BANGKOK: Thailand's women made their first ever Uber Cup final on Friday after a stunning 3-2 upset of defending champions China.
The win sets up an unlikely showdown between underdog Thailand and Japan on Saturday after the top seed defeated Korea 3-1 earlier in the day.
Thai player Busanan Ongbamrungphan was once again the star, confidently dispatching Olympic champion Li Xuerui — who was returning from injury — 21-11, 21-9 in the last game.
“Finally we did it, I never expected that today would really come,” Busanan told reporters afterwards.
“It's lucky that the event was held in our country. I'm proud that once in my lifetime I played at home and have made people in my country happy.”
Thailand's victory also meant that China's women would not be going to the finals of the cup for the first time since the team started playing in 1984, according to the Badminton World Federation.
Japan is the favourite going into the final but the day belonged to the Thais, whose win sparked jubilant on court celebrations, hugs and ended a see-sawing matchup with tournament leader China.
World number four Ratchanok Intanon won the first singles game, grinding out a 15-21, 21-9, 21-14 win over China's Chen Yufei, who is ranked one place behind her.
With crowds shouting “Thailand! Thailand!” Ratchanok hit smash after smash to come back after losing the first game to win two in a row.
Thailand lost the first doubles, but singles shuttler Nitchaon Jindapol clawed her way back from a set down to beat Gao Fangjie in another thriller that had the crowd on their feet.
The second doubles went to China levelling up at 2-2, leaving Thai hopes pinned on Busanan, just as on Thursday when she performed under pressure to clinch a victory against Indonesia.
Japan had an easier time against South Korea in their semi, with doubles pair Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi securing their spot in the final.
World number two Akane Yamaguchi got the team off to a flying start, easing to a 21-10, 21-13 win against South Korea's Sung Ji-hyun, while Nozomi Okuhara dispatched Lee Jang-mi 21-9, 21-15 after South Korea had levelled at 1-1 with the first doubles.
Japanese world number nine Okuhara has yet to lose in this year's biennial Uber cup, which is being held in Bangkok.
“I think it will be a tough battle whoever I face tomorrow,” she told reporters afterwards as Thailand and China were still doing battle on court.
The tournament is held alongside the men's Thomas Cup, whose semi-finals were held later Friday, with China, Japan, Indonesia and Denmark all hoping to move forward.
Denmark are returning champions, and are back to attempt a repeat with world number one Viktor Axelsen leading the team. But Axelsen got the team off to a slow start against Japanese star Momota Kento, losing 21-17, 21-9.
China has fielded an all-star cast of players as they seek to regain a title lost on home soil two years ago.
Olympic champion Chen Long is joined by this year's All England champion Shi Yuqui — and the player he conquered in the final, Lin Dan. — AFP