It all went perfectly for China in today’s opening session, with He Bing Jiao back in the limelight after a prolonged spell of modest results. With compatriot Chen Yu Fei joining her in the semifinals of Tokyo 2020, China were assured of a finalist, and a chance to reclaim women’s singles glory at a World Championships or Olympics for the first time since 2012.
There was clockwork precision to both He Bing Jiao and Chen Yu Fei’s play. Facing home favourite Nozomi Okuhara, He Bing Jiao looked all at sea in the opening essay, but worked her way back in, with her economical footwork helping her in the interminable rallies at which Okuhara excels. The Chinese controlled the overhead situations brilliantly, cutting the rallies short and nailing it every time the shuttle was in hitting range. It was opportunistic badminton, but He Bing Jiao never rushed her shots, and she barely made any mistake through the last two games.
With her running game neutralised, the Japanese was fighting a rearguard battle all the way. Tears in her eyes, she could only admit that she’d been comprehensively outplayed.
“My opponent’s smash was very strong and I couldn’t be aggressive enough. In the first game she made some mistakes so that I could take the initiative but from the second game she regained her form, her condition was getting better and better and I couldn’t reach that point,” said the devastated Okuhara.
He Bing Jiao was calmer despite this being the biggest moment of her career.
“I was playing well but I wasn’t getting good results, so I wasn’t getting any confidence,” said He Bing Jiao. “This time we had a good spell of training, and all of us worked very hard. I’m very happy as this is my biggest moment.”
Like He Bing Jiao, her team mate Chen Yu Fei also produced a finely crafted performance against Korean teen An Se Young. The Korean drew her into her slow rallying style and showed the stomach for a fight. It was close all the way, but Chen, with a greater range of attacking shots, had the edge, and punched winners from the back at the right moments.
“We know each other’s style. I know she’s a strong opponent. I was a bit rushed in the beginning, and then I became patient and adjusted my mistakes,” said Chen Yu Fei. “I’m happy that my teammate also reached the semifinals. It doesn’t matter who wins, the team has done well.”