Grind and sweat for it

Gruelling contest ahead: China’s Chen Yufei has to brace herself for the toughest match when she takes on Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi.

PETALING JAYA: Japan are standing in China’s way from winning their 15th Uber Cup Finals title.

On Friday, China exacted sweet revenge over Thailand by pulling off an easy 3-0 win at the Ceres Arena in Aarhus, Denmark, but they can’t expect an easy ride against the defending champions in the final.

At the last edition in Bangkok, Thailand, China were shocked 2-3 by the homesters in the semi-finals and the downfall started when their No. 1 player Chen Yufei lost the first point against a fired-up Ratchanok Intanon.

On Friday though, reigning Olympics champion Yufei won the rematch after taking only five points. The former world champion Ratchanok conceded a walkover when she was trailing 2-5 due to her nagging shoulder injury.

That really did the damage to the Thai team as Rawinda Prajongjai-Puttita Supajirakul and Pornpawee Chochuwong went down without a fight to their respective opponents – Chen Qingchen-Jia Yifan and He Bingjiao respectively.

“It’s a pity that we didn’t play a good game for the fans but I hope for the best for her (Ratchanok),” said Chen Yufei.

Now that they have gone one step further than the previous outing, Yufei has to brace herself for the toughest match when she takes on Akane Yamaguchi.

Yamaguchi has a better head-to-head record, having won nine times, one better than her 23-year-old opponent.

However, Yamaguchi’s form in Aarhus is questionabl e if based on her easy 14-21, 7-21 defeat to An Se-young of South Korea in the semi-finals on Friday. Japan went on to beat South Korea 3-1 but the manner in which Yamaguchi lost has raised alarm.

Yamaguchi, who makes up for her short stature with fighting spirit, had been plagued by a lower back injury in 2019, and hopefully, the old injury has not returned to haunt her.

Japan’s strength had been affected following the absence of several doubles players but scratch pairs Yuki Fukushima-Mayu Matsumoto and Misaki Matsutomo-Nami Matsuyama have done well here so far.

On paper and current form, China are the favourites but one should never underestimate Japan.

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