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Semi-Final Saturday: Five things we learned

Day four is done and we now have five mouth-watering finals lined up for Sunday at badminton’s greatest show after a scintillating semi-final Saturday.

After some simply breathless matches we now see Japan and China provide three finalists, and one apiece from Chinese Taipei, Denmark, Indonesia and Malaysia – here are five other things we learned.

THE FINAL LINEUP

The most important aspect of the day and just in case you missed it, here are our five finals for Sunday:

Men’s Singles – Japan’s Kento Momota vs Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen

Women’s Singles – Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying vs China’s Chen Yufei

Women’s Doubles – Japan’s Mayu Matsumoto/Wakana Nagahara vs China’s Chen Qingchen/Jia Yifan

Mixed Doubles – Japan’s Yuta Watanabe/Arisa Higashino vs China’s Zheng Siwei/Huang Yaqiong

Men’s Doubles – Indonesia’s Hendra Setiawan/Mohammad Ahsan vs Malaysia’s Aaron Chia/Soh Wooi Yik

INDONESIAN SUPPORTERS MAKE SOME NOISE!

There’s been some excellent support at Arena Birmingham this week and the decibels have hit top volume for English duo Chris & Gabby Adcock and Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen amongst others – but Indonesian support is out of this world!

And they had every reason to be on semi-final Saturday as the ‘Daddies’ Hendra Setiawan and Mohammad Ahsan put on a real show to down Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda 21-19 21-16.

The 2014 champions played large chunks on the front foot and hit relentless barrages of smashes to bring about the win, with Ahsan commenting afterwards: “Our opponents played very well today but we stayed with them and on the important points we were able to perform well and that helped us get the win." - We think the vociferous Indonesian support may have helped at these key moments too!

MATSUMOTO AND NAGAHARA GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM A FRIEND

In an ominous sign for their title rivals, women’s doubles world No.3s Mayu Matsumoto and Wakana Nagahara are getting better and better.

After reaching the All England semi-finals last year the two 23-year-olds had an amazing 2018, rising from 32nd in the world rankings to third in the space of 12 months, winning the French Open and Spanish Masters titles.

They had lost to compatriots Shiho Tanaka and Koharu Yonemoto twice before, but powered past them 21-11 21-12 at badminton’s oldest tournament – how high will they rise?

“We were able to come together and play well to win, which we were not able to do in those games previously,” said Nagahara. “We did that yesterday as well, we are helping each other, and that has helped us win four games this week.”

They take on Chen and Jia after a simply stunning flurry of a finish that downed Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota in a breathtaking conclusion.

JAPAN SURGE AGAIN

Of the 10 semi-finals on Saturday seven of them featured Japanese players and we now know that Japan will feature in an incredible three finals, the same as China.

Matsumoto and Nagahara were the first to qualify, closely followed by Watanabe and Higashino in perhaps the most ruthless display of the day – 37 minutes as they overcame Goh Soon Huat and Lai Shevon Jemie.

Higashino bossed the net and Watanabe almost everywhere else in his energetic style, as did Momota as he attempts to become the first Japanese men’s singles winner of the All England.

AXELSEN VS SHI = BREATHTAKING BADMINTON

OK, so maybe we kind of knew that the semi-final between Viktor Axelsen and Shi Yuqi was going to be good, but this match was just unbelievable.

The final-four tussle had everything you could want in a match, a defending champion in Chinese star Shi, Axelsen returning after an absence of two years and an emotional rollercoaster of top-class badminton.

The Danish player prevailed 22-20 13-21 21-9 with some incredible shots played throughout, none more so than an outlandish spinning backhand to go 11-3 up in the third, with Axelsen diving all across the arena to scoop multiple almost-certain-winners from off the deck.

As Axelsen prepares to face Momota we know there will be no Chinese or Malaysian winner for the first time in 10 years, will there also be a first European winner for 20 years?