Japan shuttlers excelling at world championships

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

Wakana Nagahara and Mayu Matsumoto beat an Indonesian pair in straight games on Saturday to set up an all-Japanese women’s doubles final at the World Badminton Championships.

Nagahara and Matsumoto, each 22-year-old world championship debutants, will face last year’s runners-up, Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota, on Sunday.

The 11th-seeded pair defeated fifth seeds Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu 21-12, 23-21 in 52 minutes in their first career faceoff to book a spot in the all-Japanese world title match.

“I always get stiff when I play a Japanese pair,” Matsumoto said. “But I just want to us to play like we always do without focusing on the fact that our opponents are Japanese.”

Fukushima and Hirota, the second seeds, beat compatriots Koharu Yonemoto and Shiho Tanaka 21-19, 21-15 in Saturday’s other semifinal.

The winners of Sunday’s final will win Japan’s first gold medal in the event since Etsuko Toganoo and Emiko Ueno claimed the title at the inaugural world championships in 1977.

In men’s doubles on Friday, Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda booked a spot in the semifinals by defeating the top-seeded Indonesian duo of Marcus Gideon and Kevin Sukamuljo 21-19, 21-18 to clinch a world championships medal for the second straight year.

A mammoth 117-shot rally lit up the match, leaving spectators in giggles and the players panting.

Spectators laughed as the pairs hit the shuttlecock back and forth, before Kamura finally forced Gideon to hit wide.

In the men’s semifinals on Saturday, Kento Momota, who last year completed a lengthy ban for illegal gambling, is within touching distance of redemption after surging into the final.

He will play China’s Shi Yuqi in Sunday’s showpiece, which is expected to be a thrilling showdown between two of badminton’s rising stars.

The 23-year-old Momota’s highly promising career hit a major roadblock in 2016 when Japanese badminton chiefs suspended him for more than a year for visiting an illicit casino, denying him a place at the Rio Olympics.

Momota has been working his way back to the top ever since and the world No. 7 is currently in the form of his life.

He faced a dangerous challenge in his Nanjing semifinal from Liew Daren, the unseeded Malaysian who had been an unlikely giant-killer.

Liew surged into a 5-0 lead in the first game but the explosive Momota woke up to seize the initiative — and ultimately the match — in style, 21-16, 21-5.