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Greysap Redux: Polii & Rahayu Are Back

“…we still have a lot of work on ahead of the Olympics…” Greysia Polli

Greysap’s victory in the Women’s Doubles final at the Indonesia Masters was sensational. In an emotionally charged Istora the home crowd roared the fight to it’s climax. Fruergaard & Thygesen held match point at 20-19 after three punishing sets. Polii and Rahayu refused to give in. Again the Danes held match point at 21-20 but for a second time they would not concede. The Indonesians suddenly found some last bursts of desire and determination and sealed the win 23-21.

Celebrating the win. Screenshot BWF TV

2020 has begun well for Greysia Polii and Apriana Rahayu but there were times in 2019 when it seemed as though the partnership had run it’s course. In the first half of the year they won the India Open but they failed to build on this and did not seem to be able to dictate the course of their matches . Results were flat and there was a worry that they were using tactics that would never get them to the top of the podium. There was a palpable feeling of stagnation about their strategy and style.

At this moment we all wanted to hug them!

In August in Basle they won bronze at the BWF world championships. The QF match was a difficult tussle against CHEN & JIA who bombarded them with shuttles hit with alarming venom. It was hard to see how they would survive this gruelling game but they rejected easy options and stood their ground, eventually winning 25-23 23-21. In hindsight this tournament was a turning point. I think that because of Polii’s subsequent injury issues they had to have an honest conversation with themselves and their coaches about their future. In the past they often seemed happy ‘just’ to defend in matches but this was adding to their competitive decline. Other pairs had worked them out and a game based around long rallies, clears and defence was not enough.

Greysap’s participation in the SEA Games was odd. At the time other key Indonesian players were preparing for the World Tour Finals. However, in Manila they won Gold. Greysia Polii already held three silvers from this event with two other partners (Jo Novita & Nitya Krishinda Maheswari) but this time, with Apri Rahayu she finally got the Gold. Reports coming out of the Philippines were positive. But straight after the tournament ended they had to jump on a plane to China. They arrived in Guangzhou late, missed the Gala dinner, then never really got going at the round robin stage. They didn’t progess after losing every game. Greysap fans everywhere went into the break feeling confused. Was the SEA Games victory an anomaly?

These two are always smiling at each other and mutually supportive. Screenshot BWF TV

The first tournament of the year – The Malaysia Masters 2020 – saw them lose in the semi final to the eventual winners. There were reasons to be cheerful. And so we come to their ‘home’ tournament: The Indonesia Masters. We all know what happened next, but I want to look at how it happened because I think we have witnessed them transforming into a much sharper, more effective team.

The key to this change has been Apri. She has always been brave, aggressive, and works hard for the team. Now she has discovered something extra.

Recently Apri has been playing some XD with Tontowi Ahmad. It is a cliche in badminton that women who play XD often improve their confidence at the net for WD but I think this has happened. It must also be fantastic for her self belief that a legend like Tontowi wants to play with her. She has a focused hunger in the forecourt now. There is a drive to go and hunt for points and we are seeing great interceptions. This in alliance with the short flat rallies she can initiate with Greysia in support put immense pressure on opponents.

Their flat game has a great tempo and the sequences they can build from this put them at a competitive advantage. Both of them can execute steep smashes and they are relentless. They still have the stamina and appetite for long rallies but now Apri has improved her spatial awareness. She will change the direction of the shuttle in a rally to exploit space. Her appetite for winning the points has sharpened. Of course they are still great defenders and getting winners out of defence is a very powerful way of dominating an opponent.

The Indonesia Masters is done. There is a bigger goal that we are all starting to look at. The Tokyo Olympics is looming. The commentators are all looking at their rivals as favourites for a medal. The strength in depth of the Japanese WD pairs is such that we wonder which of them will miss out in the qualification process; CHEN & JIA are another two challengers who must believe they have a great chance of success.

I would love Greysia Polii and Apriyana Rahayu to be there in the medals, and why not? Here are two players who are so committed to their dream that they have had the courage to reshape their game. The key point is that they have changed; this makes them less predictable and therefore more dangerous. On court they are always mutually supportive, always smiling at each other, it’s obvious they have the temperament to hold their nerve when others crack. Greysia has so much experience of the elite competitions, she knows what is required and she has realised that this is it – no second chances for her now, retirement threatens. I hope we see them on that podium, I hope they stay fit, keep developing and do themselves justice. Go girls!


The moment of victory. Screenshot from BWF tv

This is a link to a blog I wrote about them around a year ago https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/04/12/a-thriving-partnership-indonesias-polii-and-rahayu/

If you enjoyed this then take a look at my article about the Minions https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/29/the-minions-indonesian-superheroes/ or this one about one of Greysap’s main rivals Fukuhiro https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/06/japans-fukuhiro-can-they-win-tokyo-gold/

©2019 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Susy Susanti: Inspirational Icon

By Ferdinan Utama

Barcelona!

That will be the first answer if you question any badminton lovers or any Indonesian about Susy Susanti. Understandable because she was the first Olympic Gold medalist from Indonesia: that victory in Spain gave the nation joy, pride and put Indonesia’s name on the list of elite countries who have an Olympic gold medal. It made the world take notice of Indonesian badminton.

The iconic moment at the medal ceremony in Barcelona.
Screenshot from Swiss TV via YouTube

Whilst the Olympic success is surely her biggest, most famous achievement, she also excelled in the other major tournaments. She burst onto the international stage when she stormed to the final of the All England at the age of 18. Her opponent was LI Lingwei – one of the best women singles of all time – on that occasion she was beaten but she turned defeat into fuel for future triumph.

England became a happy hunting ground for Susy.  Over an extraordinary five years she won the All England title 4 times; this included the last time at Wembley and the first in Birmingham. Ironically, the one she didn’t win is in the year when she won the Olympic gold.  This is more a reflection of the Chinese strength in Women’s Singles at the time rather than any deficiency on her part. In 1993 her successes in England continued when she collected the IBF World Championship Gold; the final in Birmingham was over 3 sets when she beat Bang Soo-hyun of Korea.

