Naoko Fukuman and Kurumi Yonao won what the BWF is calling the longest match in history to keep their Olympic qualification and title hopes alive at the 2016 Badminton Asia Championships in Wuhan.
By Don Hearn. Photos: Badmintonphoto (archives)
Naoko Fukuman and Kurumi Yonao (pictured top) came into their semi-final against Indonesia’s Greysia Polii and Nitya Krishinda Maheswari already having played three of the longest matches so far in a major tournament in 2016. They played two matches of 102 minutes each against their compatriots at twice prior to this week. Then on Friday, they went nearly two hours against 2nd seeds Luo Ying / Luo Yu.
In Saturday’s semi-final, though, they blew those numbers away. After a gruelling two hours and forty-one minutes, they closed out their deciding game 24-22 to advance past the Asian Games champions and into the final.
Longest in history?
The Badminton World Federation (BWF) is calling this the longest match in history. The body has no public list of longest-ever matches to compare it to, nor is there any indication of whether the record is limited to international events or matches since the change in the scoring system. It may well be a record, however, and it certainly beats hands down any match of its status in recent memory.
The Japanese duo are now one victory away from beating out Jang Ye Na / Lee So Hee (pictured) for a spot in the Rio Olympics. The Koreans were unable to follow up their win over the World Champions with a victory over the top seeds that would have sealed their ticket to Rio.
With compatriots ahead of them, both the Koreans and Japanese need to be in the top 8 in order to secure a second Olympic doubles ticket for their country. Jang and Lee will be counting on world #1 Matsutomo/Takahashi, plus the 4-plus hours the underdogs have spent on court the last two days, to decide their Olympic fate.
These Championships are also the biggest event since the 2014 French Open to have an all-Chinese women’s singles final. Something that used to be a regular occurrence in top-level badminton has become much rarer. Since the beginning of last year, there have been six Grand Prix Gold events with two Chinese finalists but nothing at the Superseries level. Li Xuerui (pictured) beat out Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun while Wang Yihan saw off Saina Nehwal of India.
Six days after beating world #1 Chen Long in the China Masters final, Lin Dan completely fell apart in his third game against Lee Chong Wei (pictured). Lee won the decider 21-4 to earn a shot at the title against the top seed. Chen Long had little trouble with compatriot Tian Houwei in the other semi-final.
Korea’s Lee Yong Dae and Yoo Yeon Seong had plenty of trouble throughout both games against Japan’s in-form Takeshi Kamura / Keigo Sonoda but they surged at the right time and took it in straight games. They will face China’s twin towers Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen, who edged out compatriots Fu/Zhang in two games. The Chinese 20-year-olds won their only meeting with the world #1s, when they prevented the Koreans from making last year’s China Open their 5th straight Superseries title.
XD: Zhang Nan / Zhao Yunlei (CHN)  vs. Tontowi Ahmad / Liliyana Natsir (INA) 
MS: Chen Long (CHN)  vs. Lee Chong Wei (MAS) 
WS: Li Xuerui (CHN)  vs. Wang Yihan (CHN) 
WD: Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi (JPN)  vs. Naoko Fukuman / Kurumi Yonao (JPN)
MD: Lee Yong Dae / Yoo Yeon Seong (KOR)  vs. Li Junhui / Liu Yuchen (CHN)