China claim record 13th Sudirman Cup badminton title
China claimed a record 13th Sudirman Cup title on Sunday, defeating South Korea on home soil at the first major sporting event in the country since the lifting of pandemic restrictions.
Cheered on by a raucous crowd brandishing red and white thundersticks and loud horns in the eastern city of Suzhou, China made short work of the Korean side, beating them 3-0.
Chen Yufei defeated world number two An Se Young 21-16, 22-20 in the women's singles to seal victory, prompting the packed stadium to erupt in cheers and the entire Chinese team to rush onto the court to dance in a circle.
The mixed team event is one of badminton's most important tournaments, and the stakes were higher than usual this year because performances will count towards qualification for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
"I am very happy to play at home," men's singles player Shi Yuqi said.
"When you can feel that the audience is cheering you on, your own state will also be mobilised very well."
Virtually all international sports events ground to a halt in China after the coronavirus pandemic emerged there in late 2019, with the notable exception of last year's Beijing Winter Olympics that were held in a virus-secure "bubble".
China had come through a tricky semi-final against Japan on Saturday, with the men's doubles pair of Liu Yuchen and Ou Xuanyi saving four match points before finally prevailing.
"Watching the game yesterday gave me a stomach ache and a little dizziness, so I didn't sleep until after two o'clock," Shi said.
South Korea beat Malaysia 3-1 on their way to the final on Saturday.
On Sunday, Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong lost the opening game of the mixed doubles but pulled it back in a tense point-for-point second game to eventually triumph 18-21, 22-20, 21-8.
A jubilant Zheng jumped up and down in excitement, ripped off his shirt and threw it into the crowd. His partner Huang threw her racket to a delighted spectator.
Asked afterwards about how they were preparing for the Olympics, they said "let's just get the (qualification) points first".
South Korea's Lee Yun Gyu was easily outmatched in the men's singles, unable to deal with Shi's powerful smashes and laser focus.
The long rallies between Chen and An drew gasps from the crowd, with the world number two looking increasingly frustrated as the match wore on.
But Chen managed to get the upper hand, ensuring that China defended their title yet again.