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Japan’s TakaMatsu: Ayaka Takahashi & Misaki Matsutomo

The quest for badminton glory has come to an end for one of the greatest Japanese WD pairs ever.  When Ayaka Takahashi announced her retirement earlier this year she ended a partnership of 13 years.  The glittering bond between her and Misaki Matsutomo has been forged during a wonderful journey to the pinnacles of sporting success.

The Golden pair of Japanese badminton are loved by millions of fans worldwide.  Their story begins before the London Olympics.  They played together in High School; but as far as 2012 was concerned whilst their compatriots prepared for those Games they continued with their routine.  After 2012 they started moving up the rankings but as players, they were incomplete and still learning their trade. After a sequence of defeats, it was suggested that they could not withstand pressure but Matsutomo later reflected that it was the experience of losing that made her the competitor she turned into.

One of the characteristics I admire is their ability to evolve over the years: it is at the core of their success.  In this article I’ve tried to illustrate this whilst celebrating some of the highlights of their glorious career.

Uber Cup Final 2014

This was the beginning of the TakaMatsu legend.  It was obvious that they had made significant alterations to their patterns of play. The underpinning of any WD pair is reliable defence – naturally this was still in place – but they had transformed themselves into shuttle-hunters and their rivals could not equal their aggression and determination.  With Takahashi patrolling behind her partner, Matsutomo was released to create chances from the net that they both snapped up eagerly.  Incredibly, after winning the first 21-18 the Japanese pair were towelling down in the interval of the second 11-1 up.  Even as they dominated the second half the commentary team started to speculate whether a Chinese comeback was on the cards.  It wasn’t.  Match won 21-18, 21-9.

2016:  Annus Mirabilis

Seven titles were collected in 2016 including the Yonex All England.  It is difficult to pick just one game but the Rio Olympics was where they took their place amongst the immortals.  The final against Pedersen and Juhl was terrific: set one was scrappy but the Danes took their chances and closed it out 21-18.  In Set 2 the momentum began to shift because Takamatsu improved their attack strategy.  Matsutomo’s work at the net and mid-court was crucial: she exploited the weaknesses of the Danish left/right combination and started getting traction by executing some punchy, flat drives.  In combination with Takahashi’s hard work at the back they were able to create space in the opposition’s court where they could score points.  All square 21-9.

The start of final set gave us some long draining rallies alongside the ‘shuttlecock incident’ at 10-9.  Juhl’s frustration and annoyance at being denied a fresh shuttle boiled over when she brushed away Matsutomo’s racket.  I often wonder what went through Misaki’s mind at that point – I like to think that an imaginary switch was tipped in her brain – but on the surface she remained calm.  The points stayed balanced: 12-12, 14-14, 16-16 because neither pair could impose themselves.  Then suddenly the Danes were 19-16 up, 2 points from Gold.

In an extreme situation defiance is a better strategy than submission.  This was Matsumoto’s moment.  Born of utter confidence in her partner and her own ability she was decisive and swift.  Like all true greats she discovered another level within herself.  With brilliant vision and movement, she refused to lose; together they created five opportunities to score and she executed the chances.  GOLD.

WTF 2018 Final against LEE & SHIN

This is another milestone match.  It’s fascinating because it shows that their style is still progressing.  They have embraced the philosophy of creating attack from defence and this is what enables them to generate pressure from all over the court.

In this match Ayaka is still putting in huge amounts of physical work and it’s striking that her defensive lifts/clears are crucial but she has refined them since 2012.  Now they are mostly aimed for the corners, making space and opening the opponent’s court up so that they can implement attacking combinations.  This is synchronised with Misaki’s beautiful precise net play so they can both get chances to block and push the opponent’s shuttle back to the mid-court when they are under attack.  This resilience is hard to break.

In the second game LEE & SHIN have levelled at 20-20 and we’re starting to look at a third and deciding set.  It’s a classic Matsutomo moment.  Her resolve and focus drive the pair to resist Korean momentum, two points and job done, another title won.

TakaMatsu won Japan’s first badminton Gold at the Rio Olympics and Japanese women’s badminton has achieved staggering success in the years since.  With their endless achievements it’s impossible to do them justice in a short article.  We’ll miss them but they will not be disappearing from view. I’m excited at the idea of Matsutomo in mixed doubles and Takahashi was in the commentary box at the Danish Open…imagine Ayaka commentating on her old partner’s games next year. They have been inspirational athletes with a golden legacy.


Lots of people gave me ideas and contributed suggestions whilst I was writing this. I’d like to mention the badminton Twitter community including: Stefany Monica, Ulfa, Mongnoona2, MarieLgvl, Rakisdianrd, Kantaphon Wangcharoen, Lavern, Aakash Joshi and a big shoutout to @birdjapansuki, a great resource for anyone interested in Japanese Badminton. Sorry if I missed anyone – DM me and I’ll add you!


If you enjoyed this then take a look at this article about Japan’s Olympic hopes https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/11/01/japans-olympic-hopes/ or this one about Nozomi https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/05/15/nozomi-okuhara/

©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Japan’s Olympic Hopes

Writing from the depths of lockdown life – where many of us find it difficult to jettison our pyjamas much before midday – it’s incongruous to imagine the elite athletes who are sticking with their pre-covid routines and dreams.  But these are the times when we truly see players mettle.  Commitment to reaching the Olympic podium won’t be switched on or off according to whim: it’s a vow made in childhood and it has to be honoured.

Who can maintain an edge?

The genius at the centre of the Japanese badminton world is coach PARK Joo Bong. As a player he described himself as ‘greedy for Gold’. His XD Gold at the Seoul Olympics – when badminton was a demonstration event – plus his MD Gold in 1992 at the Barcelona Olympics confirm his place amongst the game’s greats. After retirement and some coaching roles in England, Malaysia and back home in Korea he became head coach of the Japanese team in 2004. In 2012 there was a WD silver for Japan in London then Rio 2016 saw TakaMatsu win WD Gold and Nozomi Okuhara clinch Bronze in WS. His masterplan is designed to reach a crescendo at the Tokyo Olympics.

Badminton stumbled back to life his October.  Whilst other sports have reactivated, we have been beset by delays and cancellations.  However, the Danish Open – a prestigious Super750 event – offered the chance to gauge which players had maintained their edge.  Disappointingly it suffered withdrawals, nevertheless ‘everyone’ from Japan appeared to be ready to travel.  Flights and hotels were booked but just before the start of the tournament Denmark experienced a spike in Covid cases and club owners asked their players to remain in Japan.  Although this was frustrating for fans waiting to see the re-emergence of Momota the women’s sector still sent most of the top athletes.

Women’s Doubles The final at the Denmark Open between NagaMatsu & FukuHiro – was seen by many as a possible rehearsal for the Olympic final. The starring role of deciding who may get Gold in Tokyo was taken by Yuki Fukushima.  She was a handful all through the match.  Her consistency, precision and variations were top quality and so she defused the more attack-minded rivals.  The 2020 All England champions Fukushima and Hirota are a team with plenty of experience. Their defence is rock solid and they are all-rounders with no real weakness except that sometimes they become a little predictable.  The 2018 and 2019 BWF World Champions – Mayu Matsumoto and Wakana Nagahara – are a very sparky duo; happy to take chances and be creative when they are hunting points.  Matsumoto is a tall hard-hitter who is spatially aware and great at the net.   I used to think they have the best chance of Gold but after the DO I’m not sure.   It wouldn’t be a shock if the final was an all Japanese duel.

Women’s Singles – Nozomi was in dazzling form at the Denmark Open. Her victory over Carolina Marin in the final meant we didn’t have to suffer with her on the podium as she added to her silver medal collection from 2019.  Clearly she has continued to train hard and her play was at a consistently high level.  Already an Olympic medallist she has unswervingly said that her target is Gold in front of her home crowd. Akane Yamaguchi did not travel to Europe but is another who has big expectations on her shoulders.  Briefly world number 1 last year, the end of 2019 was disrupted by injuries.  It’s likely that despite the disadvantages of this hiatus in play she may benefit from the break to address those niggles.  The conditions at the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza are likely to suit both players so with a good draw they will be challenging for top honours.

