WUHAN, China: World No. 1 Wang Yihan dramatically survived four match points in an epic singles contest as hosts China won the women’s Uber Cup yesterday, laying to rest the ghosts of two years ago.
“I saw the Uber Cup and thought, ‘what if I lose the match again like 2010?’. But then it made me more determined to prove that wrong,” said Wang after the 14-21, 22-20, 21-13 win over South Korea’s Sung Ji-Hyun.
“I never thought I would cry on court today but when I shouted suddenly I felt tears, and then when I hugged Li Yongbo (China’s head coach) I saw there were tears in his eyes too. It was a very emotional match,” Wang said.
Later, Li jokingly denied there had been tears in his eyes.
All week the world No. 1 had said it was her responsibility to bring the Uber Cup back home since the South Koreans broke China’s run of six consecutive wins in the last tournament, in 2010.
Wang rushed ahead in the first game as South Korea’s world number 11 looked stiff on court, nerves and tiredness taking their toll after a week of some punishing late-night thrillers.
But taking animated orders from Sung Han-Kook, her coach and father on the sidelines, Sung Ji-Hyun clawed her way back and as she edged ahead Wang’s game began to unravel.
The cool Sung closed out the first game and went ahead in the second, attacking fiercely and also benefiting from a host of Wang smashes that went wide. The battle at the net was fierce, drop shot against drop shot, the shuttle barely clearing the net. As the South Korean reached four match points, the partisan Wuhan crowd fell to near-silence.
On the sidelines, coach Li told Wang to stop going for the lines, “he said I shouldn’t try to be so precise because that is not my strength.”
Wang’s sheer determination and refusal to give up took her on a stunning six-point winning streak, while Sung’s game fell apart, the chance of a fantastic upset so close forcing her into careless mistakes.
Once level going into the third and final game, Wang never looked back, emerging the winner in a nearly 90-minute contest.
“I have a bad habit of letting players reach match point. It is my weakness and I did it again today. I have to overcome this,” Wang said afterwards.
A deflated Sung said nerves had hindered her at the crunch moment. “I played very well but I was just too nervous in the second game. That’s probably why I lost,” she said.
After Wang’s emotional triumph, the first doubles pairing Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli never gave the South Koreans a chance to get a grip on their match, setting the stage for world number two Wang Xin to secure the Cup for China.
Coach Li said the loss two years ago had been as much his responsibility as Wang’s.
“This time was different,” said Li, “last time I was complacent and didn’t take South Korea seriously... How players perform also reflects how coaches approach the match and their respect for the opponent.”
The 3-0 win makes it China’s 12th Uber Cup victory since the competition began in 1957.
“This is a new beginning for Chinese badminton,” declared Li, somewhat ominously given China’s near-dominance of the tournament over the past three decades. “I hope the young players can build on this.”
The Chinese men’s team will look to make it a double victory over the South Koreans when they contest the Thomas Cup final today.