured up hopes of a comeback when he led 15-10.
But Lee once again showed his class as he came from nowhere to reel off 10 points which took him to a healthy five-point lead. Tago saved one match point with a smash but Lee sealed it in the next chance.