Sri Lankan upsets 8th-ranked Tago
A Sri Lankan who has been on a world tour of badminton's backblocks for 10 months pulled off the first major upset in the London Olympics by eliminating eighth-ranked Kenichi Tago of Japan 21-18, 21-16 on Monday.
"This is the biggest win in the history of Sri Lanka badminton," Niluka Karunaratne said with obvious pride.
Like the Wangs, the top eight men's seeds drew only one opponent in their groups, virtually knockout matches to make the last 16. But nobody expected the exit to be shown to Tago, who was tipped to be a medal contender as he was an All England finalist in 2010 and semifinalist this year.
"I am very sorry for my family and my supporters," he said. "I need to sort out (in my head) today's problems."
Bolstered by knowing he's always the underdog whomever he plays, Karunaratne said he was relaxed before meeting Tago for the first time. Midway through the first game he began to realize Tago was no quicker than him. Karunaratne was also outlasting Tago in rallies. The near-capacity crowd in Wembley Arena roared when Karunaratne took the first game.
"I don't know why the crowd was cheering for me but it was a great feeling," he said.
In the second game, Tago, who relies on his fitness to retrieve shots and turn defense into attack, looked increasingly flat-footed. The points became easier for Karunaratne, who finally won on his third match point, on attack. He dropped his racket, pointed to his father and mentor Louvie in the stands and thumped his heart three times.
Then again, he's in the best form of his life - has been since October when he began traveling to qualify for the Olympics at his third attempt. He won his first international title on his father's birthday in Puerto Rico last November, and picked up more titles in Miami, Wales, Uganda and Iran. His ranking shot up from the 160s to a Sri Lanka-best ever 47.
In the last 16, Karunaratne is likely to face a friend, 10th-seeded Nguyen Tien Minh of Vietnam.
"I can get another win," said Sri Lanka's flagbearer in the opening ceremony.
Four hours later, the eighth-ranked woman was also sent home. Sung Ji-hyun of South Korea lost to Yip Pui Yin of Hong Kong 21-18, 23-21 just a day after her 22nd birthday.
"I don't feel so happy anymore," Sung said.
Lin Dan opened his bid to become the first man to successfully retain the Olympic singles title when he outclassed Scott Evans of Ireland 21-8, 21-14, conceding nine points less than when he beat Evans en route to winning the world title in the arena last year.
Women's world champion Wang Yihan opened her first Olympics with a 21-8, 21-16 win over Michele Li of Canada, and No. 2-seeded Wang Xin beat Rena Wang of the United States 21-8, 21-6.