Tuesday, August 16, 2016
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR & GAYLE ALLEYNE| BADMINTONPHOTO
China’s jewel in the crown is gone!
For the first time in more than 20 years, the badminton powerhouse will not lift the Olympic Women’s Doubles title which it has won for all but the first of Olympic Games (Barcelona 1992) in which the sport has featured.
Denmark’s Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl blazed into Olympic history, becoming the first non-Asian pair in the Women’s Doubles final as they withstood the erratic Tang Yuanting/Yu Yang in today’s second semi-final. It was the first time China have been denied a place in the gold-medal match of that category.
Across the net from the Danes in the final will be the No.1 seeds, Japan’s Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi, who have calmly met every challenge thrown their way at Rio 2016.
China, who won all five gold medals in London 2012, had a session of mixed fortunes, with Men’s Doubles pair Chai Biao/Hong Wei joining Tang/Yu on the sidelines. However, Men’s Doubles fourth seeds Fu Haifeng and Zhang Nan made the final and have the opportunity to win their second Olympic gold medals.
Denmark were solid throughout while Tang Yuanting and Yu Yang had jittery moments. The Danes earned a lead in the third game and kept it, giving little away as Tang showed signs of cracking under pressure. At 20-15, the Danes were all but home but the Chinese reeled off four points in a row. With everything hinging on the last point, the Danes threw themselves around as China fired smash after smash until the opening was won again and the Danes hammered the decisive winner: 21-16 14-21 21-19.
“When the Chinese were getting closer, we started getting shaky. It was brave of Tang Yuanting to let the shuttle fall on my service. There were a couple of good rallies and they were a bit lucky as well. I was still thinking about that missed service; that if we lost today we would have to play for the bronze. On the last point, Kamilla told me: ‘this is it. We have to win this point’ and we did,” declared Pedersen.
“Before the Olympics, we discussed the possibility that it might not be China this year. It’s good for badminton. China are not dominating like they did four years ago. It could’ve been any of six or seven pairs in the final – luckily, it’s us.”
The first Women’s Doubles semi-final was a one-sided affair, with Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi never relinquishing their grip on the match against Korea’s Jung Kyung Eun/Shin Seung Chan.
Shin’s attack, which had driven the Koreans into the semi-finals, was largely negated as the Japanese gave her nothing to work with. The finish was quick and clinical – 21-16 21-15 to the world No.1 tandem.
“We lost to them in the Uber Cup, so we studied the match and today we got our revenge,” said Matsutomo.
“The last time we were too reactive. Today we were more aggressive and got control from the start.”
Matsutomo and Takahashi emulated their predecessors Reika Kakiiwa and Mizuki Fujii, who reached the final in London.
“Today was our best performance of the Olympics,” added Takahashi. “If we play at this level, we should be able to win the gold.”
After ensuring their presence in the Mixed Doubles final yesterday, Malaysia continued to make waves in Rio as Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong became only the second Men’s Doubles pair from their country to reach an Olympic final.
In a tense battle against Chai Biao and Hong Wei, the Malaysians breasted the tape 21-18 12-21 21-17.
There were few rallies; a rare long one went 35 strokes. Nearly the entire match consisted of short exchanges, with the serve-return situations proving critical. Chai Biao served brilliantly in the second to extract the lifts that Hong Wei thundered down without reply.
The Malaysians did well to forget the second game and built a lead in the third, gaining the ascendancy by showing better control in the forecourt. The end was anti-climactic – two tame points sealing the outcome.
“They have a lot of power and the defence of both sides is not good, that’s why there were no rallies,” said Goh.
“That’s good for us, because they’re different from Lee Yong Dae and Yoo Yeon Seong, who we beat yesterday. The four of us were so nervous, I was so tight today, I couldn’t do well, luckily my partner kept encouraging me.”
“They were too good at the net and forecourt in the second game,” said Tan. “We couldn’t get any rhythm. In the third we tried not to think too much, just to keep pushing to the back, and we got some points there and our confidence (came) back.”
Fu/Zhang had the upper-hand for the most part against Great Britain’s Chris Langridge/Marcus Ellis. After a comfortable opening game win, the Chinese found themselves tied down by the Britons, with Langridge controlling the net well and staying apace at 17-17. They were let down by some inconsistent play at the death, however, and Fu and Zhang were too strong to let that go unpunished.
“Emotionally, it was difficult to play this match,” said Zhang, who lost the Mixed Doubles semi-finals yesterday with Zhao Yunlei.
“I was so disappointed, but I managed to put that aside. I know I have a chance of winning my second Olympic gold medal. I will give it my best shot.”