Men’s Doubles – in world badminton this sector produces the most insanely exciting games and two of the best pairs are from Japan.  The real speed kings reside here, with the emphasis on swift reflexes, shrewd tactics and power.   The current All England champions – Yuta Watanabe and Hiroyuki Endo – have all these characteristics along with resilience, determination and courage.  There is quite a big age gap between them (Yuta is only 22 and Hiroyuki 33) and so we would have to wonder if the partnership will continue after the Olympiad, but never mind, for now they burn bright.  Yuta’s brilliant net play balanced by Hiroyuki’s strength and power from the rear court is hard for rivals to counter. They have a remarkable record against the world Number 1s – Indonesia’s Sukamuljo & Gideon, and a final between these four exceptional athletes, a repeat of the final in Birmingham is one that would delight everyone.  The second duo from Japan consists of Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda: they live the phrase ‘the fast and the furious’.  Sonoda is always bouncing on his toes, his internal dynamo just never seems to rest.  These two can dazzle with their speed and athleticism and it’s likely they will be fighting compatriots for a medal at the knockout stages in Tokyo

Men’s Singles – Momota is world number 1 and favourite for the Gold.  His net skills, anticipation and reflexes mean that his games have a quality that makes victory seem inexorable.  His psychological power over his rivals – the aura that surrounds him on court – gives him an extra weapon to use.  His mental strength and emotional self-reliance are key characteristics that will help him survive yet another delay to his date with destiny.  Who has the ability to challenge him?  The Danish Open showcased the progress of Anders Antonsen who will try to upset him.  Viktor Axelsen along with Taiwan’s CHOU Tien Chen are credible challengers too, but, all fans crave a MomoGi final in every competition, and Indonesia’s Anthony Ginting definitely has the potential to earn a medal in Tokyo. The importance of stamina and focus can’t be overstated in the context of beating Momota.  I’m confused as to who the other Japanese competitor may be.  Kenta Nishimoto made the SF in Denmark or Kanta Tsuneyama – who did not travel – could be the second player.   

Mixed Doubles – the leading Japanese pair, Yuta Watanabe & Arisa Higashino, are the All England champions of 2018 and runners up from 2019.  Arisa is renowned as an aggressive hard-hitter if she is in the rear court, so when she and Yuta find their traditional positions reversed in a match, they do not suffer too much disadvantage.  Her partner has fine technical skills and is always searching for space to score points.  They are a formidable pair but there is a risk that Yuta may be spread too thinly.

There’s no doubt that once the XXXII Olympiad starts the Japanese competitors will be challenging for a podium spot in every sector.  The standout athlete for me is Yuta Watanabe; he is an extraordinary player who competes in Men’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles.  The big question is whether he can win two events; can he withstand the physical and emotional strain that getting to the knockout stages in both would bring?  A home Olympic medal guarantees immortality and to wait an extra year before walking out onto the court at the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza must be particularly frustrating for the Japanese team.  All of us – players and fans – are eager for the sport we love to restart properly.


If you enjoyed this take a look at BWF’s article about PARK Joo Bong here http://bwfmuseum.isida.pro/library/profiles/news-317-17/ and my review of the recent Denmark Open is here https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/10/19/danisa-denmark-open-review/


©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Danisa Denmark Open: Review

“Just to be back competing is the best feeling in the world!”

Marcus Ellis

After seven months away we have been treated to a superb tournament in Odense. The joy of this competition amongst the gloom has been brilliant. There were plenty of performances to savour from new discoveries and old favourites; here is my review of the finals.

Men’s Singles: Anders Antonsen v Rasmus Gemke

Like a fairytale taking shape in front of our eyes: two friends since boyhood in a head to head in their home final. Antonsen was the higher ranking of the two but Gemke has pulled off good results against strong opponents in the past. The stage was set.

Anders Antonsen artwork by Rachel Florencia

Perhaps the first thing you need to know about this match is that neither man was able to walk unaided from the field of play. It was a brutal encounter that drained every bit of stamina from both. Gemke took the first set, he was the more composed and clever shot placement forced his advantage 21-18. Near the end of the second set Antonsen was in serious danger. Gemke’s endless work and pressure was preventing him from getting any sort of rhythmn. It was 19-19 and Gemke was two points from glory but then two errors handed the favourite a lifeline which he clutched and built upon. Antonsen closed out the final set 21-12; Gemke had given everything and could not deal with Antonsen’s variations of pace when he was already running on empty.

Men’s Doubles: Ellis/Langridge v Ivanov/Sozonov

It’s often been said of the Englishmen that they don’t enjoy getting out of bed to compete for anything less than a Gold medal. That is slightly harsh but they are definitely a pair who raise their game as they progress through a competition.

The opening exchanges saw Ellis and Langridge with the upper hand and they led 9-4 until the Russians forced their way back into the game. They fed off power, and Ivanov’s savage smash combined with some great serves allowed them to take the first set 22-20. At the interval we heard the English coach – Anthony Clarke – urge bravery because holding and lifting was playing to their opponents strengths. The second set was won after they used his advice to take the fight to the net; as it neared the end mistake after mistake from both sides disrupted all momentum but Ellis and Langridge were able to battle a way through and triumph 21-17. All square. Decider!

Chris Langridge is a player who wears his heart on his sleeve and there were times in the final set when he appeared quite dismayed by his errors. Ivanov & Sozonov had learnt from their earlier mistakes and were benefitting from a nimble strategic response. Whilst Langridge chuntered on about the state of the shuttle – getting a yellow card in the process – the Russians started running away with the set: rapidly it was 7-2 and there seemed to be no way back. Suddenly though the English duo fought back. (Langridge later said a comment from a spectator had energised him). In a patchy passage of play they managed to snaffle points and got to the interval with a small advantage 11-10. Langridge at the net had the vision and reflexes to dig out points under extreme pressure, Ellis too showed courage and stamina as they eventually seized the last set and the title 21-18.

Women’s Singles: Carolina Marin v Nozomi Okuhara

A breath-taking, intense game from both players. The tempo of the match, the court coverage and the hunger to win was magnificent. Okuhara was simply wonderful; over lockdown she has raised her game. Her speed, tactical dominance and willingness to commit completely resulted in a deserved victory 21-19, 21-17. Carolina played well but it was just not her day. She was frustrated by Nozomi’s brilliance and this time she had to settle for Silver.

Follow this link for a more in depth look at the match https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/10/18/nozomi-v-carolina-at-the-danisa-denmark-open-finals/

Women’s Doubles & Mixed Doubles

The encounter between FukuHiro and NagaMatsu could be a trial run for the Olympic final match at Tokyo 2021. If so then Yuki Fukushima holds the destiny of the Gold. She was the MVP and the driving force behind FukuHiro’s victory. Her accuracy, power, reliable serves and her skill at mixing up the pace was just too much for her rivals to oppose. There were times when Nagahara and Matsumoto were the architects of their own downfall, often too passive, they could not get the initiative and press home their attack. It was a surprise that they were not able to hit top gear but although they won the second set, the final score was 21-10, 16-21, 21-18.

The Mixed Doubles provided the upset of the tournament with the German pair Mark Lamfuss and Isabel Herttrich seeing off the Adcocks over three sets. Chris Adcock commented post match that they could just not keep up their usual attacking pace through the whole game. Lamfuss and Herttrich certainly had a much tougher journey to the final and this may’ve given them a better approach to the encounter.

Final thoughts

This was a longed-for tournament that delivered on every front. The Danish badminton authorities offered us hope that the tour can resume safely. It exceeded all our expectations. My personal highlight – amongst many – was the virtuouso performance by Nozomi Okuhara but every athlete, official and member of support staff played their part in making this a memorable few days. Congratulations and thanks to everyone.


If you enjoyed this then take a look at my article about Viktor Axelsen https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/06/07/viktor-axelsen/


©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Nozomi v Carolina at the Danisa Denmark Open Finals

Wow – we were treated to a dazzling match for the WS title at the Denmark Open this evening.   

Screenshot from BWF TV

“I’m happy! Long time no see for a title! Compared to other opponents, Marin is faster and has a harder attack. I was focussed on defence and footwork, and my feet moved very well today. Overall the match went well for me.” – Nozomi Okuhara via BWF media service

This was set up to be a thriller right from the start: Carolina V Nozomi is Attack v Defence and Noise v Calm.  A nail-biting encounter was in prospect, a match to showcase all that is wonderful about this generation of Women players.  Both have been World #1, and both were Olympic medallists in Rio.  Outstanding quality that has been waiting months to get on a court.

In many ways this tournament has been an opportunity for both players to push the reset button.  Carolina successfully returned from her cruciate ligament injury but has suffered some personal tragedy over the past months.  Nozomi had a bittersweet 2019 where she gave consistently high-quality performances but was not able to close out championship matches; she ended up with too many silver medals.

Okuhara’s path to the final – consistent straight set wins in every round – suggested she was on a mission.  Marin’s progress was no less impressive: Bei Wen ZHANG took a set off her in their Quarter Final but the Spaniard has such high fitness that it would not have dented her energy levels.   

Set 1 Carolina Wins The Toss

Right from the start it was clear that these two competitors emphatically did not spend lockdown watching tv from their sofa.  Fabulous, high tempo badminton with both players giving everything for every point.  Okuhara was in great form.  The Japanese player was using her big defensive clears to put Marin under huge pressure.  Of course, her game was far more nuanced than this.  Her court coverage was superhuman, her snappy reflexes and great technique meant that although she wasn’t hitting outright winners her strategy was getting points on the board.  Marin was hitting good shots but was being frustrated over and over again.  Although she won the toss, and chose the ‘best’ end Carolina lost the first set 21-19.

Set 2 Silver or Gold?

Both players continued to push each other to play sparkling badminton.  The tension was growing.  Carolina had to get back into the game and she knew the pattern in 2019 from Nozomi was silver, silver, silver.  What could be done?  At 4-3 there was an exchange between the two of them which highlighted Okuhara’s hunger and desire.  An exchange over the next, superb anticipation and a venomous reply taking the score to 5-3.  The BWF commentary team pointed out that Marin was not her usual self between points, she was not hustling the pace along as normal.  Did she have a worry about her stamina after so many months away from the tour? Nozomi continued to screw down the pressure and Marin was becoming more exasperated.  Whatever she threw at her rival was coming back at her.  Her only options seemed to be to try and go for the margins but this high risk strategy gave rise to more lost points.  The title was moving out of her grasp until we came to 20-15 to Okuhara.  Match points.  Danger zone for both players.  16-20 one point saved with a savage smash; 17-20 another point saved after a long rally. Then Nozomi launched an attacked on Carolina’s backhand, moving her forward and back until it culminated in a title winning smash. Game!

A magnificent encounter that highlighted everything to love about women’s singles.  Two brilliant players who went all-out for the title.  Congratulations to Nozomi and commiserations to Carolina. What a time to follow women’s badminton!


If you enjoyed this take a look at my recent article about Nozomi https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/05/15/nozomi-okuhara/

Thank you to all the players, officials and volunteers whose hard work has enabled this tournament to proceed.

©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Badminton – What Happens Now?

I miss international badminton, I miss the joy and stress of watching Anthony on court, I miss writing previews for this blog, I miss chatting about matches on Twitter and of course I miss TAI Tzu Ying.

A gathering storm: Wuhan in January then Italy in February led us to a covid-denying Britain in March.  The All England went ahead after huge efforts by everyone at Badminton England to provide a safe environment for everyone involved.  Thank God that work was largely successful albeit that there were reports that a young member of the Taiwan team had tested positive for the disease.

Walking away from the arena in Birmingham after watching TAI Tzu Ying nail her third Yonex All England title I never would have predicted that it was the last tournament I’d enjoy of any note for six months.  Six months!

So, the stakeholders in the badminton community have found themselves in some sort of limbo.  It seems to a large proportion of badminton fans that there has been no overarching strategy to protect the sport from the effects of this long layoff. Indoor sports have uniquely tricky circumstances to address but we have all seen top quality tournaments staged nationally in many countries so they do seem to be able to overcome these problems to the satisfaction of players and staff.

 No one in power has shared any sort of vision for the short-term and so we have wildly different approaches from different nations.  Of course, none of us has had to run a global sport during a pandemic before however I see some of the national associations striving to give their athletes and fans a temporary way forward.  In Asia we’ve enjoyed a series of home tournaments, notably in Indonesia, Korea & Malaysia.  The Chinese domestic league has given it’s superstars some seriously testing games and in Europe there have been demanding ‘home tests’ in Denmark.  The Taiwan Sports Authority staged a Mock Olympics in order to keep their athletes on their toes and the sports-loving public entertained.

Badminton’s reactivation was supposed to happen in October with the Thomas & Uber Cups in Aarhus plus a Danish Masters and a Danish Open in Odense.  Cracks appeared in this plan once key nations started to withdraw: Taiwan, Korea and then mighty Indonesia all citing safety concerns.  The BWF decided to trim its ambitions and has abandoned everything bar the Open. Social media channels have erupted with disappointment and criticism directed mainly at the governing body; our community is desperate to get tournaments back on the agenda but not at any price.  As an observer it is just not clear what the BWF has been doing to reassure competitors that its safety protocols are the strictest possible.

We just seem to ricochet between disappointments at the moment.  At time of writing the Open is still going ahead but with Malaysia, China, Thailand & Indonesia missing.  My thoughts go out to the Danish organisers who have been blown in the wind by events and decisions they have no hope of influencing.

So here we stand.  A weakened Open in prospect followed by 3 back-to-back tournaments in Thailand in January and then a crammed calendar in the run-up to the Olympics.  Only the sunniest optimist could see this going ahead without a hitch – the situation is so volatile.

What bothers me most about the place we find ourselves in is the apparent disconnect between the BWF and the badminton community AND the clear lack of lessons learned from other sports. We have seen others successfully implement bubble systems, tough testing regimes and hygiene protocols so why not badminton?  Players cannot be expected to stay motivated and focused indefinitely with no reassurance about their future.  Some fans may be satisfied with reruns of old matches but the majority will want new contests and so the danger is they will turn their attention to other sports which have restarted successfully like the Premier League, IPL and Motor Racing. Now is the time to have a clear vision for the short and long-term well-being of the game otherwise we risk losing a generation. Who will step up?


If you enjoyed reading this here is my acount of TAI Tzu Ying’s appearance in Taiwan’s Mock Olympics https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/08/03/tai-tzu-ying-and-taiwans-mock-tokyo-olympics/ or this one which is a fictional account of the Women’s Doubles final at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/08/27/2020-imagined-olympic-finals-womens-doubles/


©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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TAI Tzu Ying and Taiwan’s Mock Tokyo Olympics

No competitive badminton worldwide since March and I’ve reached the point where I’d be happy just to watch TAI Tzu Ying open a new tube of Victor shuttles; albeit in a new and unexpected way. And so it was with a sense of glee that I heard that the Sports Administrators in Taiwan had made the shrewd decision to arrange a Mock Olympics for their qualified athletes.

All sportspeople need the grind of training to be freshened up at times otherwise they become stale. The challenge was to find suitable opponents to play Badminton’s world #1. The tournament needed to be a worthwhile venture; something to keep TTY on her toes and give her something to think about.

Sensationally they decided to pit TTY against male players. Suddenly this became news all around the world.

“Playing like a girl means you’re a badass”

Barack Obama

In July a video was uploaded on TTY’s Instagram of some sparring against HSUEH Hsuan Yi. In the clip we see her scoring points with pinpoint accuracy down the tramlines. Her deception skills mean that she can wrong foot him at times. Crucially we do not observe his power. I’m not sure if this is because her strategy is based around denying him the chnce to smash or if for the purposes of the training session he has retired that shot. He is a very good player: six times Taiwan National MS Champion with a highest world ranking of 31. This is a tough training regime.

It is physiologically impossible for a woman to compete equally against a man in sport. At least, it is nearly impossible. Fans of 1970’s Women’s Tennis will remember the incomparable Billie-Jean King beating Bobby Riggs over three sets in a supposed triumph against male chauvenism but this isn’t the same situation at all. Here it seems that we have male and female badminton players collaborating for the good of TAI Tzu Ying and for Taiwan’s hopes for an Olympic medal.

Round 1: TTY against LIN Chia Hsuan

The game begins with TAI Tzu Ying allowed an 8 point advantage per set. It’s clear that she wants to keep him moving around – she keeps probing his deep backhand. This is the foundation of her strategy, she is trying to build shot sequences to find gaps and to test his endurance. She often scores down his backhand tramline and she takes the first set 21-19. There were times when she was falling into the trap of aiming right for the lines and giving herself no margin of error – he did profit from this.

The second set goes to LIN 21-18. When he gets an opportunity to use his power TTY can usually handle his shot; I think this is down to her great technique allied to fast reflexes and clever anticipation. When he gets through her defence it often seems to be a smash combination of left/right. He is also varying the pace and trying to keep the pressure on. She can’t quite cover the court. The net exchanges are very interesting, both of them executing some beautiful shots but a few errors from TTY give him points.

The third set is a fascinating passage of play and is, I think, extraordinarily revealing about TAI Tzu Ying. It’s clear she wants to win. She is grazing her knees while retrieving wide shots and goes into the interval 11- -1 up. Play resumes. A reactive midcourt backhand kill gets the score to 15-5. LIN is making mistakes and my feeling is that he is tired. The Queen wins the set (&therefore the match) 21-11. I think that it was her superior stamina and resilience that carried her through.

Round 2: TTY against TSAI Chien Hao

A shorter, 2 set match which TAI Tzu Ying loses. In this contest she is only given a 3 point head-start and it’s not really enough. TSAI Chien Hao is a lively opponent – not known at all on the international circuit – but by all accounts a player who spars with the national team and who is still attending University.

Despite the loss we still see some beautiful shots from TTY. In Set 1 a couple of lovely disguised XC drops. Characteristically she also keeps retrying her gentle XC net reply – really just a caress of the shuttle – until she succeeds in scoring from it after a couple of fails. At 15-16 she tried a fast, flick serve but this highlighted the difficulty with playing against a man; it was just smashed mercilessly back. Possibly my favourite shot of the whole tournament was at 2-0 during a rally when TCH tried a disguised shot at the net, it wrong footed TTY but she turned, stuck out her racket and created a magical xc reply that just gently dropped over the net. Absolute genius.

By Set 2 both players are tiring. There are mistakes interwoven with astonishing skills from the Queen but she cannot get any sort of foothold in the match as TCH’s progress to 21 points is unstoppable.

Men’s Singles has some crucial differences to the women’s game and it was interesting to consider that TTY would not really be able to use her high serve in these two games. This meant that she had to alter elements of her playing style; unrelenting pressure at the net upon her low serve was potentially an issue. The other noteworthy observation is the length of the games. The advantage TTY gained from her first male opponent starting 8 points behind should be balanced by the fact that this tended to mean each game had more points to contest. Her concentration mid-match can sometimes waver and so these games would show that this is no longer a problem.

This was a very enjoyable sequence of games for all TTY fans. Of course it offered a somewhat artificial situation but it was a lively competition that reminded us all what we’ve been missing since Tzu Ying’s triumph at the All England. Congratulations to all the competitors and thanks to the organisers.


If you enjoyed this take a look at this article about TTY https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/06/19/tai-tzu-ying-the-greatest/


©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Ratchanok Intanon: Superstar

“Sometimes to be a champion, it’s not just about the competition, it’s also about how you live your daily life”

Ratchanok May
From Ratchanok Intanon/Banthongyord Badminton School Facebook.

Anyone who loves badminton must adore watching Ratchanok’s matches.  Her racket skills are magnificent and they have been the foundation of a fantastic career.  There are countless highlights – too many to list – but becoming World Champion in 2013 at age 18, being ranked world #1 in 2016, a bronze at the World Championships in 2019 and a consistent spot in the Top 10 confirm her status as one of the most outstanding players of her generation.

May’s movement around a court is smooth and graceful; this elegance is wonderful to watch but it is also efficient.  A core strategy of Women’s Singles is movement – the urgent pressure on a rival to cover distance and direction at pace.  As she skims over the court, she exerts time-pressure on her opponent.  The nanoseconds she gains all add up to an advantage.  She often seems able to hold a shot for a split second before she pulls the trigger; this means she lures the other player to anticipate the shuttle’s destination, often with unfortunate consequences.

My favourite element of her game is her net play.  She can go toe-to-toe with anyone and emerge victorious.  Her net spin shot is delicate, precise and it often gets her out of trouble.  A typical sequence is net spin, answered with a weak lift then a point winning smash/kill from May.  There is so much complexity and technical skill to her game.  It’s a misconception that players are born with this talent; May can execute these shots because she has practised for thousands of hours and she has the imagination and tactical ability to use them effectively.

I also regard her as a courageous player – although on occasion this is a blessing and a curse.  Her precise shots mean that she has the confidence to place the shuttle on the line.  Under pressure from an opponent who ‘just’ keeps it in play – for example a strategy used by CHEN Yufei – she can sometimes be tempted to try and cut a rally short and go for a quicker point rather than play percentages and wait for a clear opportunity to score.  Some analysts have questioned her resilience as a result of this.  

The COVID crisis has been hugely disruptive to most athletes training programmes and different nations have tried to tackle this dislocation in assorted ways.  We’ve seen home tournaments in many places including Indonesia and Taiwan, and more coach-supervised training.  The people who can exit the lockdown having added to their game, rested injury niggles and refreshed their outlook are going to enjoy a significant advantage in competitions. 

May has been very clear about her goal of winning an Olympic medal.  The road to Tokyo2020 has had more twists and turns than we could have ever predicted back in January so with that in mind what are her prospects if it goes ahead as planned next year? She has not been wasting this enforced break from tournaments.  If we look at her social media posts, they are full of gym work.  It looks like she is addressing questions about her endurance.  She is always a gritty competitor who knows how to win and so enhancing her stamina is going to be one of those incremental gains that could be significant in the heat of battle.

Testing leg strength during lockdown. Picture from Ratchanok Intanon/Banthongyord Badminton School Facebook.

Ratchanok Intanon is one of badminton’s most loved players. It’s not simply due to her attractive playing style. She works hard and takes nothing for granted; her gracious sporting attitude, bravery under pressure and obvious enjoyment of life means she is a great role model for aspiring athletes. I would simply be delighted if she was standing on the podium in Tokyo next year.


If you enjoyed this you may also like to read an earlier piece I wrote about Ratchanok https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/06/26/ratchanok-can-thailands-sweetheart-get-gold/ or this article about another of my favourite players TAI Tzu Ying https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/06/19/tai-tzu-ying-the-greatest/


©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

TAI Tzu Ying: The Greatest

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Sometimes a player is more than just a player because they inhabit a unique style that captures the essence of their sport. TAI Tzu Ying is one of these people. Like Serena Williams or Lionel Messi she has that star quality whenever she competes. She is a free spirit who brings a creative exhilaration to any match.

At the YAE20 Final. Screenshot from BWF TV

When the kid from Taiwan first bust onto the international scene it was her magnificent racket skills that drew fans to her. She has the gift of being able to control time – it slows and expands to contain her talent. It is still that sensational expressive style that makes people fall in love with her but over the past decade she has added extra layers to her game. Her mesmerizing skill continues to glitter however 2020 has seen her game continue to evolve.

Tournaments at the beginning of this year have shown her address the tension between artistry and scoring points. Regular analysts had identified a tendency to lose focus midway through a match often allowing a rival to regain a foothold in the set. At the core of TTY is the power to sparkle rather than to merely play but during her campaign at the All England this year we witnessed a new element in her game – the ability to wait. The vitue of patience is a sharp weapon in badminton. The beauty of this strategy is that, in the past, it has been used against her.

I think this willingness to include new facets in her play is the sign of a great player. Developing her mental stamina alongside her prodigious gym work adds extra options when she approaches a match. There was a tangible sense in Birmingham that the time for mistakes was past; errors were reduced. Of course she is still the Queen of Deception, her magical misdirection when she is in full flow is wonderful.

In 2019 TTY sent a chill through supporters hearts when she uttered the alarming word ‘retirement’. The demands of elite sport are incredibly restrictive. The physical and emotional cost of training, competing, and international travel does not leave much time for normal life. One more Olympics, one more season and then she would finish; she talked longingly of cycling holidays around Taiwan, and of perhaps opening a school. Her instagram posts often feature her hiking in the mountains or paddling a canoe; she is obviously a person who delights in the natural world around her

None of us could have foreseen the disruption to normal life this year. With the Olympics postponed the players who keep their motivation and stay in shape will gain an advantage. There is a national competition that has been organised for elite Taiwanese athletes in August to help them review progress and sharpen their focus after this gap. TAI Tzu Ying is due to play some male rivals in order to measure herself against a tough challenge: it was decided that the available women players would not push her enough. Her victory at the All England in March was a warning to her rivals and a reassurance to her fans; the dream of seeing TTY on the podium at the Olympics is still real. This feels like a date with destiny. What a time to love women’s badminton.

At the YAE20 Final. Screenshot from BWF TV.

If you enjoyed this then read my appreciation of TTY’s win at the All England this year https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/03/23/tai-tzu-ying-the-triple-champion/ or this one https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/12/16/tai-tzu-ying-the-queen/

©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Nozomi Okuhara

Last year’s results were, on the face of it, bittersweet. Six finals and the runner-up spot each time. However, I think that when we analyse them from distance we can see and understand that she is an athlete who always demands the best performance possible from herself. To be a constant presence on the podium is the foundation of success and the margins between first and second spot are slim. Women’s Singles is enjoying the best of times, the dazzling talent in the Top 10 means that there are no effortless matches.

At the All England in 2020. Screenshot from BWF TV

Whatever tournament Nozomi Okuhara enters the honours are always within her grasp so she began 2020 with a big chance of an Olympic medal. We have had to postpone the dream of seeing a favourite player on top of the podium in Tokyo; none of us is untouched by C-19 but for an athlete who has devoted a huge proportion of her life to earning the chance to perform at the Olympic tournament it must be incredibly frustrating. She already holds a Bronze medal from Rio and she would love to upgrade it in front of her home crowd.

“The Olympic Games remains the most important target for me, especially as it will be held in Japan this time. It will be difficult but I want to win gold medal for the fans.”

Nozomi is known for her defensive style characterised by long rallies however there is so much more to her game than that. If you rewatch her victory at the All England in 2016 it brilliantly illustrates the depth of her talent. In this match it was very difficult for WANG Shixian to exert any sustained pressure upon her partly because she is so nimble and fast across the court. Her lovely racket skills, snappy reflexes and precision shots are delightful to watch and nearly impossible to oppose.

Nozomi in the AE final 2016. Screenshot from BWF

Over the years it seems as though her emphasis has changed so that the defensive approach is her predominant tactic. The pressure she exerts on a rival – because she is willing to extend a rally – means that she can feed off unforced errors. She has good stamina and this allows her to play with this strategy. The problem with this plan is that her opponents may refuse to be drawn into it. For instance when she and PV Sindhu met in the final of the 2019 World Championships she was annihilated by the Indian’s brisk aggression. Sindhu was smashing, following up, and giving full rein to an onslaught that was unmanageable.

The Quarter Final against Sindhu at this years All England was revealing. The first set was quite brutal and she lost it 12-21; in spite of that, this was not another demolition. She hauled herself back into the game and won the next two sets to progress to the Semi. I had already seen her play in Round 1 against Michelle Li and I was shocked by the power and speed she was using then. There was a point when she turned and smashed straight down the line with such venom that her intent was unmistakable.

