NEW DELHI: The expectations of a whole nation – starved of Thomas Cup success – proved too much to bear for the Malaysian badminton team as they went down fighting 3-2 to Japan in the final at the Siri Fort Indoor Stadium here on Sunday.
The Malaysian team, making their first appearance in the final since Guangzhou in 2002, threw everything at first-time finalists Japan but their failure to clinch the tie before the deciding third singles match meant that the long wait to bring back the coveted Thomas Cup trophy continues.
Malaysia have not won the Cup since current singles head coach Rashid Sidek led the 1992 squad to a famous 3-2 win over Indonesia.
With the tie level at 2-2, captain Liew Daren put up a stirring fight-back from 10-16 down in the second game, to force a rubber.
But the astute Takuma Ueda eventually killed off Malaysia’s hopes with a hard-fought 21-12, 18-21, 21-17 win.
“I tried my best. I lost two matches (group) and I did not want to lose this one. I’m sorry I could not win this for Malaysia,” said a downcast Daren.
World No. 1 Lee Chong Wei had given Malaysia a dream start, beating Kenichi Tago 21-12, 21-16 – stretching his excellent record against the Japanese to 16-1.
But Tan Boon Heong-Hoon Thien How failed to clinch the crucial first doubles point against Kenichi Hayakawa-Hiroyuki Endo.
Boon Heong-Thien How took the first game with ease but the Japanese world No. 3 never gave up and their tenacity was rewarded as they took over at 12-all to force a decider.
It was Kenichi-Hiroyuki who held their nerves better in the rubber, closing in to salvage the tie for Japan with a 12-21, 21-17, 21-19 win in 76 minutes.
Boon Heong said they gave their best to get the first doubles point but their rivals were tactically better.
“They dared to take risks in the closing moments. I’m happy to get into the final but this wasn’t the kind of ending I wanted,” said Boon Heong about his first Thomas Cup final appearance.
The burden then shifted to Chong Wei Feng to restore the advantage for Malaysia in the second singles.
However, Wei Feng failed to rise to the occasion against Kento Momota in the battle of left-handers.
Wei Feng had been outstanding in the earlier matches, playing a pivotal role in Malaysia’s unexpected journey into the final.
But it was a different story in the final as he simply could not play his normal game.
The sullen look on his face told the story for Malaysia as Kento, the world junior champion in 2012, ended Wei Feng’s five-match unbeaten streak with a 21-15, 21-17 win in 39 minutes.
Wei Feng explained his inability to break Momota’s rhythm in the second singles.
“I could not play at my normal pace and I started to feel the pressure more. I wanted so much to give Malaysia a point and I got more frustrated when I could not break him down,” said Wei Feng.
However, scratch pair Goh V Shem-Tan Wee Kiong refused to give up the fight and handed Malaysia a lifeline by beating world No. 13 Keigo Sonoda-Takeshi Kamura.
V Shem-Wee Kiong, who got the winning point for Malaysia against South Korea (last group tie) and Denmark (quarter-finals), attacked well as the match progressed and eventually wore down the Japanese pair 19-21, 21-17, 21-12.
In the end, it was all in vain as the Japanese shuttlers celebrated wildly at one corner after Daren sent the shuttle out wide at 17-20.
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