Although she is a Women’s Singles player, her understanding of what it means to be part of a team is exemplary.  Her commitment to Indonesian badminton has been unwavering down the years.  A great example of this is the role she has played in her country’s Uber Cup success. By the start of the 1994 competition China was the ruler of women’s team badminton: they had won the previous five editions of the bi-annual event. Indonesia’s last appearance in the final had been in 1986.  The stage was set for something extraordinary.  Whilst the Istora crowd roared, Susi won all her matches.  Buoyed by the first victory, Lili Tampi and Finarsih doubled the team lead before China’s strength in depth showed and they forced it to a decider.  That’s when two future legends squared up for the first time.  The then not yet fifteen Mia Audina beat ZHANG Ning to win the cup on home soil.  Two years later they repeated the feat in Hong Kong to retain the trophy.

Embed from Getty Images

For me, Susy is like a lionness around the badminton court.  Her cold, intimidating stare helped to unnerve her rival across the net as she served. She favoured long rallies, and her attritional style was supported by her stamina which meant she was fit enough to cover every inch of the court through her game.  She fed off opponent’s mistakes and fatigue.  She is known for her athleticism and flexibility; like a gymnast she would get low to take shots at the limit of her reach by an extreme lunge which was more like the splits.

In Atlanta she won her second Olympic medal then finally retired in 98 after the Asian Games citing pregnancy as the main reason. She was off court but could not leave badminton entirely.  Along with her husband Alan Budikusuma she established a racket company called ASTEC. She remain off court and out of the camera’s bright lights until 2008 when destiny called.The Indonesia Uber Cup team was at its lowest. They did not qualify for the 2006 competition in Japan after finishing outside of the top 4 in the qualifying round two years earlier. They only qualified to participate in 2008 because it was being hosted in Jakarta. The published target at that time was just to advance from the group, but that team was headed by Susy as manager.  With her encouragement they achieved much more than that. Not only did they advance from the group stage but they charged into the final with a never say die performance.  Badminton popularity in Indonesia, which has been dimmed since the turn of millenia, suddenly rekindled. So many people were motivated by this feat to start to play or follow badminton again.  We can still see the influence now after that final. I think the current crop of Indonesian young players is partly the result of her impact.

Susy is still the only women’s singles player to hold the All England, the Olympic and the World Championship simultaneously.    She is still the only Indonesia player that has won all the major team and individual events and that includes the Sudirman Cup.  Her achievements mean she is one of the greatest players of all time, a true inspiration to badminton players and fans everywhere.


Follow the link to this article about Polii & Rahayu https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/04/12/a-thriving-partnership-indonesias-polii-and-rahayu/ or this one about Marcus & Kevin https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/29/the-minions-indonesian-superheroes/

Featured

Review of the Year

I wanted to share some happy memories of 2019. I think it’s been a tremendous year, bursting with great shots, great games and great athletes. This is a very biased, partial view of the year and I’m sure I’ve probably missed out some of your favourites. Feel free to comment below or via twitter. We are lucky to be fans of such an amazing sport.

2019 Winners of the Yonex All England.
Screenshot from BWF TV

The Daddies have been outstanding over the past twelve months. The All England Final was an emotionally draining masterclass by Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan. At first it seemed that the calf injury to Setiawan was going to hamper their chances of the title. Aaron Chia & Soh Wuui Yik took the first set and as a ‘neutral’ embedded deep within a massive group of Malaysian fans I thought they were heading for victory. However, gradually it became apparent that the Indonesians were not going to accept silver medals. Their self-belief and tactical nous gave a vital edge and they took the deciding set 21-12; it was a dramatic, exhausting match to watch.

In isolation I would say this victory was brilliant but in the context of their successes in winning the World Championship in Basle and the BWF World Tour Final we have to acknowledge that these two are titans of the world game. I would LOVE to see them on the podium in Tokyo.

AN Se Young: the 2019 BWF Most Promising Player of the Year. In January she was ranked at 99 but by December she had risen to 9, that probably tells you all you need to know about the thrilling year she has had. As a raw talent she stunned fans with victories over Saina, Akane & Marin to win the French Open Super 750. She has no need to fear any other competitor now. She has a touch of Momota about her; patient with a great defence, she has the fitness to challenge a high tempo style and the endurance to rattle flair players. I hope she stays injury free, there is no limit to what she could achieve in 2020.

MomoGi: the rivalry between the seemingly invincible Kento Momota and Anthony Ginting has illuminated the men’s game this year.

We have witnessed some beautiful, inspiring play from Anthony and amazing stubborn resistence from Kento. As far as 2019 goes, the titles (all eleven of them) have been taken home to Japan. Momota has been immense; Anthony’s skills are fuel for his fire. Their matches never disappoint, whatever the result. 2020 will be a career-defining year for Momota and everyone has their eye on that Tokyo podium.

The English Victory Over The Danes in the Sudirman Cup: England were magnificent in this clash of the Europeans. Lauren Smith & Chloe Birch – over 3 thrilling sets – clinched it in the final match.

BWF World Junior Mixed Team Championships: I was lucky enough to get caught up in the twitter enthusiasm for this otherwise I would’ve missed a treat. Bobby Setiabudi, Daniel Marthin, Leo Rolly Carnando, Putri Kusuma Wardani, Febriana Dwipuji Kusuma, Putri Syaikah & Inda Cahya Sari Jamil – You were SENSATIONAL!

P V Sindhu with Rankireddy/Shetty. It’s been an uneven year for Indian badminton as a whole but there were two bright patches. Sindhu’s brief collaboration with coach KIM landed her the World Championship in unstoppable style. She completely annihilated Nozomi in the final with an impressive display of pressure badminton. However, she has not been able to achieve any sort of consistency to her play and has crashed out in the early rounds of tournaments; I really regret the loss of KIM, I think she could’ve got Sindhu back onto the Olympic podium, now, I’m not so sure. Satwiksairaj Rankireddy & Chirag Shetty, the winners of the Thailand Open Super 500, on the other hand, could be a good outside tip for a medal. I love their high tempo whole-hearted style.

I can’t quite believe I’ve come to the end without mentioning The Queen: Tai Tzu Ying. Of all the players competing at the moment she will always bring something extraordinary to the court. I want 2020 to be a year of incredible badminton for us to enjoy. Let’s hope that the athletes continue to inspire and excite all of us.

