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Yuki and Sayaka at the Olympics

“If you smile, I’ll be fine too.”

Yuki’s LINE message to Sayaka (Trans by Sebastien @sebad110)

Is it ok to write about FukuHiro?  No Japanese Women’s Doubles medal in Tokyo would have been unimaginable six months ago but the top seeds were knocked out at the QF stage.  This does not even scratch the surface of Yuki and Sayaka’s Olympics.

Facing elimination together – screenshot from Eurosport.

The badminton world was staggered when Sayaka arrived on court and revealed a heavy knee brace on her right leg.  Despite the catastrophe that had befallen her the Gold medal favourites had decided to come and fight. 

Sooner or later, we have to accept that for all the time spent on analysis of games and players a match will always end in victory or defeat.  Nevertheless, at the Olympics the reaction of these two athletes to a serious injury subverted this into an honourable display that showed the strength of their partnership and their love of badminton played together.

The first match facing Birch/Smith was a chance to see if they could win on three and a half legs.  Unbelievably they battled through in two sets.  Fukushima carried a big burden: she ran for two whilst Hirota tried to avoid the back line.  Their tactics succeeded: 21-13 & 21-14.  There had to be a focus on keeping playing time to a minimum and the stats show that the longest rally was 54 strokes with the average length at 11.  In the next game against CHOW/LEE the Malaysians seemed prepped to exploit her restricted movement and got the first set but nerves took over and the self-confidence of the Japanese saw them win the following two sets.  This time the longest rally was 76 strokes with an average length of 13 per rally.

After the first game Hirota had described herself as at 70-80% and admitted that she had been injured during training on June 18th.  She later said:

“It’s like it became pitch-black. I thought it was impossible to go to the Olympics anymore. I felt very sorry for Fukushima-senpai”

Interview in NHK translated by Sebastien.

After an MRI scan, she was diagnosed with an ACL tear in her right knee; some news organisations also reported damage to her meniscuses and lateral collateral ligament but she has not confirmed that.  She described it as a “desperate time”. A specialist advised surgery but agreed – after two weeks rest from training – that it was feasible to wait until after the Olympic tournament.  The Donjoy-style brace she wore was designed to redeploy the way playing pressure impacted on her damaged knee.  The stress goes to the healthy parts and away from aggravating the pain.

The final group game was their first loss.  Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu had to work hard over three sets but in the end, they just could not find a way through.  This meant they had come second in Group A and would meet CHEN/JIA in a quarter final. Even if they had both been fit this tie would have been daunting. The Chinese are superb players; strong and smart so they knew they were in for a difficult day. Yuki’s LINE message to her partner that evening read

“…tomorrow regardless we win or lose, I want us to enjoy the match…Let’s overcome this together. Let’s speak together. If you smile, I’ll be fine too.”

Trans by Sebastien.

It was a brutal physical test and after three sets their goal of a home Olympics medal was gone. At the end they faced the world with tears and their arms around each other. The Chinese players’ sporting behaviour added to the emotion of the moment. Games like this can be very hard to spectate.

Sayaka has a hard six months of rehab ahead but her courageous attitude and the support of Yuki will sustain her. Fukuhiro’s Olympics was tragic and wonderful. I’m so sorry that they were not able to compete to 100% of their ability but seeing their reaction to heartbreak was inspiring. Their bravery and commitment shone through disappointment; the dream has not been lost, only delayed until Paris 2024.


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

Thank you to Sebastien for letting me use their translations of interviews in Japanese and also thank you to all the Fukuhiro fans out there who shared ideas and chatted about the Olympic journey with me.


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Brilliant Polii and Rahayu Win Olympic Gold

This was the most joyous Gold medal. Athletes can’t buy an Olympic victory; they earn one over years of perseverance and pain. Even then, some don’t reach their dream, so to watch Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu on top of the Tokyo podium was a glorious moment.

Screengrab from Eurosport

The origins of the triumph stretch back to a young Greysia who was focused on becoming a pro:

“I was born to be a badminton player. And I had that faith when I was 13, that I wanted to make history for Indonesia”

Greysia Polii

Along the way she endured a controversial exit from London 2012 and lost at the QF stage in Rio 2016 with Nitya Krishinda Maheswari. When the news broke that her partner required surgery and was going to retire Polii seriously considered hanging up her racket too.

Looking back this was when Eng Hian – the head of Indonesian Women’s Doubles – had a stroke of genius. He convinced her to delay retirement…to stay a little longer and help guide the progress of some of the younger players. In 2017 along came the talented but raw Apriyani Rahayu: aged 19 with a dislike of being told what to do, but intelligent and ambitious enough to recognise that this was a great opportunity to learn from Greysia. As time passed and the chemistry between them formed it started to occur to Polii that if she could instill a champion’s mindset into her young partner then maybe this could lead to great things. She would need patience, perseverance and to stay injury-free. Perhaps everything that had gone before was preparing her for this.

Fast Forward To Tokyo 2020

The tournament started brightly for GreyAp. Two wins out of two in the group stages and the importance of the final game against FukuHiro escalated. Suddenly here was an opportunity to emerge from the Round Robin as group winners and therefore avoid a seeded pair in the Quarter Final.

Wars of attrition pose little threat to the Indonesian duo. They have the physical resilience to endure a lot and that style of play offers a great platform for the sudden explosions of power from Apri or the creative vision and deft touches from Greysia. The Japanese top seeds could not handle the aggressive tempo of the contest. They were stubborn and resisted over three sets but folded in the last 21-8. So GreyAp entered the knockout rounds and I was feeling optimistic.

It’s been clear over the course of the Olympic badminton tournament that the Chinese athletes’ standards haven’t suffered from their lack of international competition. In the QF against DU/LI Greysia and Apri were asked some hard questions over three sets but they stood firm and refused to let the Chinese win.

The Semi-Final against LEE/SHIN was a daunting prospect but as the match progressed it was always GreyAp who had the upper hand. The competitive momentum that they had been building since the tournamnet began carried them on to the final. Another win, a guaranteed medal, history made.

This was a final waiting to be won. There was little point in waiting to be beaten by the hot favourites: I think Greysia and Apri realised this and it fed their ambitious attitude. Rahayu brought her ‘A game’ – make that her ‘A+ game’. Her energy and bravery constantly screwed down the pressure on CHEN/JIA. Her aggressive high tempo unsettled their rhythm and her noisy, boisterous attitude helped dominate the court space. At 1-1 in the first set there was a moment when Greysia took the shuttle mid-court on her backhand and pinged it crosscourt into empty space. At that moment I realised she knew they could win. The next point was gained by Polii’s delicate drop which emphasized her intent and desire. It was a close set as the four of them traded points but in the end GreyAp won it 21-19. Advantage Indonesia.

Set two opened with them racing to a 7-2 lead. Both players were decisive and self-assured. Unburdened by tension they were playing without inhibition and exuding self-belief. Everything they did worked. The Chinese tried to get back into the flow of the game but they were being swept along by the irresistable pace and vision of the Indonesians. Incredibly at 18-10 Polii’s strings broke but she had time to grab a replacement racket and win the rally.

There was an inevitability to the final moments as they had outclassed CHEN/JIA throughout the game. The (mostly) empty arena didn’t matter – we were all crying and screaming at our screens together as they celebrated victory. Often the difference between a Silver and Gold medal is simultaneously a universe and barely a whisker. The Indonesia duo had dominated in every area of the court and had played their best ever game at exactly the right moment. Congratulations Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu: Gold medallists and history makers!

Artwork by Rachel Florencia

If you enjoyed this then take a look at my earlier article about GreyAP https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/01/19/greysap-redux-polii-rahayu-are-back/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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TAI Tzu Ying Wins Olympic Silver

Tai Tzu Ying is the creative spark who can elevate badminton into more than sport. The fusion of brilliant shots and brave resolve is breathtaking to watch. Her sensational technical skills make comparisons with Roger Federer easy. Just like him she can do just about anything with her racket; the variety and fluency is electrifying.

Screen grab from Eurosport.

However, she has struggled to play her best games at the past two Olympics. No medal at London 2012 or Rio 2016 so, with talk of retirement in the air, the focus has been on Tokyo. Fans around the world have craved a podium spot for her so The Queen arrived in Japan with a clear goal.

TAI Tzu Ying came to the final to win; CHEN Yu Fei arrived determined not to lose. Two equals but with contrasting approaches to the match. It was a fascinating clash. CHEN Yu Fei is strategically shrewd and her consistency was effective in neutralising some of TTY’s flair: she won the first set 21-18. TAI Tzu Ying fought back hard in set two to force a decider. It was a relentless battle on court and inside the player’s heads.

Set three began badly for TAI Tzu Ying. CHEN Yu Fei pounced on some errors and racked up quick points to lead 10-3. TTY’s fighting spirit was not subdued though. Over some intensely nerve-wracking minutes she clawed her way back into contention but although she almost caught up she could not alter the momentum of the contest. CHEN Yu Fei triumphed 21-18.

So finally TAI Tzu Ying has an Olympic medal; it would have been unbearable if she had returned home to Taiwan empty-handed. She was true to herself and the way she has to play the game. Just like Federer at London 2012 she came to win Gold but in the end got Silver. She couldn’t have given any more to the fight. Congratulations TAI Tzu Ying from your millions of fans – we are so proud of you!


If you enjoyed this then take a look at the article I wrote about Team TAI Tzu Ying https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/02/25/team-tai-tzu-ying/

©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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TAI Tzu-Ying: Player of the Day

The Olympic Semi-Final

TAI Tzu Ying was breathtaking today as she seized a place in the Olympic final. Her flair and courage were irresistable. PV Sindhu fought hard but at crucial moments she could not contain the creative genius of the Queen.

Pic from Shutterstock

The battle for the first set saw the balance of power swing backwards and forwards between the two athletes. Sindhu has rediscovered her 2019 form in Tokyo and she refused to allow TTY to get any scoring momentum although she could not take control herself. Both players were utterly focused on their quest for the final. Sindhu led at the interval and stayed with the scoring up to 18-18 but TAI’s strategy of moving the World Champion from side to side whilst trying to push her back succeeded in minimising the threat of the Indian’s power smash. This was very shrewd and allowed her to take charge in the last three points and secure the opening set 21-18.

The second set and a change of ends saw the screw being turned by TAI Tzu Ying. Although it was pretty even at the interval the scoreline was ticking over nicely in favour of Taiwan. Errors started to creep in from Sindhu and she was finding it increasingly tricky to control the shuttle in her long shots. The pressure was relentless and TAI’s exquisite technical skills were allowing her to drive the direction of the game; in the end the set was closed out 21-12

So, we have the priviledge of being able to watch TAI Tzu Ying in an Olympic final: something I have craved for years. Since she started mentioning retirement the focus for fans has been this gold medal match. Moments like these are fleeting, I hope she enjoys the game, with no injuries and does justice to her magnificent talent.


Here is an article I wrote about TTY after her victory at the All England in 2019 https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/03/23/tai-tzu-ying-the-triple-champion/


Today also saw a wonderful performance from Anthony Ginting to reach the MS semi-finals and fabulous play by Polii and Rahayuu to get to the WD final. Two archive articles about them are here https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/25/anthony-sinisuka-ginting/ and here https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/01/19/greysap-redux-polii-rahayu-are-back/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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The Olympics: Men’s Singles Preview

Can CHEN Long rediscover his mojo and defend his Rio Gold or are we about to see a new player on top of the podium? Will Denmark break the hold that China has had on this competition since Lin Dan first won it in 2008 or can one of the men from Indonesia seize the medal?

Pic from Shutterstock/Hirohito Takada

The competition begins with 14 groups of three players: ONLY group winners will progress to the round of 16 on July 29th.

Kento Momota

It was clear Momota lacked match fitness at this year’s All England so the group games will help him sharpen up. Domination of the net and forecourt blended with lightening speed is crucial to him. He exerts pressure with his great anticipation and is peerless in his match management.  He is so good at judging the tipping point in an encounter; usually staying within a couple of points of his rivals score, then switching on his turbocharger and accelerating away to victory.  He always has an energy reserve to draw on in the last few points of the final set.  It’s arguable that this characteristic breaks the morale of opponents before they even step on court. He remains hot favourite for Gold.

Viktor Axelsen

Viktor was immense in Thailand in January. He created a winning momentum and dispatched rivals at will.  His blend of focused power and speed was overwhelming and so the two titles he won had an air of inevitability about them.  However he did fall victim to a clever strategy by Antonsen at the WTF so if he wants to upgrade his Bronze from Rio he needs to resist mind games and zero in on the prize. A possible quarter final with Jonatan Christie will be a big test.

Anders Antonsen

Antonsen dreams of Tokyo Gold. His progress over the past couple of years has been impressive – he put down a marker in his victory over Momota at the 2019 Indonesia Masters and has continued to prove his quality in tournaments since.  His victory at the Denmark Open 2020 was magnificent but I think his covid-adjusted performance in January’s Thailand bubble was more revealing.  A first round exit followed by a SF defeat in two sets suggested he was still suffering from the effects of infection.  His victory in the World Tour Finals highlighted his invention and opportunism. 

Sun Tzu said “If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him” and AA certainly succeeded in unbalancing Axelsen with his tactics.  I’m intrigued to see if he can repeat the feat.

