BANGKOK: Japan’s women clinched the Uber Cup on Saturday, breezing by surprise finalists Thailand 3-0 in Bangkok to end a 37-year wait to regain the title.
With a team stacked with top ranked players in both the singles and doubles, Japan made light work of the hosts, who entered the finals for the first time after stunning China in the semis.
It ends an Uber Cup drought for Japan that stretches back to 1981 and is a major confidence boost ahead of the Olympics which they will host in two years’ time.
The Uber Cup is second in prestige only to the Olympics as a national team event.
World singles number two Akane Yamaguchi got Japan off to a flyer, dulling the boisterous partisan home crowd with a 21-15, 21-19 win over Ratchanok Intanon, blending deft touches at the net with patience in the rallies and power shots.
Ratchanok, world number four and Thailand’s favourite athlete, conceded that she lost concentration after bickering with the umpire early in the second set over his refusal to grant a review.
Doubles pair Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota stormed to the second point of the match winning their tie 21-18, 21-12.
The writing was on the wall for the hosts and Nozomi Okuhara made light work (21-12, 21-9) of a visibly tired Nitchaon Jindapol to seal victory.
“Thirty-seven years ago Japan was very strong… we are happy to make history again,” a beaming Okuhara told reporters.
The win caps four years of effort to push the players up through the world rankings while knitting together the national team, coach Park Joo-Bong said.
“I was worried about the atmosphere, but the team took the pressure and were hungry to win,” the South Korean coach said, adding the team are on the right track for the Olympics.
Thailand, who registered the shock of the tournament by beating perennial winners China in Friday’s semis, celebrated the runners-up medal as a sign of progress for a young side growing in confidence as the Asian Games approaches.
“We are strong contenders to win gold,” said coach Rexy Mainaky.
“Skillwise our players are world-class, but to go to the next level we have to do more. We will come back on this and evaluate what we need to add,” he told reporters.
China, absent from the women’s final for the first time ever after Thailand’s thrilling 3-2 win in the semis, have a chance to redeem national pride in the Thomas Cup on Sunday when they play Japan.
But Japan are eyeing a clean sweep led by singles star Kento Momota who swatted away world number one Viktor Axelsen in their final four matchup on Friday.