Screenshot from BWF TV

I didn’t even touch on the Minions. If you’d like to read more about them follow this link https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/29/the-minions-indonesian-superheroes/ and here is the blog about the World Champion P V Sindhu https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/08/25/p-v-sindhu-world-champion/

©2019 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Kento Momota

Momota has been the dominant force in Men’s Singles all through 2019, his consistency and strength are second to none.  It’s no surprise then, that after such an electrifying twelve months, his position as World #1 is very firmly fixed. King Kento triumphed over Viktor Axelson in the course of 3 dramatic games at this year’s Yonex All England Championships and in doing so became the first Japanese man to win the title. His outstanding year has earned him a total of 11 titles; it’s extraordinary to reflect that he has played in 73 matches and only lost 6.   It’s hard to pinpoint who will challenge this relentless excellence anytime soon.

Screenshot from BWF TV

The key to the left-hander’s success is his domination of the net and the forecourt which allows him to control the progress of the duel.  He is so fit he dictates the tempo of the contest.  He is brilliant at game management because he is strategically quick witted – this allows anticipation to be a significant part of his armoury.  If he misjudges his opponent’s tactics, he is electric around the court; his fast feet and lovely balance allow him to reach any area. This translates into further pressure for his opponent as they search for undefended space.  As we would expect from an elite player, technically he is very accomplished with powerful and precise shots. The knack of swiftly spinning defence into attack rushes his rivals and means he can gain more time for himself.

His superb all-round game is underpinned by his athleticism.  Lean and tall, his muscle to weight ratio gives him the perfect physique for badminton.  It’s well known that he completes additional work in the gym long after his hitting partners have showered and returned home.  A day off is a distraction from the training regime he is immersed in. He is driving himself to find that extra percentage point of fitness that can make the difference between triumph and defeat at the top level of sport.  Winning a singles match over three games can become a war of attrition; perpetual movement is all.  We have all seen collapses from cramp as players push themselves into their red zone.  Once an opponent starts to falter physically Momota will ruthlessly force the issue and gain an inevitable win.

It’s been said that he can sometimes sit back and be too passive, it’s true that he can be patient but when the time is right, he explodes into action and will seize the match. Choosing shots to keep a rival off balance – even a simple sequence to move them around the corners – means that sooner or later the opportunity will open up to win the rally; it doesn’t seem to matter to the left-hander if the rally lasts 30,40, or 50 shots, inevitably his opponent ends up running further, becoming tired and making a mistake.  He knows that opponents’ errors cost will them the match; being patient is – paradoxically – a sharp sword in his strategic make up.  He often does not need to use his full repertoire; through a competition he can perform within himself and get a good result.

Playing against Momota is like becoming trapped in a maze; whichever tactics are employed they seem to lead to the dead end of defeat.   He is impenetrable.  Alone on the court with no partner to protect him he has to be emotionally self-reliant and confident in his own decisions.  Defensively he can soak up pressure endlessly without using up too much energy.  Victory in men’s singles often rests upon stamina, mental strength, and the sparing use of explosive power to punish mistakes.

Right now, he is getting further and further out of the reach of his rivals.  His opponent at the Yonex All England 2019 final – Viktor Axelsen – has subsequently had an injury disrupted year and is only just starting to compete again at a good level.  The Dane is famous for his 400 kph smash but this isn’t enough against Momota.  In fact, the energy used for a smash can often contribute to defeat.  CHOU Tien Chen, the world #2, has endurance and mental fortitude to equal him and will always ask tough questions in a match. The adorable SHI Yuqui – the 2018 YAE champion – has also suffered from injury problems, but if he was fully fit it is arguable that he would be the player to upset the World #1. In their Sudirman Cup match this year it was Momota who succumbed to accuracy, relentless athleticism and an unmatchable will to win. 

The two best players in men’s singles at the moment: Momota & Ginting.
Screenshot from BWF TV

I think his most interesting rival is Anthony Ginting despite what the world rankings say.  Ginting’s sparkling style, his inventiveness, courage and speed push Momota to new heights.  They inspire each other but it seems that this inspiration feeds the Japanese’s ambition and leaves Anthony unrewarded. 

At the moment he is unstoppable.  Over the years his career has taken a lot of twists and turns – including an enforced absence from Rio 2016 – but now it feels as though his time for greatness is approaching.  His desire for success, his realisation that the Tokyo Olympics offers the chance of immortality, and possibly a need to make up for his mistakes in the past all give an irresistible vitality to his performances on court.  He will be arriving in Birmingham with the highest expectations – will 2020 be the year that Kento Momota cements his place amongst the legends of the game?


Here’s my recent article about Momota’s trickiest rival https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/25/anthony-sinisuka-ginting/

Here are links to blogs about other members of the Japanese team https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/06/japans-fukuhiro-can-they-win-tokyo-gold/ there is also this one about Akane https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/08/09/japans-akane-yamaguchi-hotter-than-july/ and this about Nozomi https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/04/23/nozomi-okuhara-racket-ready-for-tokyo-glory/

This is a version of an article I originally wrote for the Yonex All England website https://www.allenglandbadminton.com/

©2019 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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TAI Tzu Ying: The QUEEN

screen shot of tty from bwf tv

TAI Tzu Ying is a brilliant player; her style on court is spine-tingling. Peerless racket skills have elevated her to superstar status and she is an athlete loved around the world as the best of her generation.   Coach LAI, who was head coach of the Taiwan national team, resigned after the Korean Open to focus solely on TTY.  It is the coach’s responsibity to enable their player fulfil their potential. Beautiful shots side by side with errors in a game do not equal medals and will ultimately be unsatisfactory. We don’t know much of what happens in TTY’s training sessions but mistakes and concentration drift have cost her titles this year. This is the time to be single-minded about ambition.