I think the best version of Nozomi would be one who has lost patience and sharpened her sword. I love it when she dictates the match and keeps to a pace that suits her. The tempo she can play at plus her tenacious approach make her one of the best athletes on the tour. Being able to play with more bite will enhance her attack within the rally. When competitive badminton restarts it will be fascinating to see if she rebalances elements of her game. She will be one of the favourites to triumph at the Olympics, she has all the talent to succeed in her wish to earn Gold for her country.


If you enjoyed this article take a look at an earlier one about Nozomi https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/04/23/nozomi-okuhara-racket-ready-for-tokyo-glory/ or this one about Fukuhiro https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/06/japans-fukuhiro-can-they-win-tokyo-gold/


©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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AN Se Young: Korea’s Rising Star

At 17 she burst onto the BWF world tour with a tremendous victory in the New Zealand Open final against Chinese legend LI Xue Rui. This was her breakthrough moment. As she despatched the Olympic Gold medalist there was a palpable feeling of a generational shift. Better was to follow, as she became the youngest ever winner of a Superseries 750 title – the Yonex French Open – she came out on top in three sensational sets against Marin. Along the way she also collected two Super 100 trophies: the Canada Open and the Akita Masters.

Screenshot from BWF TV

AN Se Young is not the finished article but she has the skills and power to ask serious questions of any women’s singles player in the Top 10. Other badminton nations are looking on with envy because her potential is unlimited.

Analysts and fans would put her firmly in the ‘retriever’ category of players. Retrievers force their opponents to work, and work hard. She is physically robust with a puppyish energy around the court. She isn’t one of the big beasts – like Marin – but her style is a sustained, nagging pressure. She will stifle her rival by defusing attacks and then feed off mistakes when they abandon percentage play and go for winners to force the issue. It is a very tricky style to counter.

At the start of 2019 she was ranked just inside to world top 100. At the moment, while positions are frozen owing to the C-19 crisis she is #9. Here is her view about what catapulted her to the top 10.

“I changed my play style this season. Last Year [2018] my playing style was more attacking, but it used to make me more tired and burnt out easily. I decided to evolve my playing style to defend more and make it more all round. I think that has helped me this year. Now I prefer playing defence rather than attack”

From an article by Jaideep Vaidya https://badmintonnation.in/features/an-se-young-interview/

This is such an interesting self-analysis because it contains at it’s heart a paradox. AN Se Young changed her style and the result was some good successes. However, if she continues to pursue these tactics she risks stagnation. There are retrievers galore in the Women’s Singles sector and some of them are better at these strategies than she is.

A good example to illustrate this is her recent R1 match at the All England against the top seed CHEN Yufei. Both of these players have excellent all-round skills, both like to sit and wait, but only one of them could triumph and it was CYF. The problem was that AN Se Young lacked a cutting edge. She was covering the court but not hitting enough winners. She could not/would not vary her pace and most of the time she seemed unable to force Yufei into errors. The Chinese star consistently found space cross-court to AN Se Young’s forehand and gained a lot of points down this route.

She is still at the stage in her development where she is learning to win. It could be that the postponement of the Olympics will allow her to explore the areas she should use when the match is not going her way. There are glimpses of her attacking ability in every game and more experience will mean her ability to analyse and neutralise her opponents’ threat will improve. At the moment she relies too heavily on the covert menace in her style; once she includes more attacking bravado – without running out of stamina – she will have the badminton world at her mercy.


If you enjoyed this then take a look at my recent article about TAI Tzu Ying https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/03/23/tai-tzu-ying-the-triple-champion/

Here is another article about AN Se Young from the website Everything Badminton https://everything-badminton.com/an-se-young-the-young-and-dangerous/

©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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TAI Tzu Ying: The Triple Champion

On the winners podium at the Yonex All England. Screenshot from BWF TV

“After the announcement a few days ago about the cancellation of competitions, I told myself to cherish every moment on court and to play my very best”

TAI Tzu Ying to Badminton Unlimited 15.3.20

TAI Tzu Ying is adored all over the world because her are fans captivated by her genius on court and her personality off it. Is she the greatest ever? With her 2020 victory at the Yonex All England – her third title in four years – we have to salute a dazzling talent, a player who is the best of her generation, a legend.

She is the one who will light up any game with her bewitching skills. In her heart there is the need to enjoy the spontaneous pleasure of a great shot however this has co-existed with errors which have cost her titles. This tension – between artistry and efficiency – needed to be tackled. Tzu Ying arrived in Birmingham threatening retirement after the Olympics; immortality beckoned, could she focus, cut the mistakes and cement her iconic status?

Semi-Final against Carolina Marin

Marin began like a runaway train. She was loud, powerful and effective. At 10-6 she sent TTY sprawling and went into the interval five points up. Tzu Ying was mainly serving high and pulling/pushing Marin all over the court but making errors. Serve alternated between then but Marin kept her edge until it the scores got to 18-12. TTY served, Marin didn’t attempt to play the shuttle and it was called out: Tzu Ying challenged. Hawkeye called IN. This was a turning point, the shuttle had caught the line by a whisker. Marin went on to win the first set 21-19 but something had changed, the balance of power had shifted.

TTY in her SF against Marin. Screenshot from BWF TV

TTY started the second set in imperious form. She moved Marin everywhere keeping her under constant pressure and forcing errors. Tzu Ying was pitiless. Marin lost her concentration and lost the set 21-13. Third set, TTY continued with her exceptionally beautiful play. Marin’s pace and power were being dismantled by the majestic skills of TAI. Marin’s focus and game were demolished, and she lost 21-11. Marin was a gallant opponent, she said struggled with the drift but she just could not contain TTY’s brilliance.

Final against CHEN YuFei

Her fourth consecutive final at the Yonex All England and a rematch of 2019 when CHEN YuFei was victorious in straight sets. We know that when Yufei gets to a final she does not lose. Last year one of CYF’s main weapons in defeating The Queen was patience, this year the tables were turned.

“Today I kept reminding myself that I had to be very patient in order to win, because CHEN is a very consistent player and good mover. So with my style of play, there’s actually more pressure on me.”

TAI Tzu Ying to Badminton Unlimited 15.3.20

Over the week, as the intensity of the competition surged, we watched as TAI Tzu Ying simply got better and better. There was a focus and cool determination. Interestingly I think she has modified her game. Patience is a sharp weapon to add to her armoury. There were less errors because she was more precise about when she chose to launch her attacks. She was relentless in the way she attacked CYF. As against Marin she used her high serve to push her opponent back and limit her options and like Marin CHEN could not get control of the rallies. The first set went to Tzu Ying 21-19, the second 21-15; towards the end TTY was simply sensational. Her courage and mental strength made her an unassailable opponent.

She had a wonderful week in Birmingham which ended in a tremendous victory. She is a giant of the game, a sporting icon of the same calibre as Messi or Federer. What a time to be a fan of women’s badminton!


If you enjoyed this take a look at my earlier piece about TAI Tzu Ying https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/12/16/tai-tzu-ying-the-queen/

©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Yonex All England 2020 Review

This was a competition that favoured players who could keep focus and grab opportunities. There is a joy to badminton that we all recognise and these are the times when we should celebrate happiness and curate our memories of watching the greatest tournament in our sport.

“Before its 21 anything can happen”

Praveen Jordan
The moment of victory for PraMel
Mixed Doubles – Praveen Jordan & Melati Daeva Oktavianti

The XD was an unexpected pleasure this year. Top seeds fell by the wayside and we arrived at Saturday night with the home favourites Lauren Smith/Marcus Ellis facing Praveen Jordan/Melati Daeva Oktavianti for a place in the final. The first set went to form – PraMel were shrewdly pulling Ellis out of position to neutralise his threat – but in the second the Brits held their nerve, saved two match points and roared on by the crowd forced the match to a decider. Praveen is notoriously unpredictable, however the hoohah around ‘time wasting’ and ‘being ready’ which resulted in an undeserved yellow card definitely lit a flame and the last game was a more comfortable 21-11 victory. The Indonesians were quicker and cleverer and deserved to progress.

No Thai player has ever won an All England title so Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai were staring down the barrel of history. They are a strong, fast pair and this was a match for all XD devotees. It ebbed and flowed but the balance of power was decided at the net. Praveen is such an imposing, athletic partner; he reached everything, his smash was vicious so this freed Melati to damage the Thai pair again and again. Even if she couldn’t score she keep the attacking momentum. Bass/Popor grabbed the second set but had given too much and were beaten 21-8 at the last.

Winning an All England title is the mark of a special player and Praveen Jordan has now won two with two separate partners.

Men’s Doubles – Hiroyuki Endo & Yuta Watanabe

This sector was lit up by the brilliance of Yuta Watanabe. He is faster than a flash. His net interceptions, his resilience and strength were irresistable. For his partner, it was a fourth appearance in the MD final, the first with his new partner and another chance to win the title that has eluded him.

