By Ian Ransom
LONDON (Reuters) - China started the process of restoring their battered badminton reputation following a match-throwing scandal by winning the women's singles and doubles gold at the London Games on Saturday, while Denmark struck a rare blow for the West.
It was also a banner day for India, with Saina Nehwal winning her country's first Olympic badminton medal by clinching bronze after her Chinese opponent Wang Xin retired hurt.
China were rocked by the disqualification of their world champion women's doubles pair Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli, who were among eight athletes kicked out of the Olympics this week for playing to lose their matches with the aim of securing more favorable paths in the knock-out rounds.
But for the players left in London it was business as usual as China have swept all three titles so far and taking finalists into Sunday's singles and doubles deciders.
Zhao Yunlei, who took mixed doubles gold with Zhang Nan on Friday, celebrated her second gold when she partnered Tian Qing to win the women's doubles.
Zhao said the team disqualifications would motivate them to an unprecedented sweep of all five Olympic badminton titles.
"Yes, I believe so," she told reporters. "China's badminton team is a great team. No matter whether it's an encouragement or a challenge, it will bring us even closer together and bring out our best game."
Top seed Wang Yihan and third-seeded Li Xuerui did their bit to restore the team's credibility by playing out an epic 78-minute classic that enthralled the packed crowd at the 4,800-capacity Wembley Arena.
Li survived two ferocious comebacks to upset the reigning world champion 21-15 21-23 21-17 and cap her stunning rise to the pinnacle of the sport.
Until a few weeks before the Olympics, the soft-spoken 21-year-old had no idea she would be taking a plane to London and only qualified after roaring to a 30-match winning streak in the leadup.
"It was like a dream. It's not for myself, it's for the whole Chinese team," Li told reporters after acknowledging ecstatic home fans with a military-style salute.
"Wang is physically stronger but because she is the top seed she probably had more pressure ... Because I'm younger, perhaps I'm less afraid of losing and had more guts."
The disqualification of Yu and Wang, two South Korean teams and an Indonesian duo shook up the women's doubles draw, but it was almost inevitable that it would be China's number two team Tian and Zhao that clinched it.
They hammered Japan's Mizuki Fujii and Reika Kakiiwa early then saw off a fierce challenge to secure China's third badminton gold with a 21-10 25-23 victory.
Denmark's Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen overhauled South Korean second seeds Chung Jae-sung and Lee Yong-dae to reach the final of the men's doubles.
The West's last hope of a gold medal, Boe and Mogensen prevailed 17-21 21-18 22-20 in an 83-minute marathon that prompted a standing ovation from the crowd which included crown prince Frederik of Denmark.
That set up a mouthwatering gold medal decider for the closing day on Sunday with China's world champion pair Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng, who lost the 2008 Beijing final to Indonesia's Markis Kido and Hendra Setiawan.
India's Nehwal rode her luck to the bronze medal when second seed Wang Xin fell awkwardly at the end of the first game after bringing up game point.
After having her knee strapped, Wang hobbled back out onto the court, blasted a smash to seal the first game but conceded the match 21-18 1-0 after the next point.
"It's always going to be Saina versus China," said the fourth seed, the only non-Chinese player in the semi-finals.
"It's sad, of course, but I was very confident that in the second game I could pull it off. Maybe she said: 'Maybe I don't want to play'.
Wang complained she had slipped on some sweat which she had asked to have swept off.
"I raised the issue two or three times but the referee would not allow it," she said.
Malaysia's Lee Chong-wei will seek revenge in Sunday's singles when he plays China's world number one Lin Dan, the man who thrashed him for the gold at the Beijing Games.
(Editing by Alison Williams)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2012. Check for restrictions at: http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp