Published: 16:49, May 9, 2024
Double delight for Chinese shuttlers
By Sun Xiaochen in Chengdu

Badminton stars set down Olympics marker with dominant final wins at Thomas and Uber cups

Team China’s women celebrate beating Indonesia 3-0 to claim the Uber Cup title in Chengdu, Sichuan province, on May 5, 2024. China was dominant, exorcizing the ghosts of losing to South Korea in the final two years ago. (WEI XIAOHAO / CHINA DAILY)

Team China’s cruise to a record-extending 16th Uber Cup title has served up a huge confidence boost, as it seeks to regain supremacy of the women’s game at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Roared on by a vocal home crowd at the High-Tech Zone Sports Center in Chengdu, the Chinese women’s badminton squad proved its mighty collective strength on May 5 after sweeping Indonesia 3-0 in the final to retake the biannual world women’s team championship crown in the Sichuan provincial capital.

The recapturing of the prestigious trophy, following China’s final loss to South Korea in 2022, needs to be put into perspective, though, with several top rivals, such as South Korea’s world No 1 An Se-young and Japan’s two-time world champion Akane Yamaguchi, sidelined by injury, providing the host a lighter challenge on its home court.

Luo Yigang, singles coach for Team China, hailed the Chengdu run as a critical tune-up for his athletes, especially in the high-stakes team format, in time for the ultimate test in Paris.

“We didn’t get to play some of our toughest rivals this time, but no one should take the credit away from our players,” Luo said in the post-final news conference.

“They overcame strong challenges from within, dealing with the pressure, making a stand for the whole team.

“The experience here is invaluable and will help us go for gold at the Paris Olympics,” said Luo.

“We did a good job as a team, I am extremely happy,” said reigning Olympic singles champion Chen Yufei, who is ranked second in the world after South Korea’s An.

As the most successful women’s program in badminton at the Olympics, China’s female shuttlers have racked up 10 gold medals — both singles and doubles combined — at the Games since the sport’s debut in 1992.

In recent years, however, its dominance has been challenged by its East Asian neighbors.

Now, with Chen still at her best and the country’s second-ranked singles ace He Bingjiao tested and improved at the Uber Cup, the Chinese women’s contingent, which also boasts world No 1 doubles pair Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan, looks primed for Paris.

 Liang Weikeng and Wang Chang (right) celebrate their doubles win in the Thomas Cup final, in Chengdu, on May 5, 2024. The pair helped Team China’s men win an 11th title in the competition. (WEI XIAOHAO / CHINA DAILY)

Chen Yufei got the host’s final against Indonesia off to a flying start, conquering 9th-ranked Gregoria Mariska Tunjung, 21-7, 21-16, to complete the opening singles rubber in just 38 minutes.

Following that scintillating start, Chinese doubles pair Chen Qingchen and Jia produced an equally dominant 21-11, 21-8 rout of Indonesia’s Siti Fadia Silva Ramadhanti and Ribka Sugiarto in 39 minutes to take a comfortable 2-0 lead in the best-of-five team final.

China’s second singles player He overcame a first-set scare to defeat Ester Nurumi Tri Wardoyo 10-21, 21-15, 21-17 in the third match, clinching the host’s golden finish and sending the enthusiastic Chengdu crowd into a frenzy.

“When we step on the court, we always believe in ourselves,” Chen Qingchen said of the team’s surging confidence.

“After the failure in the Tokyo final, we are now determined to go for the gold in Paris this summer,” said Jia, who, alongside Chen Qingchen, lost the Tokyo Olympic doubles final to Indonesia’s Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu.

A few hours after the women’s triumph, the Chinese men completed a remarkable double after also outplaying Indonesia in a late-night 3-1 final win to claim its 11th Thomas Cup title.

World No 2 Shi Yuqi started strong in the opening singles match as he thrashed Anthony Sinisuka Ginting 21-17, 21-6 in 43 minutes to set the tone.

Watched by a group of badminton legends, including two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan, Shi made a statement at the world giving the host a headstart in its best-of-five showdown against Indonesia. Fans were reminded of the fearless youngster who, in his early years, drew comparisons with the mighty “Super” Dan.

A series of setbacks, including three surgeries and a suspension, had threatened to derail Shi’s career before it really took off but they simply proved to be bitter, character-building steps on the path to something great, as highlighted by his newfound momentum at the Thomas Cup.

Now healthy again, with his injured ankle and elbow fully healed, Shi picked up his scintillating pace on the court. He won all six singles rubbers and, in doing so, made a massive contribution to China’s first Thomas Cup win in six years.

And it all came at the right time, with under three months before Shi embarks on his second Olympic journey in Paris.

“It’s always a tough battle for every athlete to try and stay at the top level consistently. Ups and downs are just part of the business as pro athletes, and I am not exempt from that,” Shi said.

“Mentally, I’ve become more mature and I’m much more motivated again with the Olympics approaching. I will cherish the opportunity (to compete at another Olympics) and go all out,” said the 28-year-old Jiangsu province native.

After Shi’s romp, doubles teammates Liang Weikeng and Wang Chang put China in the driver’s seat by beating Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto 21-18, 17-21, 21-17 to build a 2-0 lead.

Despite Li Shifeng’s tough 2-1 loss to world No 3 Jonatan Christie in the second singles fixture, Team China tied up the loose ends in style with a second doubles win by He Jiting and Ren Xiangyu over Muhammad Shohibul Fikri and Bagas Maulana.

It was just the second time in 12 years that China swept both team titles at the Cup doubleheader.