2019 has seen three major tournament wins: the Danish, Malaysian and Singapore Opens.  The quality of the athletes who contest Women’s Singles competitions is reflected in this; it’s the most finely balanced and competitive of the five sectors. Matches with people like Akane, Marin, AN Se Young, and Sindhu mean there are no easy victories.  As the winner of the Yonex All England in the two previous years, 2019 saw her arrive in Birmingham as the favourite, but she failed in her bid to make it a hattrick of victories when she lost in the final to the Chinese player CHEN Yufei. History repeated itself at the BWF World Tour Finals when she lost in three sets to a determined and patient Yufei. Badminton immortality beckons but can she cement her status as one of the all-time greats?

 There is no other player on earth who can execute the shots she has; her technical skill is unmatched in the women’s game.    What is it that makes her stand apart from her peers? She is the Queen of deception.  The creative imagination she brings to her play is exquisite.  As spectators it is futile to predict where she will place the shuttle so she constantly surprises and delights us.  The variety of angles and control of pace she can achieve is quite unbelievable. Her backhand, on the turn, on the run and taken late is wonderful to see.

screen shot from bwf tv

Of course, this style of play creates huge problems for her rivals.  The psychological pressure that she exerts is immense.  Most top players build an element of anticipation into their movement on court because the earlier they reach the shuttle the more time they will have to play the shot they want.  TTY takes time away from her opponents as they can never quite predict what she will do.  Angles which may seem impossible to mere mortals pose no problems for her to create.  She likes to be on the attack and can cover the court’s four corners easily. 

Interestingly, against players like Ratchanok Intanon (who is probably closest to her in terms of style) the match often turns into a series of “anything you can do I can do better”.  The duels between these two feature jaw-dropping precision, mutual admiration and good humour.  They are both courageous players who routinely ignore the percentages and dare themselves to aim for the edge. This leads me to suspect that TTY plays mainly for the love of the game.  She revels in her skills and enjoys perfecting a shot; she will often try the same one 3 or 4 times in a match until she can get it right.

She would be invincible if not for a tendency to lose focus at times.  Often, she will win the first game but then lose her grip on the second.  Sometimes this has catastrophic consequences.  Momentum is a key feature of success in many sports; if an adversary like Carolina Marin or AN Se Young is given the opportunity to get into their rhythm it can be tough to get the initiative back.  This has been the feature of some of her losses in the past.  In this year’s final of the Yonex All England CHEN Yu Fei just would not allow TTY to get into the game; she kept the pressure and pace high and won in straight games. At the World Tour Finals it went to three games and there was the suggestion that the coin toss and the drift in the hall were key players. However, that is a disservice to CHEN Yufei who had to battle back into the match after being annihilated in the first set. CYF wrestled the direction of the game from her, then refused to return it, however hard Tzu Ying tried.

Look at the racket strings towards the bottom of the head.
Screenshot from BWF TV

She is the centre of a close-knit group of people who support her on and off court.  Her father still strings her rackets in a slightly idiosyncratic pattern, she’ll post images of herself and her team off-duty, obviously enjoying each other’s company climbing a mountain in Taiwan or out dining together.  She also shares pictures of her team working with her in the gym, preparing her body for the demands of this explosive athletic sport. She is famous for her six-pack, which she seems to maintain alongside a taste for ice-cream and French fries.

 Her spontaneous genius means she is an icon of modern worldwide badminton.  Is she the greatest ever Women’s Singles player?  Her brilliance is a joyful expression of the best of the game but I think she needs some key titles to secure her iconic status.  To land her third All England title in March would be a sign of intent, but we are all gazing at the Gold medal on offer in Tokyo.

I’ll give the last word to GEL, one of her biggest fans:

“She’s the QUEEN – That’s all you need to know!”


An earlier version of this was published on the Yonex All England website in November 2019 https://www.allenglandbadminton.com/

Here is a link to an earlier piece I wrote about her https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/07/01/tai-tzu-ying-goddess-or-mortal/ and this one about AN Se Young https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/07/08/an-se-young-koreas-sensational-17-year-old/

©2019 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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The Minions: Indonesian Superheroes

Sukamuljo – You are outrageous!

The dazzling play of Marcus and Kevin makes them hugely entertaining to watch and despite their nickname – The Minions – they are giants of the world game.  Rivals must be playing at their peak to stand any chance of winning against them; they are the essence of what we love about badminton.    As a doubles partnership these two have enjoyed outstanding success – amassing more than 20 titles over the past four years – so it was a devastating blow to their fans when they crashed out of the Yonex All England in Round 1 this year, losing to the unseeded Chinese pair: Liu & Zhang.  They are such spectacular players they have the power to write their own legend – will 2020 see them with Gold medals at the top of the podiums in Birmingham, Istora, and Tokyo?

Screen shot from BWF TV

Men’s Doubles is the turbo-charged version of the game; it demands power, skill and the ability to analyse and execute shots in a split second.  Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo are the best in the world at this.  Their reflexes are from a different dimension to most humans.  Their stunning pace, athleticism and commitment to the cause mean they have been the world number 1s for more than 100 weeks.

These two play at an incredible high-speed tempo that is very hard for opponents to match.  The sharpness of their reactions is second-to-none.  This means that they are able to exert pressure all through a game. Even when they are losing, they can usually recapture the initiative because they respond so quickly and dictate the match.  It is demonstrated very clearly when you watch them in a game against muscular, aggressive rivals – whatever the speed of the shuttle as it’s hit at them, they can handle it and send return it with interest.  Their counter-attacking ability is the way they can dig out results even when they seem to be beaten.  They are brilliant under pressure and can turn a game around at will; finding momentum and points when they need it most.  The mark of truly great players is to win even when things don’t seem to be going their way.  They will not accept defeat but keep fighting right to the end.

Kevin’s expertise at the net is what raises this partnership to sublime levels.  His energy, and precision mean that he commands the forecourt.  He is a solid wall and to break through him demands exceptional play.  Even if the shuttle gets past him it is often set up for Marcus to smash: which he loves doing, again and again.  Kevin is the youngest but it often seems that he is the senior partner.  He exudes cheeky confidence; he is so relaxed about his incomparable skill that he can take the game wherever he pleases.  There is often the feel of an exhibition match when the Minions are performing; it’s the sheer joy of the competition that brings this out.

Embed from Getty Images

Although Kevin is renowned for his flair, it’s Gideon’s work rate that builds the foundation for his partners success.   He is the more muscular of the two; he has the power to smash weak returns, and to reach the unreachable.  His clever play will wrong foot rivals at key moments in the game. It’s delightful to see him suddenly kill the pace on the shuttle or switch play cross court.   Better still is when he and his partner start pushing hard flat drives across the net.  The velocity and precision they achieve when they work in tandem with this strategy can destroy the opposition.  They feed off speed.  Their unbreachable defence consumes their opponent’s self-belief.

At the heart of a successful doubles partnership we always look for two athletes who will work hard and sacrifice themselves for their partner.  This alliance only started in 2015. These two spend hours on the practice courts, this is why they have such a great awareness of each other’s movement and strategies.   Success isn’t a fluke, it’s the result of sweat, toil and a wholehearted approach to their game.  They are renowned as diligent and conscientious trainers. I think this is why they are adored by millions of fans.   

It’s well known that earlier in the year Gideon was being targeted in matches.  The judgement that his defence was shaky probably owed more to a reluctance to engage with the unbeatable Kevin at the net rather than any major failing on the part of Marcus.  However, its noticeable that over the past few months this side of his game has improved, not just that, it would seem that his partner has been working on his rear court skills too. They don’t take anything for granted and are always striving to improve their play.

Can anyone stop them winning the title for a third time?  Their supporters are desperate to see them atone for their catastrophic 2019 R1 exits in Birmingham and Basle.  Gold at the Yonex All England or the iconic Indonesia Open would be the perfect stepping stone to Gold in Tokyo and their legendary status would be in the record books for ever.


A version of this article was first published on the Yonex All England website https://www.allenglandbadminton.com/. If you enjoyed this piece follow the link to my look at Anthony Sinisuka Ginting https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/25/anthony-sinisuka-ginting/ or this one about Tai Tzu Ying https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/07/01/tai-tzu-ying-goddess-or-mortal/

The quote at the top of the piece is from Gill Clark MBE whilst commentating on the final of the Fuzhou China Open 2019. She is an ex-player who has competed at the highest level including the Olympics, World Championships (bronze), European Championships (gold), Commonwealth Games (gold), & All England (silver).

©2019 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Featured

AN Se Young: Korea’s Sensational 17 Year Old.

AN Se Young’s victory in this years Yonex French Open – at 17 the youngest winner ever of any Superseries 750 event – confirms her status as one of the new stars of Women’s Singles. Her ability, skill and intelligence mark her out as a player who will shape the future of the game.

This young player has been under the spotlight since her Sudirman Cup triumph over world #1 Tai Tzu Ying.

Video courtesy BWF

She’s the spearhead of the new generation of players from Korea: other country’s fans look on jealously as her reputation grows after every tournament she competes in. Analysts and coaches have been enthusing about her potential for a while but it’s only recently that she has come to the attention of the wider badminton community. 2019 has been her breakout year.

ASY with coaches in the background. Pic from BWF TV

First came the win against LI Xue Rui in the New Zealand Open Final. It was a ruthless operation that set down a marker to the rest of the players on the tour. Here was someone ranked at 89 in the world who could dispatch a far more experienced opponent in two games. Watch the highlights of the game below and you see a player who has speed, vision and touch.

Video courtesy BWF

Next came Korea’s Sudirman Cup campaign and that match against Tai Tzu Ying. Everyone knew that on paper TTY was going to win – except that is the Korean coaches – who planned the tactics for AN to implement

“My strategy was to defend in the beginning of each rally and then to take my opportunity…my coach advised me to pay attention to the front and keep the rally going”

Clearly part of the plan was to use AN’s youth and energy to keep the pressure on against Tai in the style that was so successful for CHEN Yufei in the All England Championships this year. It’s too simplistic to reduce the tactics to this though; especially as we all know how much time Tai spends in the gym. If you watch the BWF video at the start of this article you can spot how powerfully AN plays. Lightening reactions allied to some brutal mid-court kills show that merciless streak that every top player needs to win. In the post match interview Tai said

“She is tall, powerful and has very good footwork on the court”

Well, frankly, that isn’t telling us anything we didn’t know already, but in an oblique way it’s telling us a lot. Here is the player who no-one has quite worked out yet, someone with star quality and plenty of shots. Remember the following day? Ratchanok came along, she put up a great fight but the Thai player was just too much. There was mental strength and physical bravery but there was also a suggestion of a weakness on her deep backhand side that May didn’t hesitate to exploit.

From BWF TV

And so we come to the recent Canadian Open: another opportunity to gain experience and Olympic qualification points. Again AN Se Young had a fairly low profile, again she progressed without much fuss, and again she won against decent opposition. She’s steadily climbing the rankings whilst getting to know how the superstars operate. We all have our views as to who will get Olympic Gold. Here is a player who has burst onto the scene, a tough rival but someone who isn’t quite the finished article. Is Tokyo2020 going to arrive a little too early on her path to greatness? There are going to be plenty of other medals along the way but I’m starting to wonder if she has her sights set on an OG medal since her triumph at the Yonex French Open. She need fear no-one; it’s for her to write the script. I can’t wait to watch her more and enjoy her achievements. Bravo AN Se Young.


If you like AN Se Young follow the link to my article about Ratchanok May https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/06/26/ratchanok-can-thailands-sweetheart-get-gold/ and also one about CHEN Yufei https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/04/03/another-sensational-player-from-china-chen-yu-fei/

I recently read an excellent article about AN Se Young on Everything Badminton – follow the link here https://everything-badminton.com/an-se-young-the-young-and-dangerous/

©2019 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Perodua Malaysia Masters 2020

There’s something extra spicy about tournaments this close to the Tokyo Olympics.

Womens Singles Preview

For me, this is the most exhilarating sector in world badminton; the calibre of the athletes outside the top seeds means that shocks and early exits are standard fare.

AN Se Young – Seeded 8
AN Se Young – Screenshot from BWF TV

What a breathtaking year 2019 was for this young player: the stand-out result had to be her victory in the final of the French Open against Marin in three sets, but there were plenty of other wins along the way. She’s a great retriever, patient and happy to keep the shuttle in play but there is also a depth of skill to her game at the net which makes it hard for a rival to intimidate her. We shouldn’t think of her as a giantkiller…she is becoming the giant! Prediction: Final

!!UPDATE. AN Se Young crashes out to Saina in R2 to set up a Clash of the Titans with Carolina Marin in the quarter final. What a performance from Saina. The 29 year old beat ASY in straight sets 25-23 21-12. I think this means that her dream of qualifying for Tokyo is still alive. Bravo Saina.

TAI Tzu Ying – Seeded 1

Every badminton fan aches to see TTY in a final. Her sensational skills are a non-stop source of wonder and joy. It’s clear that Coach LAI and her team have the podium in Tokyo as the focus for the year; each of these tournaments form a percentage of her preparation for that. Ultimately beautiful shots – in isolation – will not be enough and I think we are starting to see a realisation that cutting out mistakes and halting the drift of games when she loses momentum are key. Prediction: Final

Akane Yamaguchi – Seeded 4, and Carolina Marin – unseeded

Akane has a nightmarish R1 draw lined up against the unseeded (!) Carolina Marin. She had such a patchy end to 2019 that it’s impossible to say how this encounter will go. Carolina is back and she is hungry.

CHEN Yufei – Seeded 2

Although a lot of attention has been paid to Momota for his supremacy in the men’s singles last year, I think CHEN Yufei’s acheivements have been equal if not better. Arguably she is in a more competitive sector with more variations of style to cope with. She finished the year as World #1, seven titles and she was a member of the triumphant Chinese Sudirman Cup team. She is strategically mature, able to sit and wait or be more agressive depending on her opponent. Prediction: Final

Ratchanok Intanon – Seeded 5

May has won this title for two years in a row and is always a brave player in tight situations. This can be a high risk strategy although I love her for it. A gritty ‘death or glory’ approach means that she is vulnerable to patient players like CHEN Yufei who know that keeping the shuttle in play will eventually lead to an opportunity to score. Prediction: QF

Nozomi Okuhara – Seeded 3

Towards the end of last year I thought Nozomi was introducing more attacking play to her game. She is known as a patient retriever, and that style has been getting her to tournament finals but the issue is that she hasn’t been winning them. She has to alter the balance of her game somehow to give herself a tactical edge. Prediction: Semi Final

Gregoria,Saina,Sindhu,HE

Any one of these four could find themselves in the semi-final but they all need to find some extra sparkle from somewhere. The last twelve months have contained frustration, injury, bad-luck and poor form. What to say about Sindhu? The too-brief period with coach KIM brought a new focus and better technique; a pressure game that crushed all her opponents at the World Championships. Where has that player gone? If she rediscovers that badminton beast she can be unstoppable. Saina has also suffered through a very uneven year with a lot of disruption because of injury and, it seems to me, lack of continuity around her coaching support. Of all the top players she is the one who is in serious danger of missing qualification for the Olympics if she doesn’t turn things around soon. She has the prospect of a R2 against AN Se Young which is going to put her fitness and resolve under heavy scrutiny. Tunjung is a delightful player who just seems to find it difficult to build a momentum of good results. Her R1 game is against May which means that progress is going to be tough but not impossible. HE is consistently a top 8 seeded player without many titles to show for it and I don’t really see that changing anytime soon.

Men’s Singles

Eleven titles for Momota in 2019 and who is going to stop him dominating the Men’s sector this year as well? Technically, strategically and physically he is ahead of his rivals and we know that in the sporting arena athletes are able to remodel their game to give themselves a new edge Recently Yosuke Nakanishi (his coach) has been reported as saying that SHI Yuqi is his biggest rival. I also think that Anthony Ginting – possible quarter final opponent – and Anders Antonsen are dangerous. Within the context of this tournament it is SHI’s recovery from last year’s injury that is crucial; if he is back to full fitness the combined challenge to Momota from the other seeds as he progresses through the competition will give him a good test.

Conclusion

It’s Olympic Year and suddenly every competition seems a little more significant; not only in terms of qualification but also to read the clues as to who could be destined for Gold. Tokyo seems so near and yet there are plenty of tournaments and dramas to enjoy before that. Momota is secure at the top of his sector for now, however the contrast with the woman’s sector couldn’t be clearer. The depth of talent in the woman’s game means that no player is able to dominate. It’ll soon become clear who is starting the new year at a run; sporting momentum is important and the skill of seizing a victory then building on it is crucial. Who has the hunger to succeed?


If you enjoyed this preview here is my recent in-depth look at Momota https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/12/27/kento-momota/ and this one about AN Se Young https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/07/08/an-se-young-koreas-sensational-17-year-old/

©2019 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Chinese Men's Doubles

China is traditionally one of the powerhouses of world badminton. There have been times when their players have been able to totally dominate tournaments and yet now, if we look at the portfolio of athletes there are some vulnerabilities. In Men’s Doubles particularly, there is such a depth of ability in other countries – for example from Indonesia and Japan – that I think they will struggle to make an impact in Tokyo unless changes happen. The coaching setup is second-to-none and when it was announced back in September that for the first time they had signed up non-Chinese coaches (Kang Kyung Jin and Yoo Yong Sung from Korea) there was an implicit admission that improvements were needed.

These are some of the thoughts of Daniel DM who looked at the key pairs in the sector

LIU Yuchen & LI Junhui – Current Status: World #4
LI/LIU at the Macau Open 2019.

The 2018 World Champions have been partners since they were juniors and back in 2017 briefly achieved world #1 status. They are two tall hard-hitters who can find a lot of attacking power. They prefer to play at a fast pace but they have the ability to vary this when they meet highspeed opponents; so for example they will slow the tempo to frustrate Kevin and Marcus when they face them. Yuchen has great net play: his height allows him the advantage of a long reach so passing him is tricky. He can often seize control of a rally right at the start by his flat, forceful serve returns. Junhui’s strength can penetrate walls, so his muscles are a massive asset in any game. Unusually for such tall men they are light on their feet with very smooth movement and good spatial awareness.

There are some weaknesses. They can break super defensive opponents, but sometimes it doesn’t work. For example, at the World Tour Finals in 2019 LI/LIU became very frustrated when facing Endo/Watanabe and it had an impact on their gameplay. Their shots became monotonous and lacked variation. They tried smashing but of course – in that super slow hall – it didn’t work. The Endo/Watanabe counter-attack could destroy them easily. They also can struggle with an effective response to flat, fast shots that come just over the net. Rankireddy & Shetty have used this strategy against them and they can, on occasion, find it hard to escape that trap once momentum has turned against them. However, they are both gritty fighters who can cope with pressure; in the final of the 2018 Thomas Cup we saw them hold steady and defend two match points before converting one of their own to gain victory for the Chinese team.

HAN Chengkai & ZHOU Haodong – Current Status World #11

Winners of the BWF Most Promising Player award in 2018 these two really rose to prominance in that year. They are fierce and love to attack; if an opponent tries to match them they feed off speed and can boss the game. Surprisingly over the past year their defence has become a little fragile, but they have a strong defence in a slow hall, with fast pace. A MD pair like Kevin/Marcus have a hard time beating them. But for pairs that are patient with a strong defence (like Kamura/Sonoda, Astrup/Rasmussen & Boe/Conrad) they can lose; rivals have to control the tempo and then they are more vulnerable.

HAN/ZHOU in Odense
HE Jiting & TAN Qiang – Current Status World #15

These are a really fascinating duo because they don’t fit the usual pattern of Chinese MD. I have noticed that they play at a different tempo to the others, they are not so quick, more moderate and so this allows them to play a more tactically varied game. They bring more to tournaments than the MD standard of hard smashes and fast movement. They have an effective dropshot and are good allrounders. HE also plays mixed doubles with DU Yue and I believe that this influences his style; he is good at covering his partner defensively from the rear court.

DI Zijiang & WANG Chang – Current Status World #33

The upcoming juniors play at a high tempo with fast reactions and plenty of power. Their style has a lot of agility, they are happy to chase and put pressure on their rivals. It’s going to be fascinating to see them step up into the senior ranks; they need to improve their defence but they have time to work on this.

Conclusions

There are two phrases that keep cropping up: fast and powerful. These are the skills that we traditionally associate with Men’s Doubles but on their own they are not enough. With all the resources available to the elite players in China we should see them challenging more consistently for the top positions on the podium. What does 2020 hold? It’s going to be exciting finding out.


If you enjoyed this take a look at this article about the Minions https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/29/the-minions-indonesian-superheroes/ or this one about CHEN Yufei https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/04/03/another-sensational-player-from-china-chen-yu-fei/

HSBC BWF World Tour Finals: Mens Preview

The season’s climax and a perfect chance to see the best of the best battle it out for glory. All year, the men’s sector has been dominated by Momota in singles and the Minions in doubles but they are not unbeatable. After countless matches in eleven months of tournaments these athletes must be feeling weary; this may be an opportunity for a title-hungry rival to spring a surprise.

Men’s Singles
Screenshot from BWF TV

Kento Momoto has been the standout player all year. Ominously, for his rivals, he seems to be winning without competing at full stretch; his patience and endurance have been key to his success. The left-hander’s control of the net and pace around the four corners mean that any potential challenger has to be prepared for a long and lonely battle in Guangzhou. However I do not think that gold is inevitable. At the same tournament last year, by his own assessment, he started in an ‘easy’ round robin group but lost in the final to SHI Yu Qi. It’s intriguing to consider how he may cope with being in a tough group; the relentless intensity on top of a hard year could push him.

Anthony Sinisuka Ginting can often be an exasperating player to support because his results are so inconsistent. This is a harsh assessment of a sportsman who I love to watch; his racket skills and speed are exceptional and this is why I consider he has underachieved in terms of gold medals this year. He was the victim of a brutal umpiring decision at the Hong Kong Open but ultimately he must seize chances when they come along. Can he get to the podium? Emphatically yes. Will he get to it? Hmmm…Jonatan Christie has been improving all year and compared to ASG seems able to maintain his concentration so he could be the more suuccessful of the two.

Anders Antonsen’s game has reached a new standard this year. His progress means he is a genuine contender in every tournament. His strength and conditioning, the accuracy of his shots, his net play – all these components of his game have been raised a notch or two. He can beat anyone in this competition. Denmark’s other representative, Viktor Axelsen, has endured an injury/allergy disrupted few months and is only just getting back to full fitness. This could give him an advantage, as he should be fresher after missing a few months of the energy sapping tour.

CHOU Tien Chen‘s standout victories this year in the finals of both the Indonesia & Thailand Open show what a tough man he is to beat. That steel should give him a small advantage in the lonely intensity of a match. His epic encounter with Momota in the final of the Fuzhou China Open (which he eventually lost) showed great strategic fluidity. Initially an attempt to match KM’s game of attrition failed so he switched to a more aggressive stance in the second set; the deciding set went Momota’s way but he was seriously troubled. It would be fantastic to see a similar blockbuster. His compatriot WANG Tzu Wei is not a player I have watched much, however he is coming into the tournament after his triumph in the Syed Modi; that will give him confidence he can ruffle some feathers in the group stage and then anything can happen.

CHEN Long’s motivation often appears a bit wobbly and many people have pointed to his 2016 Olympic Gold success as a reason. We have an athlete whose attention can be elsewhere but who can be a determined, competitive player, it is hard to predict which version will arrive in Guangzhou. Home advantage may carry him through but his focus must be 100% otherwise I don’t think he will be on the podium.

Men’s Doubles – A Brief Overview

Kevin and Marcus have been in sensational form and it would be a brave blogger who would bet against them winning this.

My only doubt is around tiredness and niggly injuries. They have played so many games this year. Kevin loves to perform when the pressure is highest, in part this gives them a small vulnerability at the beginning of tournaments, but here,on the big stage, and straight into the heat of the round robin there should be enough going on to engage his attention. The Daddies, Kamura/Sonoda, Watanabe/Endo, and LI/LIU could all pounce if they falter. Of course there is also LEE/WANG, LU/YANG, & CHIA/SOH to consider; they may make an impact but it’s going to depend on the groups – who plays who – if a pair gets a lucky break this could be a sector with a big upset. No-one is entitled to win this, however brilliant they’ve been all year.

©2019 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

HSBC BWF World Tour Finals: Women’s Preview

It’s been a year of sensational results in the women’s singles sector; now we are at the much anticipated season’s finale. The round robin format at the start means that the intensity will be focused from the first game so hold on tight for a tournament of dazzling skills and thrilling contests.

Women’s Singles
Screenshot from BWF TV

TAI Tzu Ying‘s supporters have been eyeing this tournament with a delicious mixture of anticipation and fear. No other mortal can play like her, she is an artist with her racket and consistently plays at a creative level beyond most rivals imagination. Although she has won three tournaments this year (Denmark/Malaysia/Singapore Open), none of them were at Super 1000 level. Recently, coach LAI has resigned his role with the national team to focus on her and there does seem to be a subtle shift in outlook. A victory here would settle the nerves a little as we head towards the Olympics. Prediction: Semi-final (but my heart wants her in the Final).

CHEN YuFeiis NOT the WTF female player of the year, however she has the knack of converting appearances in finals into wins – it’s a great skill – since winning the All England back in March she has added 5 more titles and been a part of the Chinese team who won the Sudirman Cup. She can counter any opponents style of play and has to be favourite for this title, especially as she may feel she has something to prove to the WTF now. It would be a shock if she were not in the final.

Ratchanok Intanon is always a contender. Brilliant technical skills (matched only by TTY) and a gritty never-say-die attitude get her to semi-finals and beyond. From her IG & FB posts it seems to me that she is putting a lot of work in at the gym to improve her endurance in matches. I think if the arena suits her and she gets a good start then she could grab Gold but realistically it’s probably going to be a Semi-final.

Akane Yamaguchi has had a year of contrasts. Her achievements in July were magnificent: triumph over P V Sindhu in the final of the iconic Indonesia Open was followed by the Japan Open title. These results contributed to her World #1 rank. But from August onwards she has endured a miserable few months with numerous injury niggles and shock exits from tournaments from unseeded opponents. Never mind, she is a superb player; it would be wonderful to see her progress beyond the round robin.

Nozomi Okuhara is one of the most consistent and popular players on the circuit – her results this year have been simultaneously good, unsatisfying and heart wrenching. The puzzle is that she has got to 5 finals but lost each time. I think her game is evolving, she seems to be a little more willing to take the initiative and be aggressive. It may be that what we see is ‘work in progress’ with the Olympic podium as the ultimate goal. I hope that she finds that extra couple of percent for her game to help her transform silver to gold this time. Prediction: Final

Busanan Ongbamrungphan is cementing her position as Thailand’s #2 behind Intanon and this should see her competing in the 2020 Olympics. She’s a positive, intelligent and aggressive player has taken some good scalps this year. Can she progress to the semi-final, or further? I hope the different format of the competition will do her a favour: she is usually unseeded on the tour and often has to fight her way through tricky early rounds, this time she is in the thick of it right from the start.

As World Champions are guaranteed their spot in the tournament, P V Sindhu‘s place is already reserved in Guangzhou. She is renowned as a “Big Tournament Player” – put more simply she often seems to find it hard to triumph in smaller competitions. Calamatous R1 exits or finals have characterised the past 12 months. Her recent work with Coach Kim has been very successful but it’s come to an end now. Can she defend the title she won last year? Perhaps, but she cannot afford a slow start.

HE Bing Jiao: A highlight of the year was seeing her keep her nerve to end her 3-year gold drought and win the Korea Open. She has the skills to do well but in the context of a very competitive sector she often fails to land titles.

Only eight players can qualify to attend from each sector (& eight teams from the doubles disciplines). There will be no room for AN Se Young; the new kid on the block has earned some astonishing results in the second half of this year but overall she has not done enough to be eligible to play. Michelle Li is another notable absentee but is a player who is going to have a great 2020.

So this is a clash of the ‘best of the best’ in the singles sector. At the time of writing the groups haven’t been announced for the round robin stage of the competition and it’s possible this will have an impact on the progress of a player. It’s been a long season with lots of shocks, beautiful shots, and plenty to enjoy. It is hard to predict how much tiredness and niggling injuries are going to influence everyone’s performance but all of these athletes deserve our admiration for their commitment to the sport we love. We are privileged to have witnessed the 2019 campaigns of these players & may the best woman win!


Women’s Doubles: A Brief Overview

The women’s doubles sector has been dominated by pairs from Japan over the past year as their training programme peaks in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics. Fukuhiro have enjoyed a distinguished year and are many people’s favourites for the end-of-year gold. They are a model doubles pair with a great understanding of each other and magnificent defensive wall; however they are not invincible. The second Japanese duo Matsumoto/Nagahara arrive in Guangzhou as World Champions so it’s not hard to expect them on the podium at the end of the tournament.

Heartbreakingly Matsutomo/Takahashi – who won the title in 2018 -will miss out on the trip to China because only 2 pairs from each country are allowed to compete, regardless of their position in the rankings. As an aside, this will be a live issue in the run up to the Olympics as well. It is a very hard rule to like.

This part of the tournament has terrific athletes with no obvious weak candidates. KIM/KONG are very dangerous: the Koreans have the technical skill at the net to dissect any challenge and it seems irrelevant to point out that they have not played together for very long. The winners of the 2019 All England – CHEN/JIA – seem able to power their way through most encounters; their swift reactions and willingness to attack gives them the advantage in some ‘fast’ arenas. To be honest I haven’t seen much of their compatriots, DU/LI, the second Korean pair LEE/SHIN or the Thais Kititharakul/Prajongjai but the stats speak for themselves – they haven’t reached Guangzhou by accident. Polii/Rahayu have had a lacklustre few months since winning bronze at the World Championships in Basle. We know that Greysia has had an injury that hampered her so this could be a difficult competition for them to progress in.

Like Women’s Singles this is a very competitive line up with no obvious front runners. I think that CHEN/JIA are my favourites for the title; I’m basing that assessment on their performance at the All England Championships this year that I was lucky enough to watch live. Their speed and strength were breathtaking and so this, plus home advantage, I think will propel them in the direction of the podium. I can’t wait for the competition to begin.


©2019 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved