PETALING JAYA: China’s Li Shifeng is turning out to be a smash hit at the Thomas Cup Finals.
The 21-year-old battled his way to a 21-13, 17-21, 21-7 win over an in-form Kunlavut Vitidsarn to provide the winning point as China defeated Thailand in a lopsided quarter-final tie at the Ceres Arena in Aarhus yesterday.
World No. 10 Shi Yuqi started the ball rolling by beating Kantaphon Wangcharoen 21-14, 21-17 while scratch pair He Jiting-Zhou Haodong also did not face much difficulties as they defeated Supak Jomkoh-Kittinupong Kedren 21-10, 21-18.
The world No. 67 Shifeng was fielded instead of their world No. 27 Lu Guangzu, who had struggled to beat Sameer Verma in the tie against India in the final group tie on Thursday.
And Shifeng did not disappoint as he stayed solid over an hour long match to upset Kunlavut for the first time.
The China’s eighth ranked player had lost to the Thai in all his last five encounters.
In fact, he has not even taken one game off from Kunlavut in the 2017 Asian Junior, 2018 Dutch Junior, 2018 German Junior, 2019 Iran International Challenge and 2019 Korean Masters.
Shifeng, however, showed the world that he has made remarkable improvement over the last two years. He has not lost a single match in the Thomas Cup, having won all three matches in the group.
National coaching director Wong Choong Hann admitted that Shifeng was a player to watch out for.
“He is calm and tactically smart. One should keep an eye on him,” said Choong Hann.
Due to his low ranking, Shifeng has not had the opportunity to strut his stuff in Badminton World Federation (BWF)’s higher-ranked tournaments and the scrapping of many tournaments due to the Covid-19 pandemic had forced China to keep him under wraps.
With his fine performances in the Thomas Cup Finals, China can afford to smile as they have been looking for young talents to take over from superstar Lin Dan and Chen Long.
The players ranked ahead of Shifeng in the world ranking are world No. 6 Chen Long, Shi Yuqi (8th), Lin Dan (21), Guangzu (27), Huang Yuxiang (29), Zhao Junpeng (40), and Sun Feixiang (49). China face Japan in the semi-finals today and they can count on Shifeng to deliver again.
He may take on either Kanta Tsuneyama as the second singles or Kenta Nishimoto in the third singles.