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Badminton: Olympic champ Li survives first-round scare at Japan Open

China's Olympic badminton champion Li Xuerui survived a scare in the first round of the Japan Open on Wednesday as she battled from behind to beat world junior champion Akane Yamaguchi of Japan.

TOKYO: China's Olympic badminton champion Li Xuerui survived a scare in the first round of the Japan Open on Wednesday as she battled from behind to beat world junior champion Akane Yamaguchi of Japan.

Her compatriot Lin Dan, who has two Olympics, five world and five All-England titles under his belt, made a solid start in the men's first round by beating fellow Chinese Xue Song 21-15, 21-18, in his first event in the top-flight World Superseries since March 2012.

Men's top seeds Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia and China's Chen Long advanced to the second round.

Lee, the world number one and defending champion, breezed past Taiwan's Shih Kuei-chun 21-15, 21-13, and second-seeded Chen beat Thailand's Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk 21-16, 21-18.

In the women's first round, top-seed and world number-one Li needed 65 minutes to tame Yamaguchi, a high school student who won last year's women's title.

She eventually took the match 17-21, 21-19, 21-18.

"Yamaguchi is good at picking up the shuttle and fighting on. But at times she suddenly turns offensive," said 23-year-old Li.

"She played so well that she wore me out and made me sit on the floor during the match."

Li, competing for the first time in the Japan Open, allowed Yamaguchi to take a 20-12 lead after a 4-all tie in the first game.

Li's fightback stopped at 17-20.

Yamaguchi, 17 years old and ranked 62nd in the world, who fought through the qualifying round on Tuesday, jumped to a 7-3 lead in the second game.

But Li, the 2013 Superseries Finals champion who has won the Malaysia Open but finished runner-up in three more Superseries events so far this year, caught Yamaguchi at 8-8 and they swapped the lead to 19-all. Li went on to take the next two points.

Yamaguchi struggled after taking a 5-1 lead in the deciding game. After 9-9, the two shuttlers went tit-for-tat to 17-17. Li surged ahead to 19-17 and took advantage of her serves to win the match.

"Although I lost, I enjoyed myself and I could play my kind of game," the teenager said. "I did not lose easily and it made me confident."

In the second round on Thursday, Li will face Eriko Hirose of Japan.

Another Chinese star, second-seeded Wang Yihan, whipped Canada's Michelle Li 21-11, 21-17 in the first round. Wang, the 2011 world champion and the runner-up to Li Xuerui at the London Games, takes on Japan's Sayaka Takahashi in her next match.

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