Minutes after competing in one of the most gruelling matches in recent times, Nozomi Okuhara slumped on to the floor, unable to move.
Her vanquisher, Wang Shixian of China, shot a sympathetic glance at the grief-stricken Japanese, who was overtaken by cramps and tears.
An extraordinary Women’s Singles quarter-final at the Maybank Malaysia Open had played out, leaving two exhausted contenders – one in agony, and the other too spent to celebrate. At 111 minutes, the quarter-final was among the longest singles contests in history.
The score would read 21-19 15-21 22-20 for Wang Shixian.
It had been an intense battle of will. Wang, blessed with a few more weapons than her diminutive opponent, saw her best shots returned; Okuhara (featured image) sped from baseline to net and back again, flinging herself at everything that Wang could conjure. The Japanese was brilliant at her stonewalling game, throwing all the shuttles deep to the baseline or tight over the net and dragging her opponent across every inch of the court.
With Okuhara barely making any mistake, Wang appeared under increasing pressure. The Japanese could nearly sight the finish with an 18-15 lead in the third game, but yet again Wang returned from the dead. The shuttle finally dribbled over the net cord and fell into Okuhara’s court on Wang’s second match point.
Wang was full of admiration for her doughty opponent.
“I could notice she was cramping in the third game, but she still fought so hard. Maybe I won because I was steadier at the end. It was very close. I’m just so happy to have won. I haven’t reached a World Superseries semi-final in a while, so I’m relieved.”
Wang will next face World champion Carolina Marin (Spain), who quickly disposed of young Hong Kong qualifier Cheung Ngan Yi 21-12 21-9. The other semi-final will see defending champion Li Xuerui against world No.1 Saina Nehwal.
Both Li and Nehwal were taken the distance – Li by compatriot Wang Yihan and Nehwal by China’s Sun Yu. The Indian was in trouble in the third game, having lost a 14-8 lead, but surprised Sun with a couple of unexpected shots at the end to close out the match 21-11 18-21 21-17.
In Men’s Singles, No.5 seed Lin Dan spent an extended session on court, needing three games to get past teammate Tian Houwei, 11-21 21-16 21-13. The other semi-finalists completed their matches quickly: Chen Long, Wang Zhengming and Jan O Jorgensen – the Dane was the only non-Chinese semi-finalist – were not stretched. Chen destroyed the challenge of Japan’s Kento Momota 21-16 21-11, while Jorgensen dealt with Hong Kong’s Wei Nan in similar fashion.
Men’s Doubles turned out to be the only category without Chinese presence in the semi-finals. Yonex-Sunrise India Open Men’s Doubles champions Chai Biao/Hong Wei were undone by Chinese Taipei’s Lee Sheng Mu/Tsai Chia Hsin 17-21 21-17 21-16. Another Chinese pair, Liu Xiaolong/Qiu Zihan, were beaten by top seeds Lee Yong Dae/Yoo Yeon Seong (Korea), 21-18 21-19. Indonesia’s Mohammad Ahsan/Hendra Setiawan and Denmark’s Mathias Boe/Carsten Mogensen also progressed into the last-four.
It will be up to Tontowi Ahmad/Liliyana Natsir to prevent China from taking the Mixed Doubles title. The Indonesians recovered from mid-match blues to beat England’s Chris Adcock/Gabrielle Adcock in three games and will take on top seeds Zhang Nan/Zhao Yunlei. Other quarter-finals saw Chinese prevail over Danes – Liu Cheng/Bao Yixin repeated their India Open victory over Joachim Fischer Nielsen/Christinna Pedersen, while Xu Chen/Ma Jin overcame Mads Pieler Kolding/Kamilla Rytter Juhl in three games.
Three Chinese pairs made the Women’s Doubles semi-finals. The only exceptions were Korea’s Chang Ye Na/Jung Kyung Eun, who beat Eefje Muskens/Selena Piek (Netherlands), 22-20 21-15. Xia Huan/Tian Qing broke Malaysian hearts routing local duo Vivian Hoo/Woon Khe Wei 21-3 21-10. Ou Dongni/Yu Xiaohan outgunned Germany’s Isabel Herttrich/Birgit Michels and face Luo Ying/Luo Yu in the semi-finals. The Luo twins survived a late challenge from Indonesia’s Greysia Polii/Nitya Krishinda Maheswari, 21-12 21-19.
For the day’s results, click here.