This match sparkled. Gideon & Sukamuljo – world #1 – have already won the title twice but in the last year have consistently lost to the Japanese duo. The pace was superhuman. There was little to choose between these two teams as the intensity increased. No one cracked, no one avoided responsibility, here were four athletes trying everything to succeed. In the final set the Minions trailed 0-6, at the break they had pulled it back to 9-11. Marcus and Kevin bombarded Yuta & Hiroyuki in the last points but the Japanese held firm under incredible pressure. In the end the Japanese pair won the title. They deserved to win but Kevin and Marcus did not deserve to lose. It was a priviledge to watch.

Women’s Singles – Tai Tzu Ying

The Queen is the Queen.

All of TTY’s fans must have anticipated this tournament with a mixture of excitement and dread. We knew she had enjoyed success in January with the Begaluru Raptors and it was clear she was focusing on key competition in the run-up to Tokyo 2020. Her committment and strategy were perfect and in a repeat of 2019 she met CHEN Yufei in the final. This time the honours went to the Queen. (a longer appreciation of TTY’s progress through the YAE will be appearing on this blog as a standalone piece).

Follow the link here https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/03/23/tai-tzu-ying-the-triple-champion/

Women’s Doubles – Yuki Fukushima & Sayaka Hirota

All week Fukuhiro had been focused with a quiet confidence. This match had them in dominant form with Hirota especially dazzling with her interceptions at the net. Early on they were finding space with long cross-court precise shots. Their movement around court was fluent as they continued to pressurize DU/LI and raced to a 10-4 lead. The Chinese pair were struggling to find space but they gradually slowed the Fukihiro momentum to get to 9-14.

Hirota’s competitive vision and her ability to get to the shuttle at pace meant that DU/LI could not challenge the control the Japanese pair had. Fukushima was equally aggressive and her appetite for smashing – especially XC – was significant in keeping DU/LI ‘s ambitions down. The Japanese pair secured the title in two sets and they were worthy winners.

Men’s Singles – Viktor Axelsen

Axelsen demolished the #1 seed CHOU Tien Chen in two sets. No games at this level are ‘easy’ but Viktor bulldozed his way through it whilst CTC will want to forget his error strewn match. The Dane grabbed his opportunity and after such a tricky 2019 disrupted by injury and allergies it’s fair to say he is getting back to his best.

Follow the link here to read a more in depth piece I wrote about Viktor for the Yonex All England website https://www.allenglandbadminton.com/news/in-depth-i-viktor-axelsen/

I feel that this sector was dominated by players who were absent as much as those who competed. We all know the situation Momota is in. I was astonished by the exit of Ginting and Christie in R1. I watched Ginting’s match and he simply had no answers to Gemke, he could not raise his level to get any foothold in the game. Frustratingly, another YAE passes him by.

The unseeded LEE Zii Jia was one of the stars of the tournament and it was Christie’s misfortune to meet him in R1. LEE looks hungry. He is athletic, explosive and speedy around the court – I think he may fancy his chances at the Olympics.


This year’s tournament was buffeted by external forces out of the control of the players and these, of course, will be a huge part of all our lives for the next few months. All of the athletes must, to some extent, have been affected by anxieties. Firstly, would it even go ahead? Secondly would they get home? Despite this it was drenched in quality right from the start and the right people won.


If you enjoyed this take a look at my article about Fukuhiro by following this link https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/06/japans-fukuhiro-can-they-win-tokyo-gold/

I would like to thank all the people who contributed to the competition. As well as the athletes/coaches/support staff there is a huge group of people behind the scenes including the Badminton England volunteers. I’d particularly like to mention Jan in the media centre – always cheerful, professional and kind.

©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Mix & Match: Japan

Thanks be to Yonex who have created a series of tournaments under their ‘Legends’ banner.

A team game with different rules.  A new “flight” system which allows a team of six to switch players on and off court between points.  So, to Japan first and of course hard-core fans are desperate for a glimpse of the two team captains.  The players emerge to blasts of dry ice and swirling spotlights; Momoto looks stern then his game face cracks and he waves to the camera.  The teams were announced in advance but it is still a shock to see four 15year old players – Nakagawa, Hashimura, Noguchi and Kohara preparing to play.

Kento Momota is the leader of Team Kansha whilst Akane Yamaguchi is boss of team Sixth Sense.  So, a tournament where success is based around effective tactics but not traditional badminton game plans:  no athlete holds enough flights to remain on court and win a game single handed.  It’s up to the captains to decide when to change people about over a total of five matches, 3 doubles and two singles. Potentially the best strategist should win. 

A quick photocall, warm up and then to the games.  No one can stop smiling.  Win a point – celebrate, lose a point – smile.  The happiness is irresistible.  As the cameras pan round the delight that the athletes feel while playing is clear.  It’s been mentioned before that in team tournaments the members of BirdJapan always turn up to support each other and this is another manifestation of that attitude.

THE GAMES

Sixth Sense raced into a 2-0 lead.  Akane was relishing her court time and playing some great net drops but in game three the Kansha team halted her players momentum.  Game 4 was singles and the highlight was the Momoto versus Kamura flat drive rally.  Kamura, the doubles specialist coming out on top but the tide had turned and that one was chalked up to Kansha too.  Game 5 was the decider.  Sixth Sense were being reeled in.  The classic pattern that we see in Momota’s matches was enacted here too; Kansha won after being behind.

TOP TAKEAWAYS

So, it was badminton…but not as we know it!  Who cares?  It was a chance to see some great players and some up-and-coming ones too

Akane showed some delicate touches, Momota played sportingly and didn’t just try to muscle his way to victory, and Higashino was on good form. Most of all I watched Kamura exude joy on the court and around his teammates. 

It wasn’t really possible to gain any insight about the recovery of the World #1 or how game fit these players are.  However, in what was essentially a fun exhibition match everyone acquitted themselves well.  It’s hard to say where this fits into the training programme but the nature of the games was very stop-start, so potentially making the players cope in a context where they have lost their rhythm is a worthwhile exercise but that probably wasn’t the point. It fills a gap until the tour reactivates in Thailand in January and it was entertaining from the moment the players appeared on screen.


If you enjoyed this then take a look at my article about Kento Momota that originally appeared on the Yonex All England website https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/12/27/kento-momota/ or this one about the Japanese team and the Olympics https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/11/01/japans-olympic-hopes/


©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Badminton’s Pandemic Failure

After releasing a packed calendar in May, only to be followed by over 20 cancellations we are left with only 1 event in Denmark for the rest of 2020.  The burning question is: Why has it been so difficult to restart badminton?

Initially the argument was that the more ‘domestic/regional’ nature of sports like EPL, Bundesliga, F1, NBA and UEFA lent itself to restarting first.  Moto GP and F1 – despite having previously raced worldwide – centralised themselves in Europe.  Tennis restarted followed by cycling, golf and cricket with the reasons then they were outdoor sports with lesser risk of aerosol containment and transmission of COVID-19.  But now indoor sports like squash and taekwondo have restarted.  It was then thought that with Asia being the badminton powerhouse  with many of its stars based there but the Asian hosts had closed their doors.  Tournaments in HK, Macau, Indonesia, Malaysia were all cancelled whilst we watch the IPL continuing in Abu Dhabi, the PSA tour travelling from Manchester to Egypt to HK and table tennis in Macau and China.  So, across continents, from outdoor and indoor everyone was restarting and badminton was running out of excuses.

It has become apparent that other sports have been putting in extensive amounts of time effort and money to introduce stringent protocols.  Hundreds of pages have been written and could be used to inform the creation of safe environments to enable players to return to their livelihoods.  It was reported that when BWF released their safety protocols it only left more doubts, questions and fears.  Trust and confidence in the BWF were clearly lacking.

For the last several months there have been heart wrenching stories of players with income and sponsorship woes causing some to end their careers early.  If the BWF couldn’t restart the calendar could they not have helped out the players and the member associations? 

Since April there has been a string of world governing bodies who have been providing pandemic relief. From FIFA, World Athletics, World Rugby and ATP right down to shooting and archery; federations of differing wealth have given funds. For instance, the Professional Squash Association Foundation raised $75,000 for their lower to mid-level players. Wimbledon – one of the few events with insurance – paid out their insurance claim to all competitors who would have played.

Yet the BWF – with a reported $39m in reserve in their 2019 financial statement – gave out nothing.  They have reported the purpose of this reserve was to ‘keep sufficient funds to operate and support the sport for a few years should any unexpected global event take place that affected our business’. If Covid-19 is not an unexpected global event then what is?

If the BWF wanted to protect their reserves they could have introduced some cost cutting measures.  The BWF President receives an Honorarium and expenses, the Sec Gen  and senior staff receive tax free salaries meanwhile many players have had zero income from their sport.  Presidents and senior executives in ITTF, FEI and World Sailing all took salary cuts to divert funds to their athletes and members.

