NANNING, China Ė Co-favorites Japan and host China remain on course for a blockbuster final at the Sudirman Cup, the world mixed-team badminton championship, with both nations having advanced comfortably to the tournamentís final four.
Japan faced some strong resistance in the opening menís doubles match of their quarterfinal clash Friday against Malaysia.
But after taking a 1-0 lead with a narrow, come-from-behind 13-21, 26-24, 23-21 win, their superstar singles players wasted little time in wrapping up a 3-0 victory.
Japanís second-ranked menís doubles duo of Keigo Sonoda and Takeshi Kamura got off to a rough start against the Malaysian pair of Ong Yew Sin and Teo Ee Yi, the world No. 21.
Ong and Teo played with greater aggressiveness in the opening game and also capitalized on numerous errors from a nervous Kamura.
Kamura lifted his level though in the second game, becoming much more active at the net to help steer the Japanese team to a 17-12 advantage.
That lead quickly disappeared, however, and the Malaysian team went up 19-18 when Kamura sent a return of serve wide.
But the Japanese battled back to take a 20-19 lead by winning an incredible rally in which both of the opposing players ended up sprawled on the floor at the Guangxi Sports Center in Nanning.
The rival teams showcased an extremely high level of both offense and defense the rest of the second game, with Japan failing to convert five game points before finally forcing a decider when Ong dumped a smash in the net.
The drama was far from over though.
With Malaysia holding a narrow 19-18 advantage in the third game, Teo suffered a freak injury when his teammate inadvertently kicked him under the chin while both players once again were sprawled on the floor trying to make a defensive play.
Bleeding from the neck area, Teo needed treatment on court for several minutes before finally resuming play with a large bandage.
Japan had all the match points that would ensue, finally clinching the victory on their third one when Sonoda struck an unreturnable smash at 22-21.
After the riveting menís doubles match, Japanís Nozomi Okuhara, the 2017 womenís singles world champion, brushed aside Soniia Cheah Su Ya 21-16, 21-13. The 2018 menís singles world champion, world No. 1 Kento Momota, then defeated Lee Zii Jia 21-18, 21-16 to secure a semifinal berth for his country.
Next up for Japan in Saturdayís Sudirman Cup semifinals will be Indonesia, who rallied to defeat Chinese Taipei three matches to two on Friday.
Powerhouse China, winner of a record 10 Sudirman Cup titles, will take on Thailand in the other semifinal.
Chinaís singles and doubles players rank in the top three of all of the badminton categories (menís singles, womenís singles, menís doubles, womenís doubles and mixed doubles) and are a slight favorite to win their 11th title on Sunday.
Japan, however, also boast top-three players or teams across the board and have high hopes of capturing their maiden Sudirman Cup title this weekend.
South Korea, the defending champions of this biennial event, were eliminated by Thailand in the quarterfinals.