Jonatan Christie

Jojo has a really brutal draw to negotiate if he is to medal in Tokyo but he looked bright and hungry for success at the Simulasi Olimpiade in July so I’m optimistic that he’ll be ready for the battles ahead. His route to the final means that he will probably have to overcome Shi Yu Qi, Viktor Axelsen, and Momota. Anyone who can do that in the space of a few days deserves Gold.

SHI Yu Qi

Shi Yu Qi ‘s form is a bit of a mystery and we are only going to get a clear picture once he steps on court. The last couple of years have been disrupted by injury as well as covid but if he is back to his best then he will be a challenger for a podium place. He has a clash with Jonatan Christie in the Round of 16 and if he progresses then Viktor awaits.

Anthony Ginting

Ginting has so many of the qualities we look for in an Olympic champion.  Speed across the court synchronised with breathtaking shots means that he challenges for titles at the highest level.  In January in Thailand he dazzled but only in flashes and I was disappointed he didn’t get to a final.  There have been times when he has failed to break a rivals impetus; he gets set on a particular strategy and if that starts to fail under pressure he struggles to alter his approach and loses his grip on the game.  Commentators have speculated that he would benefit from more stamina but I think it’s more to do with self belief.  Anders Antonsen will probably try and block his path to the semi finals; if Anthony can get past the Dane then he has a great chance to impose himself on the competition. Dream Big Anthony!

LEE Zii Jia

About two years ago I remember seeing LEE Chong Wei tip his fellow countryman as a possible prospect for Gold in Tokyo.  Since then he triumphed over Viktor Axelsen at the All England 2021 so can take a lot of confidence from beating the world’s best.  He has speed, agility, power and a trademark backhand smash, but a tough route to the podium. Feasibly CHEN Long followed by a QF against CHOU Tien Chen.  He doesn’t have a good H2H against Chou so this will be a big challenge to negotiate before he can start dreaming of a medal.

CHEN Long

Lee Chong Wei recently observed that it’s impossible to know the kind of form Chen Long is in because he has only competed domestically during the pandemic. I’m unconvinced that CHEN long can defend his Gold from Rio as his form has been so inconsistent following that win.  Carolina Marin seems to have coped much better with motivating herself after winning sport’s highest honour.  This analysis is probably too simplistic and dismissive though. The resources of the Chinese will have been focused on preparing him for this campaign so we may see a revitalised player on court.

CHOU Tien Chen

Assuming CTC wins his group he will have a bye in the following round and a possible QF against either CHEN Long or LEE Zii Jia.  His record against CL is terrible (0-9) but they haven’t met for a couple of years; against LZJ he has the upper hand (5-2) but the Malaysian is improving all the time. CTC is a consistent presence in semi finals but often just seems to lack the resources at the death to finish things off.  Taiwan has maintained a good focus on the Olympics including simulations and so the second seed will be well prepared for his second Olympiad.

Predictions

The QF could look at bit like this:

Winner
MomotaVNgMomota
AxelsenVChristieToo close to call
Ginting VAntonsenGinting
LZJvCTCCTC

The Semi finals then would probably be Momota against Axelsen/Christie and Antonsen/Ginting clashing with LEE Zii Jia or CHOU Tien Chen. We all know that this tournament has the potential to post some freaky results; the man who adapts quickly to an empty arena and can step away from the shadows of the pandemic will have an advantage. I see Christie and Ginting as dark horses: of course they will have to overcome a substantial Danish challenge first. Always though we circle back to Momota and he must still be the favourite for Gold.


Here is my Women’s Singles Preview https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/07/17/the-olympics-womens-singles-preview/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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The Olympics: Women’s Singles Preview

Adventures In Anxiety

Inevitably this competition will be an emotional roller coaster. Nothing is decided except that there will be a new Olympic champion.

Pic from Fifg/Shutterstock.com

There will be 43 competitors on day 1; in this sector there are 14 seeds and so the preliminary stages will break down into 13 groups of 3 and one group of 4.  The group of four includes the #2 seed (TTY) who then gets a bye in the R16; although CHEN Yufei is in a group of three, as #1 seed she also has a bye at that stage.

Nozomi Okuhara (3)

The winner of a Bronze medal in Rio will be one of the standout players in Tokyo.  She knows what it takes to get on the podium and has every chance of upgrading to Gold in her home Olympics.  Her progress as a competitor since those 6 defeats in finals in 2019 has been outstanding and her victory over Marin at the 2020 Denmark Open was important with a strong redemptive quality. The only other tournament she has played in this year – Yonex All England 2021 – also ended with a win so it would seem that Nozomi has spent lockdown learning how to turn silver into Gold.

TAI Tzu Ying (2)

The exhilaration of watching TTY in full flow belongs on the world stage of the Olympics yet she has never shone in this tournament. The opportunity to win a medal here is something her many fans (myself included) crave for her. Chances like this are fleeting and she has been frank about her intention to retire ‘soon’. I would love to see this sublime player become part of Olympic badminton legend. Prediction: Gold.

CHEN Yu Fei (1)

The top seed has not competed internationally since YAE20 so I’m intrigued to discover whether she has altered much about her game.  She is resilient and is adept at staying in a match.  Her composure and stubborn persistence against players who have more flair means she often waits for them to run out of ideas and then attacks.  Her strength may also be a weakness: I have wondered in the past how risk-averse she is because sometimes she just seems too patient.  This was part of the reason for her defeat against TTY in the final in Birmingham in 2020.  If she makes the final – her route may involve beating AN Se Young and Nozomi – it could prove to be the difference between silver and Gold.

Pursala V Sindhu (6)

At her best Sindhu is uncontainable and although she seems to suffer inconsistent form there’s no doubt she can raise her game at the top tournaments. Nozomi must still get nightmares about her annihilation by PVS at the 2019 World Championship final. Her part of the draw is tough, but at her best she has the beating of Blichfeldt and Akane. Indian women’s singles has a great tradition of success at the Olympics – including Sindhu’s Silver in Rio – so she has the experience to force her way into the reckoning.

Ratchanok Intanon (5)

May’s sparkling skills on court could mean a medal chance in her third Olympics but her route to the podium is scary. Probably she will meet Gregoria in the R16 and assuming she progresses past the Indonesian it’s likely that her QF will be against TAI Tzu Ying. This is a neutral’s nightmare. These two breathtaking players light up every tournament so I’m sorry that one of them will lose their chance of glory. The head-to-head stats are pretty even (15-14 in TTY’s favour) so it will be a fascinating and excruciating game to spectate.

Akane Yamaguchi (4)

Akane has been under the radar more than her compatriot during lockdown so we’ll have to wait to see what sort of form she’s in. Her counter-punching style could work effectively at the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza so although she doesn’t have a particulary convincing record against some of the others in her part of the draw I see her as a firm contender.

AN Se Young (7)

ASY has been regarded as a dark horse chance for the Gold here since she flew up the rankings in 2019. Earlier this year she did OK in Thailand – getting to semi-finals – but she wasn’t able to push on to a final. She is at the stage in her career now where fine tuning and incremental gains are important if she is to dominate consistently. She’s a wonderful all-rounder but sometime I consider that she puts too much emphasis on defence. I’d like to see her take the initiative more. In a recent interview with BWF she highlighted her victory over TTY in the Sudirman Cup as a turning point but I think the frustration of being ‘nearly there’ will be perfect fuel for her ambition. Prediction: Paris 2024 Gold

You can read the full interview from BWF via this link https://olympics.bwfbadminton.com/news-single/2021/07/16/road-to-tokyo-beating-tai-tzu-ying-was-turning-point/

He Bing Jiao

HBJ seems to have been replaced by her super-slim twin sister during lockdown and I’m excited to see what has changed about her approach in the course of the pandemic. It’s unlikely that the lack of international competition will have disadvantaged either of the Chinese competitors because they enjoy such a high standard domestically so it’s feasible that she will have added a new dimension to her play. If the seeding works as expected then her first big test is going to be in a QF against Nozomi – she doesn’t have a good H2H against the Japanese so if she can pull off a win then she may have to face her compatriot for a spot in the final. Prediction QF Exit.

Verdict

Women’s Singles is crowded with fine athletes so it’s tricky to highlight one player who already has a foot on the podium. Olympic Gold is someone’s destiny and it looks to me as though it will boil down to Nozomi V Tzu Ying. The person who can stay fit, focused and adapt quickly to the conditions in the arena will have an advantage, but it’s always a hard tournament to call. TTY knows she must stay patient and cut out mistakes, Nozomi has to be confident in her ability to keep asking the tough questions. I’m impatient for it to start so we can enjoy the path to victory and watch dreams come true.


Take a look at my previews for the other sectors https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/07/15/the-olympics-mens-doubles-preview/ and https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/07/14/the-olympics-mixed-doubles-preview/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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The Olympics: Men’s Doubles Preview

When the going gets tough, the tough get going!

I am anticipating badminton extraordinaire.  The quality of this competition is outstanding with huge expectations of some players.  Athletes from the Asian heartlands of the sport – Indonesia, Japan, China & Taiwan – are likely to dominate the matches but who will triumph at the end is not particularly clear cut.

Pic credit Solomon7/Shutterstock

We haven’t watched most of these pairs in competition with each other for over a year and it will be intriguing to see who have been able to add an extra dimension to their game or who has lost a bit of sharpness.  Realistically most of them are going to need a match or two to kick-start their muscles and focus on victory.  The pairs who adapt to the conditions and negotiate their group games to the knock out stages without expending too much energy or getting injured will have a big advantage. The absence of noisy, partisan crowd is also likely to have an impact on some of the players although I’m at a loss to anticipate whether it will help or hinder.

The competition has 16 pairs but only four are seeded. Each seeded pair heads a group (A,B,C, or D) and the tournament starts with a round robin to determine the top two pairs in each group who will then progress to the knockout stages.

Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo & Marcus Fernaldi Gideon

The Minions arrive in Tokyo as World Number Ones and top seeds but they are going to have to play the best games of their lives if they are going to get Gold.  Group A will not allow any slip ups. Challenges to them will come from every direction as the calibre of their rivals is phenomenal.  The venue is expected to be ‘slow’ and they must not allow themselves to get ensnared in an energy sapping smashing competitions. Opponents work hard to blunt their attacks so they must be prepared to reappraise tactics if the game is not going their way. Kevin has one of the best badminton brains in the sport and I’m in awe of his technical skills, superhuman reflexes and sheer desire, whilst Marcus’s strength and chemistry with his partner means the two of them have the weapons to beat everyone.

First they must negotiate their group and it’s vital they fight on their own terms. Their head to head records against their challengers in the first round gives no cause for concern but the reality of an Olympic stage after relative international inactivity for a while means that everyone is a threat. Kevin has brilliance embedded deep and these two would be worthy winners at the end of the tournament. I’m anxious though about their head-to-head record with Endo/Watanabe (2-6) because it seems inevitable that they will end up playing each other in a high stakes game. Prediction: Final

This article considers their chances in more depth https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/06/06/kevin-marcus-and-tokyo-gold/

Hiroyuki Endo & Yuta Watanabe

Seeded four this pair are a hazard to Indonesian ambitions. They begin their campaign in Group B and should progress without too much fuss, although Sozonov/Ivanov might be able to ask them some tough questions. Over the last few years they just seem to get better and better. Left-handed Yuta is a dazzling player, his vision and speed are at Kevin levels and this is reflected in their superb head to head record against the Minions (6-2). He is relentless but I often wonder if his threat is diluted by competing in two sectors; I’m fascinated to see how he copes with these demands overlaid by the pressure of a home Olympics. Endo has always been a top player but something about this partnership has liberated him to dream big. Perhaps his stubborn, reliable approach just nicely balances Yuta’s pzazz. Prediction: Final

Hendra Setiawan & Mohammad Ahsan

Could these two nurse their old bones to a Golden final. The day I watched them win on three legs at the All England in 2019 was the day I fell in love with Indonesian badminton. No superlative can do this pair justice but they are consistent winners of the best tournaments including Hendra’s Gold at the 2008 Olympics with his then partner, the late Markus Kido. Nevertheless, in Thailand they were beaten twice by Lee/Wang; they just could not contain the exuberant Taiwanese. At the time it was clear that Ahsan was competing with a dodgy leg so I hope that they have arrived in Japan in good shape. Their rivals in Group D are tough but if they can get the results they need with no injuries then they will be into the next round. Prediction Semi-Final

Lee Yang & Wang Chi-Lin

The most likely challengers for the top spot in Group A are the Taiwanese pair: Lee Yang/Wang Chi-Lin. These two were unstoppable in Thailand, winning three out of three tournaments. I think the most rewarding wins for them must have been against Ahsan and Setiawan in the SF of the Toyota Thailand Open and the WTF. Ahsan was not at 100% but it was clear that the Dads could not live with the Taiwanese muscular approach and it must have been a massive confidence boost to beat such sporting icons. Prediction Semi-Final

Li Jun & Liu Yu Chen

These two have a lot of attacking power and can use their aggression in Tokyo to damage everyone’s dreams. They both move well, have good 3D awareness of the court spaces and can use their height for some steep shots. I think Liu’s netplay will often allow him to gain an advantage right at the start of a rally; he is hard to pass with his long reach and steadfast approach. These two have been restricted to domestic competition since YAE20, and had been in a comparative slump prior to Covid. Maybe this break will have rejuvenated their desire or they could have added some refinements to their tactics. The current status of all the Chinese competitors is difficult to analyse because we haven’t been able to watch them for ages. I’m sure that the Chinese coaches will have prepared them well and if they are back to their best then the podium beckons.

