Badminton Life

Tago ends wait of almost half a century with semis badminton win

BIRMINGHAM, England - Kenichi Tago became the first Japanese player for nearly half a century to reach the men's singles final at the All-England championships Saturday when he saved a match point to beat Bao Chunlai 18-21, 22-20, 21-17.

The 20-year-old's dynamic performance enabled him to climb back from a precipice in the second game, and to take charge of the third, ending China's men's singles challenge in the process.

It was further proof of a major breakthrough for the son of former All-England doubles finalist Yoshiko Yonekura, for he has now beaten three seeds - Tien Minh Nguyen of Vietnam, the number seven Chen Jin, the 2008 champion, and now Bao, the sixth seeded former world silver medallist.

"Badminton is my play-ground," said the smiling Tago. "I've been playing the sport since I was three years old. That's why I feel at home."

He also volunteered that he knew before he went on court had been 47 years since H.Akiyama reached the All-England final and that his coach, Park Joo Bong, the Korean legend, had been motivating him by teasing him about this piece of history.

Tago responded with energy that was amazing, bringing both explosive movement and the ability to place at a high pace for a long time. This extracted unusual errors from Bao, and made the Chinese player feel uncomfortable even when he was well ahead.

It was this which kept Tago in the match even when Bao took a lead of 12-8 in the second game, kept threatening with his angular left-handed smashes, and reached match point at 20-19.

At that moment Tago had a slice of luck. He could only manage a defensive flick lift, and Bao, looking to finish the match with a spectacular jump smash, put the shuttle wide.

Two points later Bao faced game point against him, and this time the Chinese player allowed a defensive flick from Tago to drop, thinking it was floating out. It landed on the line and the match changed character after that.

Tago shot into leads of 7-2 and 11-4 in the final game, and although Bao fought to reduce the deficit, and even got it back to two points it was clear by then that Tago thought he could win.

When he did, with a dynamic smash-kill combination, he fell on to the court and lay there for ten seconds or more, covering his face with his hands.

"I felt rushed in the second set, it was getting harder, and I was making errors," said Bao, who was upset to have failed after taking on the responsibility for China with his victory over Olympic champion Lin Dan the night before.

"I felt I was not concentrated and could have played better," he said. "I am really frustrated and felt I could have played better."

Head coach Li Yongbo commented bluntly: "He needs to practise better because he was making errors at crucial points."

In the final Tago will meet Lee Chong Wei, whose dream of becoming only the second Malaysian in 44 years to win the men's singles title moved impressively closer with a brilliantly taken win.

The top-seeded Olympic silver medallist beat Peter Gade, the former All-England champion from Denmark, 21-17, 21-14, to earn his second successive final at Britain's national indoor arena.

The light-footed Lee did that by keeping the pace uncomfortably high for Gade, who had done superbly well to get past Taufik Hidayat, the former Olympic champion, in three very long games the night before.

That may have cost the brave Dane. Lee, light-footed, energetic, and superbly fit, hustled his 33-year-old opponent without relenting, and apparently without any distress.

"I had a better recovery than Peter," said Lee, referring to his three-game quarter-final match with Shon Wan Ho of Korea. "I always felt I had the extra edge."

Without his most frequent obstacle on big occasions, Lin Dan, the Olympic and World champion, the route to a big title for Lee seems much less for hazardous.

"It's very important for Malaysia," said Lee, apparently unafraid to admit to the pressure. "I really want to win this title."

Source from AFP

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