NANNING: Japan will have to defy the home crowd and the weight of history if they are to win the Sudirman Cup against China on Sunday.
Japan have never lifted the mixed-team world championship since it began in 1989.
In contrast, the hosts have won it a record 10 times and go into the final as slight favourites despite Japan being top seeds in Nanning.
World No 1 Kento Momota, Japan’s talisman, must beat second-ranked Shi Yuqi if they are to stand any chance.
Momota, 24, did just that in the final of the world championships, also in China, last year.
Japan on Saturday lost their opening match to Indonesia, in men’s doubles, before winning 3-1 while China dismantled Thailand 3-0 to set up a meeting between badminton’s two pre-eminent powers.
The usually cool Momota celebrated wildly, pumping his fists and bellowing after seeing off Anthony Ginting 21-17, 21-19 to put Japan up 2-1 in the semi-final tie.
The doubles pairing of Mayu Matsumoto and Wakana Nagahara, the top-ranked women’s duo in the world, sealed Japan’s place in the final.
China were even more clinical as they made the Sudirman Cup final for the 13th time in a row.
They were stunned by South Korea in the last edition, in Australia in 2017, but they look in ominous form on home turf.
The Chinese went 2-0 ahead against Thailand in just 94 minutes thanks to their world No 1 mixed doubles pair Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong, and Shi in the men’s singles.
The tie was over when the men’s doubles world champions Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen triumphed.
Shi did not have it all his own way against 18th-ranked Kantaphon Wangcharoen, who squandered three opportunities to clinch the second game and force a decider.
It was a turning point and Shi held his nerve before closing out victory 21-15, 26-24 to thrill the home crowd and snuff out the brief Thai resistance.
“It was a very tough second game,” said Shi, who has inherited the mantle of China’s top men’s player with Lin Dan approaching retirement and Chen Long past his prime.
“The lead changed hands many times and neither of us could open up a big lead,” added the 23-year-old Shi.
“In the end I managed to overcome the pressure.”