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Asian Games: Japan overcomes Yamaguchi's woes to reach badminton final

Akane Yamaguchi of Japan looks dejected after losing a point during the women's badminton team semifinals at the Asian Games in Jakarta, on Aug. 21, 2018. (Kyodo)

JAKARTA (Kyodo) -- Badminton world No. 2 Akane Yamaguchi is struggling at the Asian Games, losing her second match in as many days on Tuesday, but Japan still managed to advance to the final to give the team's star a chance to make amends.

"I wasn't so bad at the net, but it did not lead to points," Yamaguchi told reporters after a 21-16, 9-21, 21-18 loss to home favorite Gregoria Mariska Tunjung in the first singles match of the team semifinal at GBK Istora arena in Jakarta.

The world bronze medalist's defeat came on the back of a loss to her great rival, world No. 3 Venkata Sindhu Pusarla of India, the previous day. The rubber was a rematch of the World Championships semifinal in China earlier this month, on that occasion Pusarla also emerged the winner.

"I thought if I could rally and make a comeback in the second half of the match (against Tunjung) I would have more leeway, but I was forced into a tight one all the way to the end," said Yamaguchi.

Going into the semifinal, she said she had been having difficulties adjusting to the strong air-conditioning in the venue, a common complaint in a sport in which any random gust of air can affect how the feather-light shuttles fly.

"Sometimes I could nail a smash and break down her game but the shuttles did not fly as I had hoped," Yamaguchi said.

With a raucous, partisan Indonesian crowd very much behind her opponent, Yamaguchi admitted the moment, and the crowd's support for Tunjung, added to her troubles.

Tunjung "seems like a type of player who can feed off the energy of the crowd. My style of play, on the other hand, became passive," Yamaguchi said.

Despite Yamaguchi's loss, Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota won the subsequent doubles rubber 2-0 (21-13, 21-12), Nozomi Okuhara came from behind to win the second singles match 2-1 (19-21, 21-4, 21-10) and Misaki Matsumoto and Ayaka Takahashi the deciding doubles 2-0 (21-13, 21-10) as Japan booked a meeting with badminton powerhouse China on Wednesday.

"I just want to make sure I will contribute tomorrow," said Yamaguchi.

Okuhara threw her support behind Yamaguchi, saying her singles win could be attributed to Yamaguchi carrying a heavy load.

"Akane has been playing as the No. 1 singles player throughout team event, and that puts incredible pressure on her. I saw her fight to her full potential in her match, so I aimed to support her by getting the job done in mine," said Okuhara, who rallied to beat Fitriani Fitriani.

Japanese women's badminton is on a roll, having two players -- Yamaguchi and Okuhara -- in the singles top-10 and three of the top-five ranked doubles pairs. The team claimed its first Uber Cup team championship since 1981 in May, defeating China in the process.

At the world championships, Japan claimed three medals, including Yamaguchi's singles bronze, and gold, silver and one of the bronze medals in the women's doubles.

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