SHI Yuqi stunned world champion Kento Momota as hosts China whitewashed Japan for an 11th Sudirman Cup title on Sunday.
Japan have never won the badminton world mixed-team championship and their search goes on after they were well beaten 3-0 in the Chinese city of Nanning.
China’s dominant victory over the top seeds is an ominous indication of the depth they possess in their ranks with next summer’s Tokyo Olympics on the horizon.
China, the long-time pre-eminent power in the sport, reclaim the trophy they lost to South Korea two years ago.
Roared on by a 4,600-strong crowd, Shi in the men’s singles and Chen Yufei in the women’s both impressively recovered from going a game behind.
China went 1-0 up through their men’s doubles and then took a 2-0 lead overall after a captivating clash between Chen and Akane Yamaguchi.
Japan needed their talisman to beat Shi to keep the tie alive – but Momota buckled.
The world No1 had defeated second-ranked Shi four times in five previous meetings, including last year’s world championship final.
It looked like more of the same when the 24-year-old Momota won the first game 21-15, but Shi suddenly found his rhythm and his Japanese rival caved spectacularly.
The 23-year-old Shi raced to the second game 21-5 and took that searing momentum into the decider, winning the third game – and with it the Sudirman Cup – 21-11.
Shi sealed the championship with a smash and was mobbed by his team-mates, who raced onto the court after his surprise win.
Momota said it had been “a painful lesson” and admitted he had felt the pressure knowing he had to win to keep Japan in the final. “I was surprised that Shi played this well,” he added, also admitting that the rousing home support had affected him.
If the Shi-Momota showdown fizzled to a conclusion, the Chen-Yamaguchi match was a thriller, ending with the Chinese prevailing 17-21, 21-16, 21-17.
Both players finished the match on the court floor, Chen on her back in celebration and her opponent on her backside in desolation.
“I feel that I played a bit slow in the beginning, which caused me to waste a lot of energy,” said 21-year-old Chen, explaining how she surged back from going a game down and also losing in the third.
“I couldn’t keep up with her, but after a change in my game strategy, I took the lead.”