Choi Solgyu & Seo Seungjae

Seo Seungjae’s contract issues have been put to one side for the duration of the Olympics. Or should I say that the suspension given him by the BKA will not take effect until after Tokyo. Of course this is great news for his partners in MD and XD and reveals how important he is to Korea’s medal hopes. He and Choi Solgyu are in the same group (D) as Ahsan/Setiawan and Aaron Chia/Soh Wooi Yik so there are some hard battles ahead.

Keigo Sonoda & Takeshi Kamura

Can the ‘second’ Japanese pair force their way into the medal reckoning? Their brawny, boisterous style can overwhelm rivals and enthrall spectators. They are tireless and so noisy in their mutual support between points that they amplify the pressure on court. Kamura’s work around the front; his anticipation and reading of the game allied to his partners relentless energy and enthusiasm means that they can dominate matches. However their head to head stats against the absolute top pairs are weak (Minions 11-5, Dads 5-2, Endo/Watanabe 4-2, Li/Liu 7-3) so they are going to have to bring something fresh to the tournament if they want to get on the podium. They are in an intriguing position – unseeded – in Group C with the Chinese pair; they should be able to get to the knockouts and then let’s see who they play in the latter stages.

Any Dark Horses?

Lots of these pairs have the ability to trouble the favourites but whether they can do it consistently and push on to a medal is hard to say. Lane and Vendy performed superbly in Thailand and Shetty and Rankireddy have plenty of potential but I think this outing will be part of their journey to Paris success in 2024. Battling it out to progress from Group B behind Watanabe/Endo are the Danes Rasmussen/Astrup and Russians Sozonov/Ivanov. This Olympics is being held under unique protocols so athletes who can seize every opportunity, stay fit and adapt to discomfort without being distracted will be the ones who triumph.

Who will win Gold?

Can anyone stop an All-Indonesian final? A lot depends on the draw after the group stage is completed but the pair who bring intensity and fokus right from the start will be at an advantage. This is going to be a strange covid-adjusted Olympics with few fans present but millions watching from a distance. Although many think that the conditions at the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza don’t naturally suit the Minions style they are triple winners of the Japan Open so the reults suggest they relish the arena. Kevin and Marcus must solve the Yuta problem but this is a fabulous opportunity to cement their place amongst the games greats. They will have to overcome some tough tests but they have everything within themselves that they need to get Gold.


If you enjoyed this then take a look at my other Olympic Badminton previews https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/07/14/the-olympics-mixed-doubles-preview/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Fyi

Group A: Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo/Marcus Fernaldi Gideon, Lee Yang/Wang Chi-Lin, Ben Lane/Sean Vendy, Chirag Shetty/Satwiksairaj Rankireddy

Group B: Hiroyuki Endo/Yuta Watanabe, Anders Skaarup Rasmussen/Kim Astrup, Ivan Sozonov/Vladimir Ivanov, Anuoluwapo Juwon Opeyori/Godwin Olofua

Group C: Li Jun Hui/Liu Yu Chen, Keigo Sonoda/Takeshi Kamura, Mark Lamfuss/ Marvin Seidel, Phillip Chew/Ryan Chew

Group D: Hendra Setiawan/Mohammad Ahsan (2), Aaron Chia/Soh Wooi Yik, Choi Solgyu/Seo Seungjae, Jason Anthony Ho-Shue/Nyl Yakura


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The Olympics: Mixed Doubles Preview

China has the top two seeds in this sector and must be confident of glory – the question is, who can disrupt their plans to dominate this part of the competition? Japan has home advantage and two fantastic competitors in Watanabe and Higashino, Thailand’s Bass & Popor’s challenge is likely to be robust whilst Jordan and Oktavianti have made no secret of their focus on Gold.

From Shutterstock/Solomon7

The competition has 16 pairs but only four are seeded. Each seeded pair heads a group (A,B,C, or D) and the tournament starts with a round robin to determine the top two pairs in each group who will then progress to the knockout stages.

Group A: Zheng/Huang (#1), Tabeling/Piek, Seo/Chae, Elgamel/Hany

ZHENG Si Wei & HUANG Ya Qiong are top seeds and expected by their millions of fans at home in China to win the tournament – probably with a victory in the final over compatriots WANG/HUANG. The pressure they exert on rivals, their energy and their technical skills all combine to make them habitual winners.  Zheng’s spatial awareness – especially his use of cross-court smashes or drives – means he sets up points for his partner to snaffle at the net.  The main threat in their group are Koreans Seo Seung-jae/Chae Yujung who were strong in the Thailand bubble (Silver medallists twice) so I think these two pairs will progress into the knockout rounds. SSJ is also competing in the MD so there may be issues around fatigue for him. If Tabeling/Piek could force a win against the Koreans then the remainder of the games will have more significance but they have a hard task ahead.

Group B:Puavaranukroh/Taerattanachai (#3), Gicquel/Delrue, Ellis/Smith, Hurlburt-Yu/Wu

Bass/Popor were sensational on home turf in January – unbeaten in all three tournaments – and this has raised hopes for a good Olympic run. They are hungry for success and the last couple of years has seen them challenge for titles at all the major tournaments. This is a very tricky group though. Thom Gicquel and Delphine Delrue have been attracting more and more admiring appraisals and it’s obvious they have been working hard through the pandemic. I have a feeling that their sights are set on the title at their home Olympics and this competition is part of the ongoing project. Marcus Ellis and Lauren Smith should have enough experience to negotiate this part of the competition and get into the knockout stages. If they can get to the QF the Brits are possible dark horses for a medal but their head-to-head against all of the seeds is not good. Their opening game is against the French and it is a must win for both pairs.

Group C: Jordan/Oktavianti (#4),Watanabe/Higashino, Christiansen/Boje, Wing Hang Leung/Somerville

Gold is the target for the Indonesian 4th seeds and they have what it takes to deny their rivals so long as Praveen Jordan can consistently find his form. His intimidating presence, blistering smash and all-round game make him a complicated opponent; Melati is a excellent foil for him. If PraMel start sluggishly then the Japanese pair could top the group. The current All England champions are eyeing a podium spot but as Yuta Watanabe is competing in the MD too I’m curious how he’s going to manage the physical and emotional demands upon him. I’m a big fan of Arisa Higashino; her play from the rear court liberates Yuta to maraud at the front and this is one of their major advantages over many rivals. Could the Danes or Australians seize the initiative in this group and grab one of the top two places? It’s quite a big ask, so let’s see who starts smartly and gets some momentum as pressure rises.

Group D: Wang/Huang (#2), Lamfuss/Herttrich, Tang/Tse, Chan/Goh

WANG Yi Lyu and HUANG Dong Ping are likely to boss this group. HDP is always an eye-catching net player with such a reliable touch and good strategic vision whilst her partner can consistently put away chances. Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying – the Silver medalists in Rio – will expect to progress out of the group alongside the Chinese pair.

Predictions

Can any of these pairs stop the top seeds winning Gold? On paper the most likely would be their compatriots but we have all witnessed unexpected results in the Olympic theatre. Praveen Jordan is a bit temperamental and this can be turned to his advantage; it’s a useful strategy to be unpredictable especially against opponents like the Chinese who tend to be ‘hard-drilled’. It’s essential that he is competing at a consistent level though; otherwise PraMel will miss opportunities to win. There have been whispers of a possible injury to Jordan but he has dismissed this and said it is inevitable aches and pains after hard training. The Thai duo, Puavaranukroh/Taerattanachai have become serious contenders and the Korean pair in Group A could be fighting for a medal but – as with Yuta – I’m concerned about Seo Seung-jae’s risk of fatigue. As for Watanabe and Higashino; I’m a little nervous about Arisa’s defence if she comes under sustained pressure so as a team they must avoid situations that allow their opponents to turn the screw. Malaysians Chan/Goh know how to win an Olympic medal likewise Marcus Ellis who with Lauren Smith could be challenging for honours at the end.

Realistically it’s hard to see beyond Zheng Si Wei and Huang Ya Qiong. Although we haven’t been able to watch them in international competition for a while there is no doubt that they will have been preparing diligently and will be excited to assert their dominance. The Chinese badminton community always approach the Olympics with the highest expectations and in this instance they are justified in expecting two medals


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Badminton,Team GB and Tokyo

The British have chosen 11 players to challenge for medals at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics but they are not necessarily the athletes we expected to be on the list at the start of June. In an astonishingly brutal decision the Rio bronze medallists – Marcus Ellis and Chris Langridge – were dropped in favour of the young guns: Ben Lane and Sean Vendy. Of course, we know that regardless of qualifying via BWF ranking points the final gift of a place is decided by the coaches but it appears to be a decision that was communicated at the eleventh hour. This probably means it’s too late for any sort of meaningful appeal. As an observer I have no inside knowledge but Langridge’s instagram post from June 4th suggests he thought he was part of the team.

Official Logo – picture from Shutterstock

Men’s Doubles: Ben Lane & Sean Vendy

Lane and Vendy were excellent in Thailand in January. They thrived in the bubble and I really feel that their level of performance went up by several notches. The challenge for them now is to maintain that improvement with an eye on the future. Their pathway leads to the Paris Olympics and if they are going to disrupt the stranglehold that Indonesia, Japan and China have on this sector then the hard work is only just beginning. Tokyo offers vital experience and they must use it to enrich their future matches.

Mixed Doubles: Lauren Smith & Marcus Ellis

These two can go toe-to-toe with the best and I’m very excited about their chances for a medal. Ellis is a fantastic athlete: he never gives up and keeps fighting right to the end. His chippy attitude often means he seizes victory in 50/50 situations or even when defeat seems to be looming. It’s disappointing that he can’t defend his MD Bronze, however playing less games will narrow his focus and may help his load management. XD glory ultimately will stem from Lauren Smith and how she plays in the tournament. It’s vital that their strategies reflect her importance and the essential interceptions that Ellis can give at the net.

Women’s Singles: Kirsty Gilmour

This is Kirsty Gilmour’s second Olympics and it was no surprise that she qualified for the competition. Her title win at the 2020 SaarLorLux and especially her hard-fought semi-final triumph over Carolina Marin showed what a wholehearted competitor she is. She’s had a few injury niggles and training disruption but I hope she can progress through the tournament.

Men’s Singles: Toby Penty plus ParaBadminton Dan Bethell (SL3), Jack Shephard (SH6) and Krysten Coombes (SH6)

Penty will be making his Olympic debut in Tokyo so it will be interesting to see how he progresses and uses the experience to push on to – for instance – a possible medal at the Commonwealth Games next year. A lot is going to depend on the draw and his reaction to the pressure of the tournament.

Dan Bethell – who upgraded from tennis to badminton a while ago – has a genuine shot at Gold in his category (SL3) at the Parabadminton tournament. He won Silver at the World Championships in Basle 2019 and was beaten by Pramod Bhagat that day. The Indian is a superb player who has a habit of winning, so Bethell must be at his best if he wants to be on top of the podium.

Jack Shephard is an athlete who will be disappointed if he doesn’t win Gold in the SH6 class. He successfully defended his 2017 World Title in 2019 and he is the player all the others have to beat. Krysten Coombes – world #5 – is in the same sector. He won European Gold in 2016 and so knows what it takes to win high pressure games.

Women’s Doubles: Chloe Birch & Lauren Smith.

These two won silver at the European Games a couple of years ago and would be considered one of the best pairs in Europe. How far they progress is hard to predict simply because the duos from Japan, China, and Korea tend to dominate top level tournaments. A good draw and quick adjustment to local conditions could see them advance.

Men’s WH2: Martin Rooke

Rooke is a well-known competitor in both the singles and doubles of WH2. He’s one of those players who has a habit of winning so it would be no surprise to see him on the podium in Tokyo.

Can I Mention Rachel Choong?

I’m extremely disappointed that the first Paralympics to include badminton also excludes multiple world champion Rachel Choong. Her SH6 category is not included this time. Actually, it’s just the women’s SH6 that is left out, Jack Shephard and Krysten Coombes who is in the men’s SH6 will be in Tokyo. Perhaps someone can clarify the reason for this? I’m told it’s partly because when the programme for the parabadminton was announced the women’s SH6 did not have a wide global representation. Hopefully Paris 2024 will see this rectified.

Conclusions

Our Team GB athletes have four realistic chances of parabadminton medals including Gold and a chance of a further medal in the able-bodied sector. It has been a very hard year for all competitors and some nations have found it easier than others to maintain the function of a national training centre, to hold meaningful national competitions or to run Olympic Simulations.

Back in 2010 there was a magazine article http://www.theleisurereview.co.uk/articles10/christy.html that claimed Badminton England’s strategy was to be the number one badminton nation by 2016. That was a pretty taxing target but nevertheless the mission statement in 2021 still says that “Olympic success [is] at the heart of our ambitions”. The harsh truth is that success brings funding so it’s crucial that the national body can point to victories that show progress, that engage the population at large and inspire the next generation. It’s disappointing that there are no women athletes from the parabadminton community that have qualified. Of the 11 people travelling to compete only 3 are female; perhaps I can count Lauren Smith twice as she will compete in two sectors but whatever way we look at it something is not working. In terms of representing the community at large it might also be worth considering the lack of apparent diversity in the athletes backgrounds and whether this means that there is a source of talent that is not being included. I don’t know, I don’t have accurate information to hand regarding this.

The Olympics is always a hard competition to call. I hope that our athletes thrive and play their best games. It’s been a long journey to get to this point and all our players deserve their spots and the opportunity to compete against the best.


Thanks to all my friends on twitter for sharing their thoughts about the Olympics. If you enjoyed this then take a look at my recent article about the MD world Number 1s https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/06/06/kevin-marcus-and-tokyo-gold/

Olympic previews are here. Women’s Doubles https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/07/19/the-olympics-womens-doubles-preview/ Women’s Singles https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/07/17/the-olympics-womens-singles-preview/ Men’s Doubles https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/07/15/the-olympics-mens-doubles-preview/ and Mixed https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/07/14/the-olympics-mixed-doubles-preview/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Kevin, Marcus and Tokyo Gold

The qualifications are over, the invites are sent;  we can see athletes standing on the brink of greatness. Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon are world #1 and two players who have the talent and ambition to win Gold.

W5CWG0 Tokyo, Japan. 28th July, 2019. Marcus Fernaldi Gideon & Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo (INA) Badminton : Daihatsu Yonex Japan Open 2019 Men’s doubles Final at Musashino Forest Sport Plaza in Tokyo, Japan . Credit: Yohei Osada/AFLO SPORT/Alamy Live News

The Men’s Doubles contest will be edge-of-the-seat stuff for fans as the Minions style naturally amplifies the intensity of matches. Sukamuljo plays without restraint; his split-second analysis and retaliation raises the pulse of the spectators and the game.  He is the architect of a controlled mayhem within the boundaries of the court– his high tempo style is so unpredictable yet it never seems to wrong-foot his partner.  Kevin is an entertainer who loves to show what he can do.  He is an extraordinary competitor who has been set free to express his talent because of his wonderful relationship on court with Marcus.

Marcus Gideon is the anchor of the partnership.  Behind the mercurial Kevin his work rate at the back of the court is huge.  Kevin’s random creativity fits well with Marcus and their chemistry together is magic.  I adore the way their energy sparks drama around the net.  If opponents are not broken by the fast flat game extra pressure rests on Gideon.  Clever rivals neutralise them with shots that are designed to disarm their aggression and it’s obvious that this tests their patience.

Nothing is certain in the Olympic arena except that the path to the podium will be unforgiving.  The competition begins with 16 pairs made into four groups each headed by one of the top 4 qualifiers. It’s vital that they bring a single-minded focus to the court because only the top four are kept apart at this stage.  This means that a group could contain Astrup/Rasmussen, Kamura/Sonoda, and LEE/WANG.  We’ll find out more about this when the draw is held prior to the start of the competition but the possibility exists for some brutal opening matches.

I think their main challenge is finding a way to beat pairs like Endo/Watanabe who can withstand the flat fast game.  Yuta can engage with Kevin at the net and the Japanese understand that by taking the pace off the shuttle they can exert sustained pressure to frustrate the Indonesian pair.  Lifting high to the back of the court is a strategy we see used to blunt Sukamuljo’s attack. There’s no doubt that Kevin’s ambitious vision is the key to victory so long as his partner can keep the shuttle in play.  His perception of space, and his anticipation of it opening up, could be what sets them on the road to glory.  His agile badminton intellect fused with a ‘quiet eye’ and the physical ability to execute the shot will make the difference.  The phenomenon of ‘quiet eye’ is well-known in sport psychology – it’s that tracking gaze fixed on a target just before a decisive movement.  It’s analytical observation that knows what is important and when it’s important.

What does the Olympic tournament hold for the Minions?  There is a huge weight of expectation that rests on their shoulders and their coaches and fans have to protect them – as far as possible – from unnecessary pressure that could dilute their focus.  They have to be able to compete with a quiet mind.  I don’t mean that we should expect the Olympics to be a picnic for them but I want stress to be fuel for great performances.   There is no inevitability to progress. Can they take on Japan’s finest and defuse the threat?  Taiwan and China will be tough opponents and of course, if things go well the seeding could unwind as far as an all-Indonesian final. 

The Indonesian system routinely delivers standout players who have incomparable technical skills fused with great defence and they compete with flair and spirit. Fans all over the world are longing to see the top seeds at the top of the podium but it’s likely that this will be an event that demands more from them than any other. Men’s Doubles is going to be a fierce contest between equals so the players who adapt quickly to the conditions in the hall and the odd empty atmoshere will be at an advantage. Kevin and Marcus won at the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza back in 2019 and this will be their opportunity to cement their legendary staus in badminton. Good luck, play well, have fun & no injuries!


“Partner Andalan”


If you enjoyed this then take a look at this article from my archives about the Minions https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/29/the-minions-indonesian-superheroes/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Marin To Miss Olympics

In a breaking news story the Rio 2016 Gold medalist has announced that she will be unable to defend her title in Tokyo.

Picture from Shutterstock/ Hafiz Johari

The devastating news came after she felt some discomfort in her left anterior cruciate ligament during training last week. The medics have confirmed that she will have to undergo surgery to repair both meniscus and the torn ACL. It’s quite hard to speculate what the future holds but there is no doubt that this is a serious injury. She had the drive and self-belief to recover from a similar problem to her right knee so she knows the scale of the work that awaits her.

Marin is a fierce competitior who has shown a fantastic commitment to the sport throughout lockdown. She has been willing to travel far and wide to continue playing in tournaments; her two wins in Thailand in January were out of the top drawer.

This is the statement from Carolina’s Twitter feed

The tournament in Tokyo will not be the same without her. Best wishes Caro!


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My Perfect Player: Part 2

I miss seeing my favourites on court so, as a response to the gloomy news about the postponement of the Malaysia Open, I have worked out the essence of a perfect player by taking the best bits from some of the finest athletes in the men’s game.

Vivacity: Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo

We delight in Kevin as an unstoppable force of nature.  His zesty intelligent play on court is exhilarating for spectators and often overwhelming for opponents.  His expertise at reading the game gives him stellar anticipation and fused with his technical ability, it’s not hard to see why he and Marcus Gideon have been World #1 for so long.  I love his high-speed reactions, his ambition and his imaginative vision.

Embed from Getty Images

Bullet Proof: Kento Momota

Momota’s will to win, his unflappable demeanour and apparently unlimited stamina have all driven him on to the top of many podiums.  On court he is economic with his emotions and strategy but his relentless return of the shuttle breaks his rivals resolve and often exposes their lack of ideas. Over the years he has overcome so many hurdles that his invincible aura just becomes brighter and brighter. He is an awesome athlete who plays with speed and accuracy and deserves his World #1 status.

Photo by Abdul Razak Latif/Shutterstock

Speed: Anthony or Yuta?

Intuitively I’d always choose Anthony Ginting in this category – his effortless, flowing movement is so classy and quick.  His fleet-footed style dovetails nicely with his silky racket skills too…however I ran a Twitter poll a few weeks ago and some fan’s answers made me reconsider a little especially Mia Wenas who suggested Yuta Watanabe.  Comparing singles and doubles players is tricky but Yuta’s court coverage and agile movement is hard to equal. I always think he wears a shirt that looks too big and this disguises his movement somewhat. He is one of the few players who can face Kevin over a net as an equal and so because of that he has to be recognised here.

100% Legend: Hendra Setiawan

Nobody wins all the major titles in their sport by chance: Hendra is an icon of the game.  His calm demeanour under pressure, his quick-witted strategic assessments on court and his extravagant skills at the net make him a truly wonderful player.  His humble response to compliments and victories are the mark of a real gentleman.  A badminton role model worldwide.

Street Fighting Man: Anders Antonsen

Antonsen has stepped up a level in the past couple of years; like all elite badminton players his technical skills are superb but what I really like about him is that he is a resourceful scrapper.  Many were shocked by his somewhat controversial tactics when winning against Viktor Axelsen at the World Tour Finals back in January.  His energy conserving strategy of conceding the second set was daring and ultimately successful; it took a ton of confidence to risk everything for the title but his gamble worked.

Firepower: Praveen Jordan or Viktor Axelsen

Probably the two hardest-hitters in the game but that does not do either man’s game justice. I’m fascinated to see what these two competitors can achieve at the Tokyo Olympics – they have a realistic chance of Gold but power alone does not win badminton matches.

I’ve really enjoyed trying to nail down the charactersitics of a Gold Medal player but this was just for fun. I’m sure that on another day I may’ve found room for Jonathan Christie, CHOU Tien Chen or SHI Yuqi. It’s hardly fair to single out players without mentioning their partners if they are from the doubles sector so don’t take this too seriously. Comments are welcome.


If you enjoyed this then take a look at Part 1 where I looked at the women’s game https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/04/30/my-perfect-badminton-player/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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My Perfect Badminton Player

Inspired by the recent BWF series I started thinking…

Vision: TAI Tzu Ying

Pic from Shutterstock/ Abdul Razak Latif

TTY’s creative genius is Box Office Gold. Everyone wants to see that backhand reverse slice straight drop, especially when they least expect it. Her bedrock is superb technical skills blended with fitness.  The cocktail of flair, bravery and total self-belief is irresistable.  Because her shots are so unpredictable she stops rivals from anticipating her moves and this give her a tremendous competitive edge.  Any player who nurtures aspirations to get to the very top has to be inspired by TAI’s style.

Explosive Power: Carolina Marin

Marin’s superb athleticism blended with her attacking style makes her a formidable opponent.  She smashes, lunges and kills with venomous force.  She blazes on court; once she seizes the momentum of the game 6 or 7 points are in her pocket in the blink of an eye.  She is a rowdy, disruptive, noisy adversary who has harnassed her passion to carry her to the top of the sport.

Win-Ability: Misaki Matsutomo

There’s just something about Misaki Matsutomo – she seems able to force a victory, to break opponent’s will to win even when they are in a commanding position.  Of course the best example of this was the WD Rio Olympic final in 2016.  On the surface she looks mild but underneath she has an iron will.  Her instinctive response to danger is defiance; at 19-16 behind in the Gold medal match something was unleashed from deep inside her.  Her clever movement, trust in her partner and dominance at the net saw her at the top of the podium.  I’d love her to reach these heights in her XD career.

Accuracy: Ratchanok Intanon

May has a lot in common with TTY in terms of the technical quality of her strokes and she can execute some of the most breathtaking shots one would see on a court.  However, sometimes having the ability to land a shuttle on the line is a blessing and a curse.  Under pressure, and losing patience Ratchanok will often adopt a ‘death or glory’ approach.  Instead of playing percentage badminton and simply keeping the rally going she will push up a level and try for the point.  When it works it is majestic and a joy to watch.

Stamina: Nozomi Okuhara

Her style of play has long rallies at its core so her endurance is second-to-none.  However, this is a too simplistic view of this brilliant player.  She is fleet-footed and agile around the court with excellent flexibility.  She is clever and has superb technical skills although sometimes I think she delays finishing off a rally for too long – the opposite of Ratchanok.  I really respect her strength of focus in her pursuit of Tokyo Gold at a very tough time for the sport.  On a personal level, she is adorable.  When BirdJapan play team competitions she can be spotted on the sidelines leading the cheering for compatriots, and her all-round grace under pressure make her a very special person.

Potential: AN Se Young

In a couple of years time ASY could dominate the world scene. For now, shes a tournament random variable: often able to vanquish more illustrious opponents but not yet able to consistently reach finals weekend. I’d like her to work on the ability to shock. For now she has great anticipation and good all-round skill but she is quite reactive – to get to the next level I want to see effective shots that I don’t expect and better stamina over the duration of a competition.

It’s been amusing to try and build my Women’s Gold medal player, but there’s no doubt that some skills will outweigh others in tournament conditions in a drifty stadium. I didn’t include some of my favourite players: Saina’s intelligence and will to win, Sindhu’s power, Yuki’s consistency and Greysia’s defence but in the end this was just for fun. I’m sure you can suggest people I should have included – feel free to use the comments option.


If you enjoyed this then take a look at my article about the team behind TAI tzu Ying’s success https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/02/25/team-tai-tzu-ying/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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The Covid Adjusted All England.

If NASA can land a rover on Mars why did it prove so difficult to get some elite athletes together in Birmingham for the Yonex All England 2021?

Pic from Shutterstock

No one has given a coherant explanation for decisions that were made. I wasn’t there, I’m not employed by any badminton organisation or the British authorities so this is just a speculative opinion piece from a fan.

“…this has been an extraordinarily painful and disappointing event for all of us…”

Badminton Indonesia – translated into English

There are some things that must be stated explicitly.  There is never any excuse for the harassment of players, officials or the wider community.  The winners of the titles are legitimate champions – none of these victories would be a surprise in ‘normal’ circumstances.  The people at the ‘coal face’ worked incredibly hard to stage the tournament.

January in Thailand saw a quarantine bubble with three successful tournaments, facilitated by cash from the Thai government. Contrast this with the situation in England. In September 2020 the Chief Executive of Badminton England said that the Championships were under threat unless the British Govt gave £1M to support it; this was followed up by an announcement on 19.11 of £2M funding and then a government press release that confirmed £1.3M to cover “essential costs to ensure the survival of these organisations”. Given the significant reserves held by the BWF it’s disappointing that these funds were needed.

Perhaps lack of cash was the reason that no pre-tournament quarantine bubble was enforced for this competition. Players were travelling long distances by air to a nation that had suffered over 125,000 dead in the pandemic, the general population were enduring their third lockdown plus the UK Test and Trace system is widely regarded as a national scandal. What could possibly go wrong?

Even before the bombshell of the Indonesian team’s withdrawal there were remarkable events earlier in the week.

  • Scottish players who travelled on a flight from Zurich after competing at the Swiss Open had to withdraw owing to a positive test on their flight.
  • Mathias Boe questioned the authenticity of the tests after members of the Indian team returned positive results despite isolation in Zurich for the Swiss Open and 5 negatives in 14 days. (Of course this ignores the risks of infection on a flight to the UK.)
  • One of the Danish team support staff tested positive and there was the real possibility of the whole team missing the tournament.

In fact, during the testing in Birmingham there had been 7 positives from players of 3 different nations and numerous ‘inconclusives’. In my opinion a sensible decision was made to retest but I am not clear why so many worrying results were produced. Were the samples collected and processed correctly and in a timely manner? ‘Inconclusive’ suggests contamination so is this the reason that retests were allowed?

Other peripherals also seemed odd. In the official preview it was a surprise to see Marcus Gideon and Kevin Sukamuljo described as ‘the Daddies’ whilst Praveen Jordan was called a former YAE MD champion (he is XD). Earlier pieces had called the Stoeva Sisters Belarussian (they are Bulgarian) and suggested that Marin was the beaten finalist in 2020 (she was knocked out in the SF).

It was remarkable that BWF had provided so few officials. How could it happen that in the R1 match between the Indonesian pair of Ahsan/Setiawan and Englishmen Lane/Vendy the service judge appeared to be from England too? Most sports do not allow compatriots to officiate over competitors – for obvious reasons.

I don’t think anyone – apart from the directors at Badminton England – has a clear timeline as to when the decision was made to require the Indonesian team and Neslihan Yigit to withdraw.  Choosing this option rather than simply suspend play for the evening to give time for careful consideration meant that irreversible decisions with far-reaching consequences were put in motion.  Presumably BWF had already discussed English covid protocols and worse case scenarios with all the team managers and yet the requirement for 10 days isolation came as a shock.

It is not easy to understand why the NHS ‘Test to Release’ scheme was not appropriate in this instance. It allows foreign travellers arriving in England to take a covid test on day 5 of their quarantine; a negative triggers a discharge. Reportedly there were impassioned attempts by BE to explore options to continue the players participation but they were unsuccessful. It was refered all the way up the line to Ambassador level but nothing could be done. The ‘covid positive’ on the Istanbul flight trumped any possible solutions.

Confirmation from the UK Govt NHS site that Test & Trace requirements override everything.

It’s a painful fact that it’s irrelevant to UK Covid law that the entire Indonesian team had consistently returned negative swabs and had been vaccinated before departure from Jakarta. There is a strong sense of injustice.  The instances of positive results were not treated in the same way.  Because no-one has explained what the differences are, there have been ridiculous accusations of foul play and unacceptable behaviour from people who are not fans and supporters of badminton. I think it has been naive of the badminton authorities to try to move the narrative swiftly away. This has been a opportunity for strong leadership and a willingness to learn but instead we are mired in a swirl of speculation and disappointment. I’m aghast at the insensitive tone of some social media posts; allowing poisonous comments to be appended to them is completely irresponsible as it inflames a difficult situation.

I feel sad because this has overshadowed one of the best tournaments in the world and it was so avoidable. It seems to me that the players are the ultimate victims but they have no strong unified voice to call for change. Why encourage athletes to travel halfway across the world without providing a pre-competition quarantine bubble? If the Court of Arbitration in Sport can unpick the facts from this who has to take ultimate responsibility?


This is the apology letter from the BWF https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/03/22/apology-from-bwf/ it was posted on the Kemenpora publicly available Instagram page and I copied it from there.

This is a piece about the same events by a fellow blogger and fan at Shuttle Smash https://shuttlesmash.com/all-england-2021-what-happened/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Featured

Yonex All England 2021: Singles Preview

The whole tournament is dominated by the most eagerly awaited comeback in modern badminton history.  The return of Momota. The spotlight will be on him from the second he steps back on court.

Artwork by Nekokite

Men’s Singles

Kento Momota is like a ravenous lion circling a water hole and preparing to pounce on unsuspecting antelope; here is a lion who hasn’t tasted red meat in a looong time.

It’s impossible to guess his level of fitness after such a lengthy absence but his superior mental strength will have driven him on to train and stay focused.  He has all the weapons to regain his title after missing the AE last year and he can often expose highly seeded opponents as one-dimensional.  He has an aura of a returning king although he must feel some nerves about the standards he can reach at the beginning of his campaign.  Viktor Axelsen has set a high benchmark over the past three months so Momota must be on guard.    Prediction: Final

Viktor Axelsen – the defending champion – had a brilliant January in Thailand so he will be arriving in Birmingham with high hopes of keeping his title.  He has been awesome at grabbing opportunities to win over the past 3 months: a living embodiment of Carpe Diem. However, that loss at the WTF keeps niggling away at me.  His power, fitness and will to win are second to none but he was unsettled by Antonsen’s cunning tactics.  Falling prey to a version of the rope-a-dope trick must have been incredibly frustrating and I wonder what the effect of that will be long-term.  Axelsen has introduced us to his ‘mental coach’ recently, who is an ex special forces soldier so he clearly wishes to explore how his psychology can give him an edge.  In the final of the Swiss Open he was unstoppable as he bulldozed his way to the trophy. It’s worth noting that his opponent – Vitidsarn – did start the encounter well and his tactics reminded me of Momota’s ‘waiting game’ approach, but he made too many errors and ran out of steam.   Momota has plenty of stamina and he knows not to give VA power to feed off, so if they meet in the final Viktor should be pushed harder.  Prediction Runner up

Anders Antonsen – the WTF Champion – is never a person to fade into the background and the past six months have been full on drama.  Starting in October, his epic battle against Gemke in the final of the Denmark Open left both unable to walk unaided from the arena, in November he contracted Covid, January saw patchy performances in the first two tournaments in Bangkok then he roared back to form in the WTF to snatch victory away from Axelsen; this all adds layers of experience to an intelligent player who needs to be on court.  Viktor has better fitness and stamina but Antonsen has better strategies.  Last year’s YAE saw him retire hurt from his semi-Final against CHOU Tien Chen which was a huge disappointment as he had every chance of making the final at that point. He is seeded 3 so it may be that we see an all-Danish semi final with the liklihood of a fired-up Viktor looking for revenge.

Anthony Ginting spearheads the Indonesia challenge in this sector.  When he is consistently at his best, he is unstoppable and we saw flashes of this brilliance in Thailand but he didn’t have enough for a podium finish.  On the whole, after such a long break, his performance gave some cause for optimism, or at least no cause for alarm.  In the SF of the Yonex Thailand Open he came up against a resolute VA in the third set but overall, he lost that tie 53-55 which puts a revealing slant on his defeat.  His levels dropped off in the next two tournaments and this is exasperating as he is such a glorious player. I saw lockdown as a useful opportunity for some players to improve areas of their game and instinctively I would point to his ‘third set’ strategies. There are not really gaps in his technique but something is missing in this area that his coaches need to address. I would love to see him come to Birmingham and gift us fans a MomoGI in the semi final. And then I want a final.

Kunlavut Vitidsarn was the World Junior Champion for three years running (2017/18/19) and is one of badminton’s rising stars.  Axelsen demolished him in the second set of the final of the Swiss Open but his fluency around the court and technical skill is exciting.  As he builds on his experience and puts more hours in at the gym we will see an improvement in stamina and pace.  The fact that he stayed with Viktor in the first set whilst playing patiently should worry Jonatan Christie who plays him in the first round.

Jonatan Christie is seeded 5 and has a brutal draw: possibly meeting Axelsen at the QF stage.  If so then he could struggle to progress as their h2h coupled with the Danes form doesn’t indicate any easy points.  It would be wonderful to see him get to the weekend but it would be a bit of a jaw-dropper if he can subdue the Dane. Last year LEE Zii Jia who is seeded 6, had a thrilling run to the SF before losing in a closely fought match with VA.  He is very mobile, with good technical skills, a great player for a neutral to support.  He looked a bit lethargic at the Swiss Open so perhaps he is an athlete who needs to compete consistently to maintain his focus and pace. A possible Quarter Final with Momota is on the horizon and to have any dream of progress he must improve on his recent form.

Women’s Singles

Owing to Marin’s late withdrawal from the tournament the top half of the draw is suddenly looking less intimidating for the other players. Akane, Pornpawee, and Pursala would have had to beat her to get to the final; now there is one less obstacle on the road.

Akane Yamaguchi is seeded 3 but still, this will be the first time we have seen her in an international tournament for a year and I honestly don’t know what we can expect.  She was the beaten finalist (in three sets) against Nozomi at the All-Japan National Championships in December. Before the pandemic her brief period at World #1 was followed by some inconsistency. At her best, she is a contender for the title, so the puzzle is about the level she is at when she hits the courts on the 17th March. She is known as a retriever but there have been occasions when she has used a fiercer style; combining more aggression with her great court coverage will give her more options when she is under pressure. The prospect of a QF against Pornpawee is intriguing. Mew nearly beat Marin in the Semi Final of the Swiss Open; she seemed down and out but hauled herself back into contention. Peppery unpredictability with unlimited stamina could be a good strategy.

Nozomi Okuhara‘s victory in the final of the Denmark Open over Marin came after a dazzling two sets; she would not let the Spaniard get a foothold in the game. The strategy of frustrating and denying her the chance to build a competitive rhythm disrupted her momentum and was a key element in Nozomi’s success.  In the context of 2019 where she consistently reached finals only to lose this was a big breakthrough. The court coverage, stamina and sheer stubbornness of Nozomi are hard to break. She last won in 2016 but with the Tokyo Olympics in mind she will be aiming to become a hard player to beat at the end of a tournament so this is the perfect place to set a marker. The hall conditions should suit her but she must get the right balance between attack and defence.

Ratchanok Intanon – the #4 seed – is coming to the All England for another shot at winning the title. She was close in 2017 but was relegated to Silver by TAI Tzu Ying. We often criticise TTY for lack of patience but I think that May suffers with this too – her sublime technical skills sometimes mean that she doesn’t play the percentages.  May could potentially be looking at a semi-final against Nozomi which would be a dream for fans. Rather like Anthony in the MS I wish she was more solid in the third set. It’s harder than it looks to behave with restraint in that section of a match but it is within her capabilities; we have all watched epic games where she fights with incredible grit and courage. In her 2020 win at the Indonesia Masters she overcame Marin in three sets so she can be inspired by this.

Pornpawee CHOCHUWONG’s progress since her victory over Carolina Marin at the Spain Masters in 2020 has been dislocated because of the effect of Covid cancellations on the badminton tour.  Nevertheless, she had victories over TAI Tzu Ying and Ratchanok in Bangkok which shows that she has the ability to compete with the best.  Her recent SF match against Carolina Marin at the Swiss Open was a defeat but she pushed all the way with a gritty and skilful display. Seeded 6 she has every reason to be optimistic if she can cut some of her errors. It would be an upset if she won the title but she has a chance – especially in the absence of Marin – and the mental stamina to push all the way to the end of a third set. Her obstinate outlook is a big advantage and it could be the foundation of tremendous achievements.

I would love to see Pursala V Sindhu rampage through the early rounds of this competition in the sort of form that won her the title at the World Championships in 2019.  She’s a great athlete, but it just seems that sometimes she cannot dig herself out of a hole when the game tilts away from her.  The final at the Swiss Open showed her difficulties; she struggled on her lunges to the front court to reach wide shots and wasn’t using any creativity to stop Marins anticipatory game. On the positive side she did get to the final and in the first set she seemed to have a bit more speed around the court. I hope that her coaching environment becomes more settled so that she can continue to develop her range.

So we have a men’s competition where we have to measure athletes against Viktor’s tough standards but Momota has returned to complicate things and a women’s competition that is missing TTY and Carolina but still features players with a realistic chance of the Gold medal later on in the year in Tokyo. All England success this year will go to the competitor who can come to the court with intensity and desire after twelve months of disruption and boredom. Can Viktor prove that he is the new King of the courts?


If you enjoyed this then take a look at my preview for the doubles sector https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/03/08/yonex-all-england-2021-doubles-preview/ or read my review of last year’s competition https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/03/21/yonex-all-england-2020-review/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Featured

Yonex All England 2021: Doubles Preview

The arena in Birmingham awaits. The stage is set for badminton royalty to remind fans why they dominate world badminton. A Super 1000 tournament is the ultimate test and a Super 1000 title is the sign of sporting magnificence.

Men’s Doubles

Will anyone be able to stop the Minion’s progress to the title?  Indonesian men’s doubles is the finest in the world but that doesn’t mean the path to the podium is painless.

Kevin Sukamuljo & Marcus Gideon – were last year’s beaten finalists and are top seeds.  The key question is whether or not they can overcome the sort of strategies Yuta & Endo used against them in the final last year – have they been able to add those couple of extra percentage points to their performance to grab the gold?  It is vital that they are focused from the minute they step on court in R1 because there are some outstanding rivals ready to eliminate them.  If they get to the QF it’s possible they may meet the talented Indian pair Rankireddy/Shetty or the recent Swiss Open champions Astrup/Rasmussen.  Both of these can defend a barrage of flat, aggressive shots so a crucial asset for the Minions is going to be patience, and to be confident in the breadth of their attack. Prediction: Final – they will rock the All England together!

Takeshi Kamura & Keigo Sonoda are Japan’s highest seeds at 3. Kamura has great vision and anticipation with shuttle hunting at the core of his game.  Sonoda is the steadfast partner who backs him up and feeds off what he creates. They are the epitome of “fast and furious” with rowdy shouting and a brawny, dynamic approach. They never run out of energy but their head-to-head record against the Minions is quite weak so if they face each other over the net on the Saturday all the stats point to an Indonesian win.  Prediction: Semi Final

Hiroyuki Endo/Yuta Watanabe: I adore Yuta’s swashbuckling style and he is nicely balanced by Endo’s steadier approach.  It’s a rare player who can match Kevin Sukamuljo’s net play but Yuta is not intimidated by the Indonesian’s blistering reactions and can hold his own. Last year’s champions have every chance of defending their title but as they are ‘only’ seeded 4 they are not going to get an easy passage to the final.  It seems extraordinary to me that Yuta has a realistic chance of winning XD as well; surely there must come a point where his stamina is diluted?

Hendra Setiawan & Mohammad Ahsan: these two badminton heroes keep playing at the highest level and digging out results in taxing games.  Hendra’s skills belong to a different dimension when he is at the net, and he brings such control and determination to his matches.  They did play well in Thailand but were not able to stop Lee/Wang’s hat-trick of titles; in the final of the WTF they were simply overwhelmed by the Taiwanese players high speed muscular approach. They are seeded 2 and I never ever write them off.  Prediction SF.

Fajar Alfian & Muhammad Rian Ardianto.  I’m not sure what to expect from the fifth seeds.  I didn’t feel that they hit their stride in Thailand but when these two are at their best the combination of Ardianto’s crisp smashes and Alfian’s control of the net is exhilarating. It’s crucial that they find their competitive groove quickly, their rhythm in Thailand was too stuttery and they used a lot of energy chasing points rather than dictating games. Its feasible that they could meet the Dads at the QF stage and they will not be the favourites to win that game.

Mixed Doubles

There are exciting athletes in XD at the moment.  I’m intrigued to watch the new unseeded pairing of Olympic Gold Medallist Misaki Matsutomo with Yuki Kaneko.  When TakaMatsu broke up last year, Misaki switched disciplines from WD to XD in a bid to get a spot at the Tokyo games.  I don’t think they can expect to get beyond a Quarter Final but she is a competitor from the top draw and her fans would love to enjoy watching a good run in this tournament.  It feels as though this is a competition ready to be won by someone unexpected, especially as Bass/Popor have decided not to compete. I can’t lie, I would adore it if they over-achieved.

Praveen Jordan & Melati Daeva Oktavianti. Seeded 1 and the defending champions – PraMel are sharp-witted and shrewd players. Jordan always looks so strong and menacing; no one has a smash as hard as him.  If he is in the right frame of mind he can ride the momentum of a game and annihilate opponents.  Melati needs him to be focused and fit so she can concentrate on her own role. He has had an injury but is reportedly back to full training so the mission to retain their title is feasible.

Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino: Yuta is not necessarily the most powerful player but he makes up for that with his anticipation and creativity.  It’s incredible that he has the stamina to compete at the highest level in two disciplines.  I like the partnership with Arisa because of her strength, when they find their positions reversed Yuta can rely on her to defend the back as he rules the front. This brings an extra dimension to their attack and can really turn the tide in their favour in a game. They are seeded 2 and I can’t really see who can stop their progress to a medal.

CHAN Peng Soon & GOH LIU Ying are the Rio silver medallists and should be looking at this competition as a good opportunity to win a title.  I think they must start brightly to try and build self-confidence before the possibility of a QF against Thom and Delphine.  They can get to the semi-final so long as they don’t get overwhelmed by the ebullient French pair.

Thom & Delphine: These two are being touted as the future of European XD and possible gold medallists at the Paris Olympics.  For now, they are just at the start of their journey but they are a confident duo who like to dominate and dictate the momentum of a match.  They are a stylish pair to watch, creative, zesty and always looking for gaps, especially out wide.  The intensity and quality of the competition they will face here is a step up from the Swiss Open but it is intriguing to measure them against some of the best in the world.  Prediction QF

Women’s Doubles

FukuHiro are top seeds and defending champions – they seem to have added a sprinkle of something extra to their game over the past year.  I think they have given themselves permission to be more than good.  In Denmark back in October Yuki Fukushima’s energy and desire propelled them on to the title.  Hirota’s swiftness of body and mind, her precision and anticipation screw down the pressure on opponents. If they bring the same aggression and accuracy to Birmingham the pair will be unstoppable. Prediction: Final

Embed from Getty Images

Nagahara & Matsumoto are often regarded as the Japanese pair with the most creative spark and aggression.  Matsumoto can unleash some brutal smashes and together they are a partnership that routinely wins big events.  Their rivalry with their compatriots will be an extra motivation especially after their defeat in the final at October’s Danish Open.  They failed to neutralise the influence of Fukushima and that was the decisive difference between them.  Prediction: Final

Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu: So, this looks like the last time Greysia will play at the All England and I’m sorry I can’t be there in person to cheer for one of my favourite players.  GreyAp competed fearlessly in January’s matches in Thailand and their triumph at the Yonex Thailand Open was a well-deserved, emotional victory.  I would love to see them on the podium here but I think the top seeds may just have a little bit extra over them.  Prediction:  My heart says final but my head says Quarter Final.  Good luck girls!

Jongkolphan Kititharakul & Rawinda Prajonjai can be a quick aggressive pair and are capable of despatching lower seeds without too much fuss but their head-to-head stats against the established Japanese players suggest that they are going to struggle to progress much further than a QF.  Their R1 game against Tan & Thinaah could be an awkward encounter.

Pearly TAN & THINAAH Muralitharan have a really tough draw because they are unseeded, but since playing in Thailand they have impressed everyone.  They possess winnability and seem to be able to squeak a result even when they are up against more experienced opposition. Their victory in the final of the Swiss Open against the Stoeva sisters was a good illustration of their desire; they played to win, not just to defend and they reaped the reward.  These two young Malaysians could be some stars in the making.

The doubles competitions in Birmingham are fascinating this year because so many of the top seeds have been absent from the international tour for a year or so.  Their challenge is to adapt to quarantine protocols quickly so they can compete at the levels of intensity and focus we expect.  There’s no doubt that the people who get to grips with the new procedures will be at an advantage. The saying goes that ‘when the sun comes out it dulls the other stars’, I’m very curious to see what the overall standard of play is. Will the athletes who have been missing now blaze a trail to the trophies despite their lack of match practice? or will they discover that while they’ve been away their European rivals have upped their levels?


If you enjoyed this read my review of last year’s tournament https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/03/21/yonex-all-england-2020-review/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Team TAI Tzu Ying

TAI Tzu Ying is celebrated as a dazzling player: the best of her generation.  She is a sensational athlete who combines breath-taking technical skill with daring and panache.  She is applauded by millions of fans worldwide whenever she appears. However, when she wins a title her celebratory snapshot on Instagram always contains at least four more people.  This is her acknowledgement of the huge team effort behind her victories.  In this article I want to look at some of the people who help light TTY’s path to glory.

“The Team!”
Picture from TAI Tzu Ying’s Instagram post.

Coach LAI – Head Coach

“…all we can do is be better than before.”

Coach LAI in conversation with BWF TV

The badminton Gods were smiling on the day LAI Chien Cheng was assigned to work at TTY’s high school for his Substitute Military Service.  Over the years this chance meeting sparked a collaboration that has been a blessing for both. LAI had a good badminton background but made the decision to finish his sporting career when he was 21 preferring instead to put his energy into his post grad studies.  After connecting through her school badminton programme, at first, he was TTY’s sparring partner but his importance to her meant that his contribution expanded and in Feb 2015 he became her official coach.  By the end of 2016 she was world #1

LAI’s strength is that he understands what style to use to inspire TAI.  He is in a position of respect but he is on TTYs wavelength, so his emotional literacy enables him to get the most from his player.  She has commented in the past that other coaches have attempted to change her style but she ‘can’t’ play like that.  He recognises that there will be no reward in altering her game.

TTY’s impulsiveness and freedom to express badminton joy on court means that she uses shots that rivals can’t imagine.  LAI has said that he tries to focus on areas to improve and look for incremental gains.  At elite level small advances can make a huge difference and revitalise a player’s armoury.  LAI remarked recently that his biggest challenge has been to innovate in training – he was reluctant to copy other people’s methods because it would lead to stagnation. I have heard a similar observation from Fernando Rivas when he has spoken about his work with Carolina Marin. Both men understand that to achieve the extraordinary they have to be pioneers.

Crucially LAI says that he will often find more than one solution to a problem.  He has a genuine relationship with TTY that has a foundation in trust and honesty so the communication between them allows a focus on the process of training and this builds a winning attitude.

It was no big surprise in February 2019 to hear that LAI had been asked to become the head coach for the Taiwan badminton team for the Olympics – he was widely regarded as one of the brightest young coaches in the world at that point.  In the following six months TTY’s titles dried up.  He resigned from his role in October 2019 so that he could concentrate his attention back to her.

However, the relationship did not resume exactly as before.  The support team had been reinforced in Jan 2019 and this meant there were three more people to help fuel the search for excellence:

WAN Chia Hsin – Coach

We often see Coach WAN talking to TTY and holding the ice pack to her neck in the intervals in matches.  He competed internationally for Taiwan up to 2014 and now works in her team.  His responsiblity is to implement Coach Lai’s plans.  This is a vital part of the framework around TAI Tzu Ying.  He will provide precise assessments on areas for attention, and feedback to LAI to influence strategies. A second coach means that ideas and tactics can be analysed from new viewpoints.

Wang Shih-Ting – Physiotherapist

A large part of WANG’s role is to address aches and pains; I doubt that any elite athlete can avoid these niggles so the challenge is to manage discomfort effectively.  Like TTY’s physical trainer – FAN Zan-Yu – she is a graduate of Kaohsiung Medical University.  Her responsibility covers post-practice and post-match recovery.  Physios tend to use manual therapies like massage to manipulate the body.  This helps blood flow and relieves stiffness and we often see photos of this on Instagram as TAI Tzu Ying lies on a treatment table.  She will note injury patterns, plan rest and use this information to help fine tune training routines.

FAN Zan-Yu

FAN has been a great all-round athlete across many disciplines from swimming to frisbee but she’s mainly known as a basketball player.  Her duties are centred around maintaining fitness and running the pre-match warm up.  She works closely with the physio and ultimately her contribution will give TTY confidence that she has the stamina and agility to beat her rivals.  I think that there is an intriguing synergy between basketball and badminton.  Both need explosive power, high speed directional changes and 3D vision and both make huge demands on an athlete’s body.

Her Family

TTY has a loving and supportive family who are united in support of her.  When they were children, her parents took her and her sister along when they played badminton.  As she got older her father used to enter her in ‘open’ tournaments when she would compete against seniors – and lose!  She now credits this as a formative experience, one that taught her to accept defeat.  Her father is responsible for the idiosyncratic stringing pattern we see on her racket.  It’s revealing that she was treated with understanding by them when she wanted to give up training so she could have fun with her friends but they also supported her when she restarted. Her happy relationship with her Grandma is famous on Instagram. 

And PS…

Some fans have suggested that I add a little more about TTY’s father here. As well as being a caring and supportive dad he was pivotal in picking Coach LAI as a sparring partner in the first place so it was his shrewd judgement that initiated this fruitful alliance. Throughout her career he has been her manager; overseeing arrangements and ensuring she continues her journey in badminton in the best way possible.

Coach Lai and the team have worked in partnership to inspire and motivate her but they are only part of the story. She is adored by fans and has often commentated that she wants to win for them. Win or lose they offer unconditional support. It’s fascinating to consider how many people have walked along the path to excellence with TAI Tzu Ying.


If you enjoyed this take a look at another article of mine about The Queen https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/02/02/tai-tzu-ying-genius/


I’d like to thank everyone who helped with information for this piece including DeeTree (@tty4ever and taitzuyingfans.wordpress.com), Shodo0702 (@Sandrali13), eeye24 (@eeye24), Jenny Day, TTY’s Facebook admin and of course BWF TV.


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Featured

Michelle Li

by Michelle The

Michelle Li is the finest player in the Pan Am region ever; she sits in the top 10 world ranking with 4 Pan Am Games gold medals, 4 Pan Am Championships gold medals, and a Commonwealth Games gold medal in her pocket. However, that success didn’t come instantly. She has had her own struggles around lack of funding and solo travel while coping with injuries and playing with pain.  Badminton glory is something she has pursued since she was a little kid, even after disapproval from her closest people. There was one thing she knew for sure; she is very passionate about badminton and she wouldn’t give it up. She chose to follow her dream.

Embed from Getty Images

In her best days, Michelle Li is a pure delight to watch. Her beautiful shots and powerful smashes, paired with her tenacity, make for a great badminton match for spectators.  It’s obvious that she loves to play and enjoys being part of the sport.

Born in Hong Kong, Michelle Li moved to Canada at the age of six with her family. She picked up her first racket at age 11, playing with her mom at a local community center. Not long after, she started training at her current club, Lee’s Badminton. Even in the early days, her coach, Jennifer Lee saw her mental toughness and believed she could succeed.

In Canada, badminton does not get a lot of attention so she has to constantly deal with the lack of financial support. Even though she is a top 10 athlete, it is still a struggle for her to get sponsors. Badminton Canada tries their best to help but they just don’t have enough funding to fully support their athletes.

““Because badminton is such a small sport in Canada, sponsors aren’t interested in badminton. And if I go to Asia, they wouldn’t sponsor someone from Canada. They’d sponsor someone from their own country. So, it has always been a struggle financially to figure out how I’m gonna fund my next tournament,”

Michelle Li

In the past, she often had to travel on her own without a team in her corner.  Once in a while her coach could come along, but not always. Incredibly they would sometimes have to talk through WhatsApp to discuss tactics. Definitely not the ideal situation for an athlete mid-tournament.  More recently though, she has started working with a personal coach and a therapist from Taiwan who have been able to accompany her to competitions and that has helped her a lot. Covid has restricted this to some degree but she is usually with the Team Canada coaches and fellow players.

Like most elite athletes Michelle has had to overcome injuries. Leading up to the 2016 Olympics, she discovered that she had a tear in her patella tendon, right knee, and hip, along with a broken bone in her right foot. After Rio, she went through surgery and was forced to take significant time off from competing.  She underwent grueling hours of rehab just to make her whole right leg felt like hers again. She had to relearn the basics and crawl up the ranking board anew. It was a year that she described as being “really really tough”.

After the rehab things started to look bright again.  With strong determination Michelle Li trained hard and has kept improving ever since. She has won 2 Macau Open titles, and made it to the semifinals of some big tournaments beating tough opponents like Tai Tzu Ying and Nozomi Okuhara along the way. Her ‘A’ game is creative and hard-hitting.  So long as her focus isn’t diluted by worries about money or pain, she can go toe-to-toe with the world’s best and come away with a result.

With the Tokyo Olympics coming up, Michelle Li has a dream to stand on the podium.  Her motivation is to change the sport on her side of the world for the better. She believes a medal would really raise the profile of badminton in Canada and help her make that happen.  

Her story will encourage other aspiring juniors to defy odds, pursue their dreams, believe in what they can do, and become champions. She always felt that she wasted a lot of time just trying to figure things out alone, and she hopes her experience can help others speed up their own process. She wants to promote the sport and help people have a better chance of succeeding. Let’s wish her all the very best for the coming Olympics and for the rest of her career! Keep fighting, Michelle!


For more coverage of Michelle Li follow @michellethe22 on Twitter


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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January 2021 Review: A Month In Thailand

Shock withdrawals, shock exits and shock reinstatements; January’s tournaments were never dull.  Unless of course, you happen to be a player quarantined in the Bangkok Novotel for 20 hours a day with chicken for dinner again.  Indomie products were suddenly currency and some athletes were  incentivised by the prospect of a year’s supply of the world’s best instant snack.

This is my look at the three Thailand tournaments.  I’m not pretending that I’m unbiased, or that I can cover everything but I hope my highlights remind you what a cracking few weeks fans have just enjoyed. 

HK Vittinghus’ January was epic.  Initially on the reserve list he had the ambition to gamble and start the long trip to Thailand from Denmark with no guarantee of a game.  Events moved in his favour when the Japanese team turned back at Tokyo airport following Momota’s positive test.  His story stuttered at the Yonex Thailand Open when he lost to compatriot Gemke in R1 but the following week saw him excel and become the focus of fierce support from fans in Indonesia who had realised that the further he progressed the more likely Anthony Ginting was to qualify for the World Tour Finals.  Some wild incentives involving Indomie noodles were offered.  Through very intense games he found a route to to the final and a match against Axelsen.  Along the way, his results meant that Anthony Ginting did qualify. Axelsen powered through the encounter but HK can be proud of his month’s work.

Astonishingly there were triple champions in MD and XD and double champions in MS and WS which suggests that finding the winning formula fast in the impact arena offered big rewards.  I think that people with good underlying fitness combined with the resilience and drive to make the most of opportunities were at an advantage. Fatigue – mental and physical – was a factor for some as there was little breathing space between each tournament.

Men’s Singles

The Danish men controlled the courts all month – I’ve already mentioned Vittinghus but the fluctuations in the balance of power between Axelsen and Andersen is fascinating and I’m really looking forward to see who has the upper hand in March.  Andersen prevented his fellow Dane from a clean sweep of titles by some tactics at the World Tour Finals that some found controversial.  Not me.  I felt he was strategically very smart.  It’s unfair to reduce his astute strategy to his ‘easy’ concession of the second set.  Throughout the match he refused to give Viktor pace from smashes to feed off and this was a key element in his win.

There were times when we saw sublime standards from Anthony Ginting and I was disappointed that he didn’t get to a final.  His challenge is to stay with a game at the death. CHOU Tien Chen consistently made the semi-final of all three tournaments but somehow just lacked the resources to finish a match off.

Women’s Singles

Tai Tzu Ying by Abdul Razak Latif/Shutterstock

Carolina Marin – like Viktor – completely dominated her sector in the first two tournaments; bulldozing TAI Tzu Ying aside as she triumphed in both of their finals .  At the season’s finale she was prevented from making it a hat trick by a tactically astute performance by TTY who finally managed to eliminate errors when it came to the crucial stage of the game.  This link will take you to my article that discusses TTY’s win in more detail https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/02/02/tai-tzu-ying-genius/

I’m often dazzled by Ratchanok Intanon to the extent that I don’t give enough attention to the other athletes in the Thai team.  Pornpawee Chochuwong can look back over her matches with a lot of satisfaction.  We saw her potential twelve months ago when she beat Marin in the final of the Spain Masters and it turns out that that was not a fluke. At the end of a hard month she was a semi-finalist at the World Tour Finals and posed a threat to every player.  AN Se Young also caught my eye: she got to three semi finals but couldn’t quite push through to a podium finish.

Mixed Doubles

A deserved hat-trick of titles for the home pair Dechapol Puavaranukroh & Sapsiree Taerattanachai (Bass/Popor).  They have been on the brink of good results for a while and this month they competed with gutsy resilience and strong self-belief.  They are a wonderful team with excellent mobility, stamina and racket skills. 

“This is my reward for nine months of hard work and dedication”

Sapsiree Taerattanachai courtesy BWF Media press office

This success could see them start to dominate their sector.

Women’s Doubles

I’ve always been a big fan of GreyAp and so I was beyond thrilled to watch their emotional win in the YTO.  Soon their journey together will end.  I’m delighted that they have used these tournaments to showcase their best style: Greysia smiling and Apri roaring on to victory. Well played girls!

Men’s Doubles

The Taiwanese duo – LEE Yang and WANG Chi-Lin – really enhanced their reputations throughout January.  Not only did they win all three competitions but their humble self-deprecating comments endeared them to watching fans.  Playing to their strengths they used power and muscle non-stop to overcome rivals.  They were too fast and furious even for Ahsan and Setiawan to tame and no-one beats the Dads by accident.  On the subject of the Dads; once again these two gnarly warriors battled through adversity and showed why they are admired worldwide. Here is my look at Ahsan’s gritty fight to stay in the game when he was struggling with an injury https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/01/20/mohammad-ahsan-player-of-the-day-total-legend/

Finally…Coach Kim, Happiness and Hope

The effervescent Coach Kim popped up in Thailand with the Korean team. Her energetic style radiates confidence and is irresistible. During the interval she seems able to outline any observations to her team in about ten frenetic cheerful seconds then she calmly sits down whilst the opposition coach remains standing.

It was an uplifting few weeks. Back to back tournaments undoubtedly stretched athletes but they still delivered some breathtaking matches full of skill. I think they gave supporters hope that there is a return to regular badminton just around the corner.


Here’s my recent article about Momota https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/12/27/momota-the-return-of-the-king/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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TAI Tzu Ying: Genius

Badminton’s Most Valuable Player

TAI Tzu Ying is the benchmark for all that is captivating about badminton.  Her triumph at this year’s World Tour Finals was a radiant festival of skill fused with courage.

Fans suffered through an intense game.  The score see-sawed as neither player was able to subdue the other.  Marin had dominated January’s tournaments in Bangkok: played 2 won 2.  At 15-10 up in the last set of this final she was starting to look unstoppable; she had the hat-trick within her grasp.

I hate matches like this.  I love matches like this. 

All through the battle TTY had a potent strategy: keep Carolina from dominating the forecourt and net area, keep her pinned back and persist with the difficult questions of her rear-court backhand.  It was the unforced errors that were jeopardising her challenge.  Marin’s noisy, boisterous approach, constant towel-downs and delays brought friction to the encounter.  I have never seen TAI Tzu Ying refuse an opponent’s request for a new shuttle before and she seemed irritated by some of her opponent’s attempts at psychological warfare.

When she stepped on court TTY knew that she had to stay patient and eliminate mistakes.  Once a rival hands the initiative to Marin she will lock in on victory, her velocity increases and she bulldozes her way to Gold.  Trailing 17-19 in the final set TAI roused herself for a final effort.  She pulled and pushed Marin around the court’s four corners and to draw level she produced an exquisite drop that was unplayable.  19-19.  She brought up match point with another dazzling drop.  Two points in a row and no errors.  The title was sealed by a shot that forced Marin to turn and retreat to the back line. Slightly off-balance she misjudged its trajectory and it fell in.  It was all over.  Victory to TAI Tzu Ying.

An arena with no spectators erupted with applause.  All around the world, fans who had been watching through their fingers could celebrate.

“Finally, I won. When I can remain calm and patient, I can win the game. In the end it was a tight game…before this match today I kept telling myself that I had to play patiently. In the previous matches, all my mistakes were caused my own impatience…I made some mistakes and that cost me against Marin because she is fast. I need to put a lot more effort to keep up with Marin’s pace.”

TAI Tzu Ying courtesy BWF Press Office

This win confirms her rise to legendary status.  Like Michael Jordan and Lionel Messi, she is an athlete whose skills transcend her sport.  Flair blended with ambition is a rare joy to witness and we are privileged to enjoy the genius of TAI Tzu Ying.


If you enjoyed this take a look at this article about TTY https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/10/03/we-miss-tai-tzu-ying/ or this one about the Taiwan mock Olympics https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/08/03/tai-tzu-ying-and-taiwans-mock-tokyo-olympics/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Momota: The Return of the King

Momota’s destiny is to overcome obstacles thrown on the path to glory.  This is a player who has had to dive deep within his physical and mental reserves to become World #1.

Momota’s celebrates. Pic by Abdul Razak Latif/Shutterstock

All-Japan Championship 2020: Winner, Winner, Winner!

The King completed his hat-trick of titles in the final but it was not an easy win.

Momota’s re-emergence began with the Yonex Mix & Match in November but the serious business of sustained competition day after day commenced at the All Japan.  This high quality domestic tournament has been dominated by him since 2018. Against Kanta Tsuneyama in the final the left-hander was asked some tough questions and he lost the first set 18-21. He levelled the second then found himself in the last at 16-16. How many times have we watched a match unfold where Momota has to come from behind? We begin to fear that he will not pull it back, but his grit and determination kick in and he finds something extra. So it was in this competition and the closing three points in the set were aggressive and focused: net kill, cross-court smash and cross-court smash. 21-17. Were we shocked that he came from behind to seize the title? Emphatically NO!

Match sharpness is impossible to train for so although Park Joo Bong has said that he is back to his ‘normal’ level, as an athlete Momota must stretch his legs under pressure to get back to his usual exceptional standards. The All Japan has been a useful test but I really want to see him up against the world’s best day after day.  Our first opportunity to see how he really is will be the Yonex All England.  In an interview with the Olympic Channel he said

“I’m really looking forward to playing against the best international players…I’m nervous but I’m really looking forward to it”

He enjoyed a glittering 2019.  His invincible progress to the podium in nearly every tournament was recognised officially by Guinness World Records.  Eleven titles in one season is the most recorded by a men’s singles player ever.  Disaster struck just as his progress to the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics in front of his home crowd seemed certain.

The early morning Malaysian traffic accident in January wrecked Momota’s 2020 long before any of us had even heard of Covid19.  Following hospital treatment and a return to Japan to recuperate he resumed training but then started to experience dizziness and double vision.   He – and his fans – feared his career was over.  Doctors identified a fracture of the eye socket and operated successfully.  Whilst Momota experienced his personal crisis the world descended into pandemic: we tried to stay home as badminton was cancelled and the Olympics postponed.

In recent years his game’s foundation has been great technique, resilience and stamina.  His ability to ‘just’ return the shuttle is hard won – it looks simple but that’s because he has worked and worked to get his skills to this level.  His resistance to his rivals on court often exposes their strategies as one-dimensional.  Game plans that rely on 400kph smashes, or going out early and hard in an attempt to burn him off are doomed to failure. 

It’s curious that he reportedly commented in June that he wanted to brush up his attacking skills.   Sports psychologists often identify blunders and set-backs as drivers for success and it could be argued that he has become risk-averse.  If we look at his early games there were more offensive shots.  This is going to be a very tricky balance for him to get right. Intriguingly he said in his post match interview from the All Japan “…I was too cautious”. All elite players need evolution of style and tactics to keep fresh and to prevent challengers from finding weak spots in their game. Momota will analyse this performance with his coaches to look for areas to improve and so preserve his dominance.

January 2021 saw international badminton reactivate in Thailand after months of hibernation. Momota and the rest of the Japan team could not compete. They turned back home at Tokyo airport after he tested positive for Covid. The real scrutiny of Momota and how he has fared since Malaysia was postponed. I believe that this is a player who is still driven by an inner desire for supremacy in his sport and he craves success. Without doubt his rivals will have spent the last months dissecting his tactics and constructing strategies to counter his supremacy. There are some mouth-watering clashes ahead – bring it on!


If you enjoyed this then take a look at my recent blog about the Olympics https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/11/01/japans-olympic-hopes/ or this fictional one about the MS Tokyo Olympic final https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/08/05/2020-imagined-olympic-finals-mens-singles-momogi/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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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/

©2021 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/


©2021 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/


©2021 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

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.

Shutterstock

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 so with that in mind what are her prospects if it goes ahead as planned in July 2021? 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.

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. Over the course of the three tournaments in Thailand in January 2021 she consistently was competing at a good level but couldn’t quite get to a final. This year’s All England could be a golden opportunity for her to grab a S1000 title; I would simply be delighted if she was standing on the podium in March and in Tokyo in July.


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/


©2021 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.

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.


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/

©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Taiwans Olympic Hopes

In badminton Taiwan is a small nation that hits big. From a population of roundabout 24 million people there is perhaps a chance of three Olympic badminton medals. Of course, the tournament in Tokyo will test the best; there are so many battles between now and that podium place it is fascinating to consider who could write their own Olympic legend.

TAI Tzu Ying

The wonderful TAI Tzu Ying lights up every tournament. She sublimates sport into art; there is no limit to her creative imagination. The fusion of an unpredictable, inventive vision with brilliant technical skills is at the heart of TAI Tzu Ying’s strategies, but it will take more than this to seize glory in Tokyo.

Credit Shutterstock/Abdul Razak Latif

In Thailand in January she was beaten by Marin in two finals. To her credit she was not crushed – in the third final between the two of them she triumphed. Her inner spirit and motivation to compete are a significant part of her emotional armoury. Top level badminton is not glamorous: after years of sweat, pain and criticism athletes earn the chance to endure sweat, pain and criticism on the Olympic stage. I’m confident she has the psychological strength to face up to the challenges thrown at her on court at the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza.

Maybe TTY has lost a second or two of speed across the ground as she has got older but recently she has offset that with patience, and focused patience will give her a massive advantage over her rivals. Restraint – the ability to judge calmly when the time is right in a rally to commit to the winning shot – is surely the characteristic that divides great players from good ones. TAI’s not-so-secret weapon is her deceptive play and this can disrupt her opponents flow.

Can she return to Taiwan with a medal? Yes, of course! Of all the Taiwanese athletes she travels with the highest expectations on her shoulders. The women’s singles competition is going to be fierce, fellow contenders like Nozomi and Carolina have the experience of medalling in Rio 2016 and they know better what it takes to succeed in front of millions of people. But TTY has the advantage of a formidable coaching team and rock-solid family support – she has all the skills to fulfill her potential and win.

CHOU Tien Chen & WANG Tzu Wei

In men’s singles CHOU Tien Chen is an ever-present at tournament finals with his ebullient physio Victoria Kao courtside. In the early rounds of the World Tour Finals back in January he beat a couple of the players who could block his path to an Olympic medal: LEE Zii Jia & Anthony Ginting. However he lost twice to Viktor Axelsen and that also reminds me of his campaign at the 2020 All England; where he seemed to lose his focus against the Dane and made too many errors. If he comes up against Axelsen it’s important that he doesn’t give him speed to feed off but tries to disrupt the Danes equilibrium.

CTC famously trains and competes without a coach which is uncommon for any elite athlete. This unorthodox approach has liberated him to take responsibility for his development and I think if I wanted one skill to be fine-tuned it would be his killer instinct. Sometimes, when he has the upper hand in a match he is not brutal enough to finish off his opponent and they stage a recovery. He’s at his best when the tempo of the match is under his control and he can feed off errors.

WANG Tzu Wei also enjoyed some great wins at the start of the WTF, notably in three sets against Kidambi and a straight sets victory over the eventual champion Anders Antonsen – losing to him in a return match in the semi-final. At Taiwan’s ‘Mock Olympics’ last year he was beaten in three sets by CTC and he needs to find another level to genuinely be in with a chance of a medal in Tokyo.

I think in the men’s competition it is hard to look beyond Momota but if one of these two get early momentum they could mount a solid campaign. CHOU Tien Chen is the equal of any of the other competitors. His success will depend upon being focused, cutting errors and sometimes just staying with a game. If he can do this and maintain his self belief he could be bringing a medal home.

WANG Chi-Lin/LEE Yang

These two enjoyed a dazzling run of form in Thailand at the start of this year; they carried off all three titles in a clean sweep of the Men’s Doubles competitions. Most notably they beat Indonesian legends Ahsan & Setiawan for gold at the World Tour Finals. So how will they fare in the Olympics against the best that Indonesia, Japan and China can throw at them? I think the draw will be all-important as it’s inevitable they will have tough matches right from the start. It’s hard to expect them to beat the Minions or Endo/Watanabe but their muscular, ferocious approach can be hard to contain. If they get a bit of luck, and carry on their momentum from January they could have an outside chance of Bronze.

Conclusions

I’d love to see one of these players win their nation’s first badminton Olympic medal. It’s a wonderful achievement for any athlete to compete at an Olympics and Taiwan’s shuttlers can travel to Japan with confidence in their ability and with high hopes.


If you enjoyed this then take a look at my article about TTY’s matches in the Taiwan Mock Olympics https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/08/03/tai-tzu-ying-and-taiwans-mock-tokyo-olympics/ or this one about Team TAI Tzu Ying https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/02/25/team-tai-tzu-ying/


©2021 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.

Pic by Hafiz Johari/Shutterstock

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.

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/


©2021 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.

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/

©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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TAI Tzu Ying: The Triple Champion

“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 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/

©2021 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
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.

©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

India’s Saina Nehwal: Trailblazer & Legend

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Saina Nehwal is the superstar who has leapt over mere sporting boundaries to make history all through her career.

Millions of fans have followed her since the early days of succcess when she was the torchbearer for women’s badminton in Indian. Before her famous victories its profile was modest but she sent a jolt through the sporting community and now the sport is enjoyed and supported by millions.

“when I was a match point down it was like a shock. It was a big match and winning it means a lot to me. Even many years from now those present here will remember how Saina won the Gold. It is a proud feeling” Saina after her CG Gold.

What she says is true. Speak to any devotee and they will remember where they were on the day of the Delhi Commonwealth Games WS Badminton final. Some were at the office watching on a shared TV, some at a club, others were at home with family but everyone recalls the happiness and relief of that moment when she seized her destiny.

E2B2R3 Jakarta, Indonesia. 18th June, 2014. Saina Nehwal of India returns the shuttlecock to Porntip Buranaprasertsuk of Thailand during round 1 of BCA Indonesia Open 2014 at Istora Senayan Jakarta, Indonesia, June 18, 2014. Saina Nehwal won 2-0. Credit: Veri Sanovri/Xinhua/Alamy Live News

She is a dangerous, complex player to face. Her foundations are rugged, she possesses the full array of shots and takes a somewhat orthodox approach: a standard singles strategy of pulling and pushing her opponent around the court, shifting focus from side to side, waiting for a weak return to seize upon and punish. This is hardly the full story though. The characteristics that have elevated her are psychological strength combined with tactical dexterity.

Embed from Getty Images

While she doesn’t have the pace of three or four years ago she can compensate for this with her resilience. She is a good defender and although too much reliance on retrieving can be a weakness I don’t recognise this as a fault in her game. She is an intelligent reader of other players and can out-maneouvre opponents during the match. Of course, this mental strength really draws the sting of a rival. She is lethal once the momentum starts to go in her direction. As soon as this happens she turns the screw and can make sure the other player suffers a drought of opportunities. Her emotional muscle often overpowers because the other player just runs out of ideas.

Since the All England Championships 2019 she has had to cope with a sequence of injuries which will have affected her training and so her fluency on court. As she recovered her fitness the world went into Covid lockdown and numerous tournaments were cancelled. In the end events out of her control have meant that she was not able to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

Saina: The First

  • Saina was the first Indian to win the World Junior Badminton Championships (2008)
  • She was the first Indian woman to win a Super Series Tournament (Indonesian Open 2009)
  • First Indian to win an Olympic medal at badminton (London 2012)
  • First Indian Woman to be ranked World Number 1 (2015)

Saina would have been a success whatever profession she chose; she could have been a scientist, engineer or architect, it wouldn’t matter. She is a person who brings 100% commitment and integrity to whatever she undertakes. She has inspired millions of people all around the world and given so much to the badminton community. The loyalty and passion of her fans is second-to-none and the sport is by far the richer for her influence.


If you enjoyed this take a look at an earlier article I wrote about Saina by following this link https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/05/14/saina-nehwal-indias-beloved-champion/

Here is a link to my piece about the current World Champion P V Sindhu https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/08/25/p-v-sindhu-world-champion/

©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

The Olympics: Women’s Doubles Preview

Who has the edge to get Gold?  The contest for the WD title in Tokyo will suit athletes with deep reserves of stamina and resistance – however to win the battle for supremacy one of these players must be willing to turn defence into attack quickly and seize points at crucial moments.

Pic Credit Sutterstock

The competition has 16 pairs but only four are seeded. Each seeded pair heads a group (A,B,C, or D) and the tournament starts with a round robin to determine the top two pairs in each group who will then progress to the knockout stages.

Japan

Recently Japan’s women have built a good record of success at the Olympics.  Silver at London 2012 (Fujii/Kakiiwa) followed by a thrilling Gold from Misaki and Ayaka in Rio: unfortunately their partnership is over but the quality of the Japanese squad means that the two pairs competing in this sector have every chance of winning it.   Yuki Fukushima / Sayaka Hirota are top seeds and should expect to top Group A.   The key to notable results will be Yuki who can drive the team forward with her precision and strength.  At the Denmark Open their victory over compatriots Mayu Matsumoto / Wakana Nagahara stemmed from her power to control the theatre of battle.  She was comfortable varying the tempo and sometimes ignored the percentage shot to go for the line. 

The third seeds – Matsumoto and Nagahara – have every chance of making the final.  Prior to the Denmark Open result I would have characterised them as the more aggressive of the two Japanese pairs so I’m intrigued how they will approach this competition.  Group B rivals shouldn’t be able to prevent them getting into the next round and so as long as they snap up chances they can eye the podium with confidence.  It’s important both pairs win their groups so they avoid potentially knocking each other out before the final.

Indonesia

Greysia Polii/ Apri Rahayu are in Group A so they will have to negotiate an early match with the tournament favourites but more worryingly their recent H2H with Malaysians CHOW/LEE makes me nervous.  That is their first game in the round robin so we will have a clearer picture of what the future may hold following that. It’s Greysia’s third Olympics and I’m confident she has the experience and resilience to get through a close tie.  Both players performed well in the Thailand bubble so they can approach the days ahead with courage.  They are my favourite WD pair and I would be thrilled to see them with a medal. Go Girls!

South Korea

Korea is sending two pairs to this competition and this is probably the discipline where they have the best chance of a medal. LEE So-hee and SHIN Seung-chan were winners of the World Tour Finals and performed consistently in the Thai bubble.  They head Group C as 4th seeds. They both have Olympic experience from Rio although with different partners then. Their height and aggressive style can unbalance opponents so I expect them to approach matches with boldness and noise.  KIM Soyeong and KONG Heeyong are starting out unseeded in Group D but I think it’s important to note their victory in the 2019 Japanese Open against top Japanese players in the Olympic venue.  KONG’s attacking strength is nicely supported by KIM and so if they get into the knockout phase they are going to be tricky to beat. 

China

CHEN Qing Chen / JIA Yi Fan are seeded 2 and in Group D.  When I watched them win the YAE2019 final I was shocked by their power, aggression and intensity.  Many fans mark them as favourites for this event but the group they are in has the potential to sap their energy: they will meet Korea’s KIM/KONG and the Stoeva sisters.  This could weaken them somewhat for the following rounds which have the potential to become wars of attrition.   Despite that, they are an intimidating couple and it would not be a shock to see them medal. The second Chinese Pair DU Yue/LI Yin Hui are unseeded in Group C and may struggle to emerge from it.  The main danger to their ambitions are the Danes Fruergaard/Thygesen who have good reserves of stubbornness to draw on in tough games.  I would never write off any Chinese pair in this competition though.  Up until 2016 they had a stranglehold on Gold and I’m certain they want ‘their’ medal back!

Conclusions

If any of these pairs can defend against the overwhelming firepower of the Chinese duo CHEN/JIA they will probably be the ones at the top of the podium. We haven’t watched any of the players from China in ages but we know that the second seeds are formidable. It’s a competition where gritty self-belief fused with physical resilience will create the gap between medal success and failure. South Korea and Indonesia are providing the dark horses but as far as the Gold goes it’s hard to look further than China or Japan. I expect FukuHiro to be more strategically nimble than the others so if the seeding unfolds predictably they could be the ones celebrating on finals day.


If you enjoyed this then take a look at my other Olympic previews here:

Women’s Singles https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/07/17/the-olympics-womens-singles-preview/

and Men’s Doubles https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/07/15/the-olympics-mens-doubles-preview/

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