Sport is a business and commercialisation is required for it to thrive. To apparently prioritise money and income – for the BWF and its officers – at the expense of the players and the entire ecosystem of the game is selfish and short sighted.  Badminton is crumbling.  Junior and lower level events have halted which means the next generation of athletes is missing out on a crucial part of their development.  Sponsors may pull out, coaches will lose income, players and fans will leave the sport. 

If the BWF couldn’t meaningfully find a way to restart the calendar then why bother releasing one.  They have created a situation that puts the whole badminton community ‘on hold’.  By taking up and controlling all the calendar slots – only to cancel 10-14 days before – leaves people hanging and unable to create their own alternative events.

Everyone was happy that badminton was going to restart albeit that some were surprised at the decision to begin with the Thomas & Uber Cups.  Before long cracks appeared, concerns around safety and health protocols surfaced that the BWF seemed unable to provide assurances for.  Withdrawals were quickfire: Russia first, followed by a string of Asian countries and eventually top seeds Indonesia.  It then became ugly with disappointment generating some unpleasant accusations between European and Asian colleagues.  Disappointingly the BWF allowed this to happen. 

If 5 out of 20 countries slated for participation withdrew one has to ask how much consultation and collaborative discussion happened?  Consent and buy-in from the top nations before announcing the calendar should be a top priority.  It would appear the BWFs leadership style is non-consultative.  Compare this to the NBA’s Commissioner Adam Silver who personally called the top teams and players to explain the conditions for restart before pressing the green button.

It has been reported – later denied by the BWF – that it was a sponsor requirement that the top three seeds participate in the TUC hence delay until 2021 to try to keep the money on the books. Badminton Denmark was reported to have been putting in 24/7 effort for months leading up to the TUC (not to mention it had already been postponed twice).  Apart from this time and effort imagine the real financial losses they will have incurred having cancelled a major tournament with only 14 days’ notice – but perhaps as it was not BWF’s loss to bear it was just collateral damage.

When the TUC was postponed the BWF also cancelled the Denmark Masters.  The event was part of a two tournament ‘European bubble’; the events are not linked so why was it dropped?    Presumably the risk of Asian players not wanting to travel for the Masters and therefore compromising revenue streams was not worth the potential losses to the BWF.  So Badminton Denmark was left to carry the weight of the Denmark Open on its shoulders.

At the end of August BWF declared that the European Bubble would be followed by an Asian one in November but no destination was announced. Then they revealed that it would be hosted by Thailand in January apparently because logistically there was not enough time to prepare. It has been speculated that perhaps the BWF had secured sponsorship from the Thai government who then requested a cooling period owing to political uncertainty. They used “complexity” as a reason for needing more time. But badminton is surely not more “complex” than tennis, swimming and track & field, all who have hundreds of athletes from multiple countries. Unfortunately, this means that there will be no continuity or stability stemming from the Denmark Open, just a 2-month hiatus.

The pandemic is not the time to go into a 6-month slumber.  Many industries have innovated.  Cycling has launched a virtual cycling series, F1 took to e-sports and started competitions with their fans, the LPGA conducted e-Golf competitions for their pro golfers that offered actual prize money.

 What about non-financial support to badminton players?  Perhaps programmes to deal with mental health, modules to help athletes understand the business of sport and how they can commercialise themselves, or up-skilling courses to prepare for life after retirement.  How did the BWF reach out to their athletes?

The BWF may argue they are dealing with eroding sponsorship and media income which affects their ability to stage events.  This is not unique in the sporting world and it cannot be a reason to stand still.  A few countries, for example Taiwan, Indonesia, and Malaysia have staged local competitions but it is not clear what actions the BWF have taken to support this, Surely, they could have engaged their global sponsors to redirect support towards well-crafted regional events and digital activations?  Other sports have varying degrees of revenue streams which proves helpful in times like this.  Esports and games.  Subscription-based apps.  Licensing and merchandising.  Foundation programmes with CSR sponsors.  Some even have venues.  Looking at the BWF’s financial statement will tell you that the entire revenue stream – sponsorship, TV, sanction fees is dependent on events.  Oh, and funding from the Olympics, also and event.  The BWF is a one-trick pony.

Does badminton have the right leadership to get through this predicament and beyond? It’s easy to lead in good times. The real test is in tough times. Where is BWF’s relevance and impact in badminton in this crisis?


Opinion by Leena Singarajah.

You can read the full version of this article by following this link https://www.gosports.com.my/opinion/misfiring-from-the-start-badmintons-pandemic-failure/


Danisa Denmark Open Preview Pt2: The Men

Badminton is BACK!!!

I’m so thrilled that we all have this tournament in Odense to enjoy. It’s been too long.

Men’s Singles

I’m relishing this part of the competition. My anticipation levels are rising because of the quality of the players who have travelled to Denmark – and of course the players who are from Denmark. We all know that the Danish badminton community produces world beaters again and again; the talent that is generated from such a small nation is breath-taking.

My pick of the first round matches is the one between Christo Popov and Lakshya Sen. The left-handed Popov has been consistently successful through his junior years and in January 2020 became World Junior #1. His family are all involved in the sport in various roles: notably his father who has coached and played for the Bulgarian team plus his MD partner and brother Toma. Sen has also been catching the eye as he progresses through the worldwide junior ranks. Another player whose family are immersed in badminton, he is part of a new generation of Indian shuttlers. It’s well-known that he benefitted from Morten Frost’s expertise in 2019 when the Danish star coached for a while at the Prakash Padukone academy. This game will showcase two of the brightest stars that are progressing into the senior game. It’s hard to predict how far the winner can advance but I suspect that stamina may become an issue as the week progresses: maintaining a high level of play day after day will be tough, especially after 7 months away.

Picture from CTC Instagram – no picture credit.

CHOU Tien Chen is the de facto top seed in the absence of Momota but he is going to have to battle hard if he wants this title. He was comprehensively dismantled by Axelsen in the final of the YAE back in March but he has had plenty of time since to absorb the lessons of that day. I watched that game live and I felt that he seemed unfocused through a lot of the match, his range was off and so he was never really able to get any sort of competitive momentum. He is an impressive athlete, with good powerful smashes and plenty of stamina: I’d like to see him take the initiative and drive the pace of his matches forward more. Prediction: Final. I’ve seen some reports that suggest Srikanth Kidambi has been working well in training in Hyderabad. The former World #1 and previous winner of this tournament has endured a slump in form; if he progresses from the opening rounds he is seeded to meet CTC in the quarter finals so that will be a useful measure as to whether he is back to winning ways.

The last time we saw Anders Antonsen play was in his Semi-Final against CTC at the All England. The last eighteen months have seen him move up the world rankings to the extent that he is challenging Axelsen for the title of Denmark’s top player. His improvements and his ability to attack to get the upper hand will be under scrutiny here. Potentially he will meet CHOU in the semi-final: the h2h figures strongly favour the man from Taiwan. Antonsen’s ankle injury, which prematurely ended their game in Birmingham when he had to retire in the first set was a heartbreaking end to his campaign. There had been a serious possibility of an all-Danish final in that tournament. There is a chance of it happening here if he can overcome CHOU because his friend Rasmus Gemke is seeded 7 in the top half of the draw…arguably the weaker half. Gemke is a bit behind AA in the strength of his game but he still gets sweet results against top players: remember his shock victory against Ginting in March?

Aside from these there are a couple of unseeded players I’d like to mention. Hans-Kristian Vittinghus – another home player – should be eyeing the draw with a certain amount of relish. Again he is in the top half and will play the winner of Popov v Sen. In an innocence versus experience scenario I would see him getting on top. I am also a fan of Brice Leverdez after watching him play in the Indian PBL this year: lovely racket skills and nerves of steel. Moreover he too is in the top half of the draw.

Mixed Doubles

This tournament offers a huge opportunity for the English duo Lauren Smith & Marcus Ellis to bag a Super 750 title. The last time we saw them play was in their Semi Final at the All England against the eventual winners Jordan/Oktavianti. Ellis is a great competitor, an excellent partner to have on court, he never gives in and fights right to the end. The partnership with Smith is getting better and better – she’s fast, aggressive and brave. Throughout lockdown we have seen them practising at home and trying to stay focused until they could get back on court. They should be able to take to the court with a lot of confidence.

So who can put a stop to their ambition? The Adcocks are in the top half of the draw so if they can find some form they may be able to engineer an all English final. The German pair of Lamsfuss/Herttrich, or the home pair Christiansen/Boje are seeded to do well. The competition does not look likely to be controlled by any team so the athletes who can grasp every opportunity that passes could finish the week as champions.

Men’s Doubles

Unfortunately this is the sector of the competition that has been hit the hardest by the lack of Asian participation. In spite of this I think this could still be a lively contest. Olympic Bronze medalists Marcus Ellis & Chris Langridge head up a large contingent of English players in this category. The Danes Kim Astrup & Anders Rasmussen must be eyeing the title. With Astrup describing himself as a ‘caged lion’ I think there will be a load of pent-up emotion that he needs to turn to his advantage.

This has been described as a milestone week for badminton. It certainly is about time the sport returned at the highest level. I wish everyone involved a safe and successful few days. Bring it on!


If you enjoyed this take a look at my preview for the women’s sector https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/10/10/danisa-denmark-open-womens-preview/

I’ve recently been enjoying the podcasts A Year On Tour With Vittinghus – you should be able to listen to these on Spotify or other platforms.


©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Danisa Denmark Open: Women’s Preview

Badminton is BACK!!!!!

Finally, some good news – after the obliteration of the badminton year I am so eager to see this tournament.  The week promises plenty of excitement with old favourites up against some new faces at the Danisa Denmark Open.  I especially want to see who has managed their fitness and performance levels successfully during the break so that they can seize games from ring-rusty opponents.  This could be the perfect time for some of the lesser known athletes to make an impression.

Women’s Singles

This is a very strong field and my gaze is drawn to Nozomi, Carolina and Michelle Li. One of the key features of lockdown has been loneliness. Many players seem to have been isolated from their usual support groups but these three are all familiar with a training regime that – for one reason or another – tends towards solitary. Of course, any singles player, once they are standing on court needs to be mentally self-sufficient with a tough temperament.

Michelle Li is the best Canadian in world badminton; she is a top 10 player in the world rankings and has achieved this with an obstinate focus on her goals of getting on the podium at the Olympics and driving the profile of the sport in her home country. This is a tournament where she must dominate her rivals; it seems like a wonderful opportunity to progress to a final of a S750 competition. I hope she arrives in Odense in top form ready to capitalise on the absence of others.

Carolina Marin will be ready to explode onto the court like a human hand grenade. The Olympic Champion is coming to Denmark to capture a title that has always eluded her. It’s hard for challengers to defuse her aggression. She calls up a competitive energy that rivals have to disrupt to get any sort of foothold in the match. The desire to win is her essence.

Nozomi Okuhara will arrive in Denmark with a strong possibility of winning Gold. She has had a frustrating run of silver medals over the past year, so the hiatus from covid could have been a good opportunity to reset her strategies. She is such a brilliant player with a wide range of skills to draw on in any situtation; her snappy reflexes and speed across the court mean she can absorb any pressure from a rival. The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics must have been an acutely painful experience for a player whose focus was to be the champion in front of her home crowd. I think we would all relish the chance to see Nozomi enjoy success in Odense.

The homeplayers were the Gold medalists at the European Team Championships back in February and if they are on form I think either Line Kjaersfeldt or Mia Blichfeldt could have a good run. It wouldn’t be a shock to see one of them still fighting for a medal at the weekend. Beiwen Zhang is another seed who should anticipate at least a SF spot.

Women’s Doubles

This sector is stacked with superb pairs and I am anticipating some epic battles.

No problems with social distancing at this airport! Pic borrowed from Sayaka’s Twitter feed but no photographer credited.

The top three seeds are three pairs from Japan: Fukuhiro, Matsumoto/Nagahara, and Matsuyama/Shida so the problem of friendly fire could become a live issue. The key question is who will stop the final being Japan v Japan?

Maiken Fruergaard and Sara Thygesen won a lot of friends in the course of January’s Indonesian Masters. In the end they succumbed in a blockbuster of a final to the home pair, Greyap. They sustained high levels of play and a great attitude; it was probably Greysia Polii’s depth of experience that overcame them finally because during the last few points the four players were operating on muscle memory. Therefore what can we expect of the Danes in Denmark? The bottom half of the draw looks quite tricky. It’s likely they could meet Matsumoto and Nagahara in the Quarter Final so this will be the game that defines their performance.

The Stoeva Sisters‘ threat is quite hard to quantify. For sure they have high fitness levels and can outlast their opposition but there is more to winning a badminton match than this. Long rallies are no surprise in women’s doubles but they need to bring a bit more to the party if they want to be on the podium on Sunday. They can be vulnerable to aggressive attack so I would like to see them bring more of an edge to their own strategy. A quick twitter poll that I conducted in the course of writing this preview very firmly concluded that getting to the Semi Final was the best they could achieve. Boring opponents into submission is not a risk free path to gold!

A WD final that pits Fukuhiro against Matsumoto/Nagahara could be a foretaste of the Tokyo Olympic final. If this happens then despite being seeded 1, Fukuhiro could lose. When we weigh up the styles of play then Mayu and Wakana have more aggression in their makeup but no less stamina. If it all boils down to a brawl for the last few points in a three set match they should get them.

Conclusions

Competitive life at the highest level is limited for any athlete. We have seen players and their national associations cope with this intermission in different ways. It remains to be seen whether training at home alone, frequent holidays or self-quarantine at a training centre are the best ways to approach this unwanted break. I’ve been astonished at the apparent lack of guidance available to people. Nevertheless intuitively I believe that the competitors who have continued their usual training routines with focus and dedication should reap rewards. I am concerned that an abrupt return to competition after only light training risks injury.

This is the time for players to set down a marker. It’s unfortunate that this is one tournament in isolation followed by another long wait until we go to Thailand but the athletes who have the mental strength to cope with this disruption can use Denmark as a real life measure of how effective their lockdown training has been. Any lack of success at the Open can be a catalyst for review and improvement.

What a momentous day the 13th October will be – finally badminton returns.


I’d like to dedicate this piece to the Danish badminton authorities, fans and volunteers. Since the postponement of the original Thomas & Uber Cups there have been months of uncertainty and I can only begin to imagine the hours and money that have been expended getting to this point. Thank you!


If you enjoyed this then Part 2 – my men’s preview is here https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/10/11/danisa-denmark-open-preview-pt2-the-men/

©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

We Miss TAI Tzu Ying

 The bombshell word ‘retirement’ was spoken by TAI tzu Ying about a year ago and a shudder passed through her millions of fans.  Seven months into lockdown with no big tournament since YAE I’m beginning to understand what the badminton landscape will look like without this extraordinary player and I don’t like it.  Jaw dropping visionary play blended with virtuoso racket skills is a mix made in badminton heaven so a tournament without the chance to witness a reverse slice straight backhand drop executed by the Queen suddenly loses a little glitter.

Screenshot from BWF TV

In her most recent interview on Badminton Unlimited TTY offers some reassurance to her supporters.  She is certain that she will continue to compete until next season ends and then she will mull over her options.  This means that we can enjoy the anticipation of watching her participate in her third Olympics.  I would love to see her on that podium in Japan, alongside some of my other favourites like Ratchanok, Nozomi or Akane.  Imagine a Gold medal match between May and Tzu Ying; this would be a version of paradise for me and lots of other fans.

Coach Lai has been smart in keeping training fresh.  TTY has mentioned before that she doesn’t go out ‘much’.  Pictures on Instagram frequently show her enjoying being outdoors and I’ve often joked that she should work for the Taiwan tourist board when she retires. The beautiful scenery around her gives a spectacular backdrop to a bike ride or hike with her training partners. Without the intensity of a jam-packed tournament calendar she should be able to address any niggling injuries, and enjoy a fitness programme with an altered aim.  I think that the focus will have been adjusted because she will not have to be on a (literal and metaphorical) treadmill to get prepared for next week’s match.  This is why we have seen her enjoying cross training and sports like beach football and boxing. The emphasis on agility and flexibility remains but there will be interesting cross-fertilisation from other sports.  It’s a good time to review technique and strategies but most of all this is a chance to emotionally refresh and rest intelligently.

The playing career of an elite player is really quite short.  Movement has to be explosive with instant changes in direction and this can trigger severe pressure on knees and arms.  Press conferences after finals are often conducted with the winners pressing ice-packs to their shoulders.  The emotional cost of competition can be challenging too; stepping onto court with the hopes of your nation upon your shoulders is not easy; especially when supporters don’t see the hours of sweat in training.  Added to this are the constant demands of the tournament schedule: international travel may seem glamourous but an endless landscape of airports and hotels can quickly dull the excitement.

We have three tournaments planned for Thailand in January 2021 with exacting covid protocols insisted upon by the Thai authorities.  Quarantines, regular swab tests and temperature checks blended with stringent hygiene requirements and social bubbles should give reassurance to many but perception of risk is diverse.  It’s impossible to predict where we will be in the trajectory of this pandemic by then.

Covid has annihilated the tournament schedule and it has given many athletes time to pause and reflect on their career path.  The motivation to train without a reason is hard to maintain so it is reassuring to see that Tai Tzu Ying can still get up early in the morning, leave her house at 7am and start training at 8.30.  This is the mark of a true champion. The players who can keep their enthusiasm and focus amidst the crisis will be the ones who return stronger. I long to watch her next game.


If you enjoyed this here is a link to my review of TTY’s performance at Taiwan’s Mock Olympics https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/08/03/tai-tzu-ying-and-taiwans-mock-tokyo-olympics/ and this one about her recent acquisition of patience https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/06/19/tai-tzu-ying-the-greatest/


©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved