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Tai Tzu Ying: Goddess or Mortal?

Tai Tzu Ying is one of the most adored athletes in the world whose appeal cuts across national boundaries. A once in a generation player who dazzles and inspires whenever she plays.

She became World #1 in 2016 after a magnificent run of results and has stayed there ever since.

Is she the best ever women’s singles player? If we measure solely on medals at the moment the answer is ‘no’. So why is she so loved and why does it feel that she has no equal?

“She is the personification of joy” – from MinPlus

“She is the most delightful player to watch on court, she makes badminton fun” from September

“She’s our seratonin” – from GEL

As a regular user of Instagram she often posts charming pictures of herself eating ice cream, playing with Lego or training in the gym with her team and this all helps to blur the boundaries between the elite athlete and her worshipping fans. She has commented that in matches, when she has been losing, it is the thought of letting down her supporters that has spurred her on to eventual victory. She does care about the fans who back her.

Tai Tzu Ying has a zen-like presence on court; when I first started watching her I was confused by her calm, smiling approach to victory or loss. Now I believe it’s very important to her to win – why else would she devote herself to the sport? But I also see someone who appreciates her life with her family and who has nothing to prove in her field. I think that she enjoys playing and is as thrilled as her spectators when she executes a great shot.

Video courtesy of Shuttle Flash

Her skill is breath-taking; take a look at the compilation video by Shuttle Flash. The quality of her trickery is amazing and so wonderful to watch in this era dominated by attritional players. The root of her genius is from her teens:

“…it’s said that her father took her to play on badminton courts at small clubs run by badminton lovers everywhere in Taiwan when she was a child. Wanting to win over these skilled (but informal) players she practised her deception skills and gained lots of success…” by eeye24

There is also the fact that she suffered a hand injury when she as 13. Because her metacarpal damage restricted her forehand play she had to rely more heavily on her backhand which gave her better wrist strength. As her father pointed out, the injury was a blessing in disguise. Her capacity for deception is extraordinary and she is a true artist with her racket. The variation in her game – the range of shots and angles -is staggering.

Picture from shutterstock

The flip side of such an adventurous player is that there is a trace of inconsistency which runs through her career. Sometimes in the middle of a game her focus just seems to drift and suddenly her opponent will put together a run of points. Often at this moment she manages to retune herself into the game, get her concentration back and finish off the contest but it doesn’t always happen. Watch the video below where she talks about this and the role of her deceptive moves.

Video courtesy BWF

She also mentions her stubbornness. In my earlier blog https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/03/18/tai-tzu-ying-taiwans-sporting-icon/ I talked about her courage and the fact that she is relentless in the pursuit of victory. She dares her foe to match her dazzling talent and I still consider the psychological warfare that she wages against her opponents a key factor in her success. The genius that she brings to her games is a delight for her audience (& her) but it saps her rival’s emotional energy. In my opinion the only other current player who approaches this level of skill is Ratchanok May.

So now we are in Olympic qualifying year and Tai Tzu Ying has hinted that she could retire after Tokyo2020. I think everyone wants her to win Gold; to cement her place in history and to bring her sublime skills to the attention of the non-badminton world. We are lucky to be able to watch such a wonderful player who lights up the court with her brilliance. Who knows what the future holds for her – it’s going to be fantastic to watch the next year of badminton unfold – and I hope that legends are made in the process.


If you enjoyed this post follow the link to my piece about Ratchanok – another of my favourite players https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/06/26/ratchanok-can-thailands-sweetheart-get-gold/ and also this article about AN Se Young: one of the most exciting players to emerge from Korea in recent years https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/07/08/an-se-young-koreas-sensational-17-year-old/

YEO Jia Min: Giant Killer from Singapore

YEO Jia Min has burst onto the elite badminton scene with some outstanding performances at this World Championships. Her memorable win against a below par Akane Yamaguchi means that she is suddenly under a spotlight.

The games against Akane and then Vu have showcased a player who is stepping up to compete against top opposition. She plays with a great attitude; very calm and unhurried, so she allows herself to flourish even under pressure.

Pic from BWC TV

Her range of shots and lovely smooth movement around the court let her attack and dominate the rallies. She is able to go toe-to-toe with anyone to trade tumbling net shots and she has been likened to Tai Tzu Ying by Gill Clark. I think this is because of the flair she shows around the front and midcourt. Outrageous angles, confident smashes/kills, and a disguised sliced drop all form part of her armoury.

From BWF TV

Her badminton education has been wide ranging. Last year at age 19 she left home in Singapore and went to play in the Danish league. No doubt the high standards expected there helped hone the pitiless killer instinct we saw against Akane.

It’s interesting at this point to consider her coach – Mulyo Handoyo – and acknowledge the influence coaches from Indonesia have in the world of Badminton. He was once the coach of the legendary Taufik Hidayat, and who better to have in one’s corner than someone who has seen it all, who stays calm, & smiles encouragingly when shots don’t quite work out. It’s also noticeable that he often encourages her to an unofficial time-out face wipe after she’s won a tough rally.

“Her fighting spirit was high when she played against the top seed and tried to control the game by making clear decisions during the tie” Mulyo Handoyo

Although she lost in the quarter final to Ratchanok Intanon she can be very proud of what she has achieved during this World Championships. She’s at a crucial point in her career – essentially its ‘win or learn’. Of course she still makes mistakes, but her hard work has got her to a position now where she can play with the elite and be their equal. It’s going to be a very exciting year for YEO Jia Min.

If you enjoyed this follow the link to my article about AN Se Young https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/07/08/an-se-young-koreas-sensational-17-year-old/

and this one that looks at TAI Tzu Ying https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/07/01/tai-tzu-ying-goddess-or-mortal/

Badminton World Championships Basel 2019: WS Preview

The Badminton World Championships start on August 19th so I’m taking a look at some of the main contenders for Women’s Singles gold.

Pic from Twitter

This discipline is full of talent – and unlike the men’s singles it’s not dominated by one person – so it will be an intriguing contest right from the beginning. All tournaments offer a rising intensity as players progress through the rounds: physical endurance can be sapped as well as the emotional drain of competition. The parity of ability amongst the top seeds means that being able to deal with tournament pressure will have a huge part to play. Who will relish the fight?

“…every player has a chance of being crowned champion.” Ratchanok

Nozomi Okuhara: Contender

From BWF TV

Nozomi’s been in the waiting room this year – she hasn’t enjoyed the same level of success as Akane and yet she is a fabulous player. Her tactics often mean she gets stuck in a war of attrition so I’d like to see a bit less patience and more drive to finish off a rally. I think her edge is blunted by predictability so it would be great to see her surprise her opponent (& us!) a bit more often. Prediction: Final.

Tai Tzu Ying: The Queen

Shutterstock

Tai Tzu Ying has never won the World Championships and goes into this competition as #2 seed. Because of her hints about retirement and her lack of big tournament form recently, fans have focused on this title with the sense that time is running out. I cannot pretend to be neutral about Tai Tzu Ying – the way she plays is brilliant and gives me so much pleasure – so I wish I felt more confident about this tournament. Her possible path to the final is tough and includes Sindhu who would relish a big battle. Prediction Semi Final.

Akane: World #1

From BWF TV

Akane’s triumph at the Indonesian Open quickly followed by success in the Japan Open – her home tournament – means that she enters the World Championships as #1. Since disappointment in the Sudirman Cup her game has become more aggressive with a willingness to push her rivals around. She can’t just win everything from now on though, can she? Prediction Semi Final.

Chen Yufei

Feifei is a very clever player with the might of the Chinese coaches behind her. I think she is good at rebalancing her game to beat whoever she faces. Often she traps ‘flair’ players into thinking they will conquer her by playing their natural game. She waits it out and then finishes them off; her natural strength means she can get through three draining games. It’s been said that her weakness is her inability to cope with her nerves but this seems to be eratic. Prediction: Final

P V Sindhu: fighter

(Xinhua/Zheng Huansong)

Sindhu is renowned as a big match player and this skill is a huge advantage in the top tournaments. By her own standards 2019 has been quite quiet but July saw her spring into life. It was great to see a refreshed player getting her game back. I love her style when she unleashes her inner badminton beast and dominates the court with her aggressive smashes and drives. I think that’s going to be the secret of success for her; when she’s confident and plays like that she can become unstoppable. She is seeded 5 and her path to success looks very tough: Zhang Beiwen in R16 and possibly TTY in the quarters. Prediction: QF owing to hard draw.

Saina Nehwal

2019 has seen Saina endure various injuries and this has obviously disrupted her training programme. Her half of the draw is no picnic & includes players like Chen Yufei and P V Sindhu. She always has the desire to win and heaps of experience but realistically I can’t see her progressing beyond QF. That’s not necessarily a bad performance in the context of her year so far. I see this competition as her opportunity to continue to work on her match fitness and focus on her aim to get to Tokyo 2020. Prediction QF

Ratchanok Intanon

“… women’s singles is so competitive that on any given day whoever can control herself and play her style of game will be the champion.” Ratchanok

May lost out in the Thailand Open Final to Chen Yufei but she played very well in that match. CYF won because she played with patience and endurance – often in rallies she was content to simply keep sending the shuttle back. Towards the end May did slightly alter her approach but by that point it was too late. It’s been noticeable that since then she has been posting plenty of evidence on IG of her hard work in the gym so perhaps this means she’s preparing her body for longer games with less reliance upon a dazzling winner and more focus on turning the screw. Prediction Semi Final

Any Surprises?

Funny things can happen in knock-out tournaments; sometimes athletes really fly through their games and suddenly find themselves in a quarter final. The Indonesian players -Fitriani & Tunjung – are both talented but frustratingly inconsistent. Their homeland can have high hopes of medals from others but it would be a welcome shock if honours came from WS.

Michelle Li from Canada can push anyone on her day and often gets good results but realistically I don’t think she would trouble Chen Yufei (assuming she gets past Saina).

Chochuwong had a great run in the Thailand Open but again her draw is tricky. Lastly He Be Jiao is seeded 6 so has to be taken seriously as a possible semi-finalist.

So, in conclusion…

That gold medal, that title, the culmination of years of work, is realistically within the reach of about eight of the players. It’s going to take an immense effort – physically and emotionally – to clinch the prize. I also think it requires someone to play with inspiration and joy; there is more to winning this than mere sweat and toil.

Lauren Smith: Doubles For Britain.

Lauren Smith has become one of the best doubles players in Europe this year. With Tokyo 2020 getting closer and closer, the possibility of representing Great Britain in the Olympics is very real.

The interesting question is: will she get there and be in Women’s Doubles with Chloe Birch, Mixed Doubles with Marcus Ellis or both?

Pic from BWF TV

There’s no doubt she has the hunger and temperament to compete with the best and 2019 has seen her play take on more consistency – especially in Women’s Doubles. The partnership with Chloe Birch is an interesting one. Birch also plays singles, and has observed in the past that experience in this discipline enhances her doubles play. I think she’s right: having a partner who is used to covering the whole court and battling through long rallies must be an advantage.

They have earned some great results together this year. Who can forget the crucial win in the Sudirman Cup against Denmark’s Fruergaard & Thygesen? It was the last match in the tie with the scores drawn at 2-2. The highlights clip below doesn’t really do justice to the determination and intensity that Birch & Smith brought to the court. It was an exhilarating game to watch because they played with courage and character to challenge the Danes.

Video by kind permission of BWF

It went to three games but it ended in victory for the Brits: 21-12, 19-21, 21.-11. That was probably their highest profile success this year but prior to that they had won the Super 100 Orleans Masters and the Azerbaijan International. After that they went to the European Games in Minsk and beat the Danish pair again, on their way to clinching silver.

Pic from Badminton England twitter

Her mixed doubles partnership with Marcus Ellis is also flourishing. Most recently they came away with the European Games XD Gold after beating the Adcocks (#1 seeds) in the final at the Falcon Club. That reversed the previous year’s result in the Commonwealth Games when they got silver.

Ellis gives a vast experience to the pair – Bronze with Langridge in Rio is a favourite – but the success is not based on past glory; it’s more to do with the willingness to commit to hard work, unglamourous travel, and coherent development. Just as in WD, Smith is happy to take responsibility at the net, she executes good kills and is not intimidated by the opposition. She can always be relied on to battle even if the match isn’t going her way. Fast reactions, a good defence, nerve and great stamina all add to her arsenal. She also has an oddly unsettling racket position when she serves low; it’s very difficult to see what she is about to do.

She is strategically nimble in both disciplines, good at rotating pressure and not letting herself be a victim of a rivals attempts to bully. She has mentioned before that she’s inquisitive and likes to see how other elite athletes train, so I think this is a very positive aspect of her attitude.

There’s more opportunities for success in XD. Part of Smith’s strength is her personal attitude: when she’s playing she is aggressive and decisive. A typical comment from her on twitter after reaching the QF with Ellis in the Indonesian Open was:

“…found the conditions pretty tricky so it wasn’t the prettiest game! But as always really happy with our fight in the tough moments!”

She has been successful all through her career with various partners and now the focus is with her to drive on to the next stage to explore what she can achieve next.


If you enjoyed this follow the link to take a look at my blog about Tai Tzu Ying – one of the world’s most adored athletes https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/07/01/tai-tzu-ying-goddess-or-mortal/

And this one about the current World #1 in Women’s Singles: Akane Yamaguchi https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/08/09/japans-akane-yamaguchi-hotter-than-july/

Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi: Hotter Than July

Wow! Akane – what a July!

As we enter the second half of 2019 Akane Yamaguchi is at the top of the world rankings. First she won the Indonesian Open – arguably the best tournament in the world – and then followed it up a week later by triumphing in her home tournament: The Japan Open.

Akane has always been a formidable player with plenty of successes along the way but suddenly her achievements have become supercharged and she is unstoppable. Women’s Singles is an incredibly competitive discipline at the moment so what is it that is giving her the edge over her rivals?

Bizarrely I think it was failure that has spurred her on. Looking back to the Sudirman Cup, the crucial tie in the final was the Women’s Singles: Akane Yamaguchi against Chen YuFei. It was a three game battle with neither player consistently dominant. The Chinese crowd was very noisy; it was an intense and passionate atmosphere with huge emotional pressure exerted on both athletes. It’s been noted that at one point in the game Morten Frost described Akane’s play as erratic. That’s quite a brutal assessment, but the point is that in the end she lost.

Both players finished flat out on the floor but CHEN Yufei was the victor.
Video courtesy BWF

We all know it’s a team competition but losing that three game match was pivotal to Japan’s eventual loss in the final. The Japanese team oozed togetherness and exuberance as they supported each other through the tournament so it must have been utterly devastating for them all not to get gold.

Up until recently Akane has always been known as a retriever, which often means that she is a defender. This is a very simplistic reduction of an elite athletes game; it’s quite a reactive style but she is great at covering the court and very quick to regain her base position.

However, things have changed since the Sudirman Cup…everyone had some time off before they got back to training. Time to recover physically and mentally but also an opportunity to take stock. Then came July and one of the principal events in the badminton calendar: The Indonesian Open.

It was a fresh Akane with an evolved style. Suddenly she was applying her explosive power to a more attacking game and the final against P V Sindhu showcased how effective this new aggression was.

Sindhu found her game being squeezed. Yamaguchi, above all, was being ferocious in her follow-ups. There were some ruthless flat drives, and midcourt smashes. There was more pressure applied in rallies. She began each game like a tornado and barely relaxed her focus. No longer content to react, Akane was taking the game and demanding to win.

Akane wins the Indonesia Open – Video by kind permission BWF

It was a great victory. Sindhu played well but just couldn’t equal Akane’s fierceness; without warning Yamaguchi had stepped up her game.

So we come to the Japanese Open – her home tournament. Her progression to the final took in triumphs against Sindhu and Chen Yufei to set up a meeting with her compatriot Nozomi Okuhara. The scoreline of 21-13, 21-15 lets you know it was an emphatic victory. Again, this was the evolved style. Yamaguchi went toe-to-toe with Okuhara and it was her intensity allied to some awesome accuracy that meant she was able to withstand Okuhara’s propensity for lengthy rallies.

“I was worried I wouldn’t be able to win the long rallies, but I was patient, and whenever there was a chance to make a decisive shot, I was able to make the sharp shots,” said Yamaguchi.

I think it’s a good measure of Akane as a woman and an elite player that she took the worst kind of defeat and used it as fuel for progress:

“I wish I could’ve played this well in the Sudirman Cup final. The loss in the final made me learn and helped me improve.”

The road to Tokyo 2020 has a lot of twists and turns yet but momentum and big match experience counts for a lot. I want to end this piece by urging you to watch the film clip below – the happiness on Akane’s face is so infectious it is an utter joy to see.

Akane and VERY BIG SMILES. This tweet was from the Akane Yamaguchi Fanbase (@AYamaguchiFans).

If you enjoyed this follow the link to my piece about Nozomi Okuhara https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/04/23/nozomi-okuhara-racket-ready-for-tokyo-glory/ and also this one about Tai Tzu Ying https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/07/01/tai-tzu-ying-goddess-or-mortal/

Indian Badminton Needs A Fresh Impetus As Stars Continue To Falter

By G Rajaraman.

PV Sindhu enjoyed a good run to the women’s singles final of the Indonesian Open Super Series in Jakarta, but was found wanting when facing Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi across the net in the title clash. It was not her physical prowess that was tested, but her ability to think on her feet. We saw that last year as well in the Asian Games women’s singles final, where Sindhu was up against Tai Tzu-Ying of Chinese Taipei.

Such repeated tactical failures, not to mention the lack of success on the BWF World Tour lead to questions about whether those coaching the elite players have explored all possibilities in helping them realise their potential.

In any other sport the chief coach would have been held responsible. Pullela Gopichand, who took over the reins as National Coach from Vimal Kumar back in 2006 and has ploughed a lonely furrow by and large, has delivered some heartening results in the past. But that should not be a reason for the Badminton Association of India to gloss over recent results.There is no point lamenting the unexplained departure of Indonesian Mulyo Handoyo in early 2018. Nor will much be served by pointing fingers at the conspicuous absence of a team of coaches working to ensure that the assembly line would not lose shape and form. It is perhaps more important to see what can be done to remedy the situation.

India’s badminton gained momentum when Saina Nehwal won the Olympic games bronze medal in London 2012 and Sindhu topped it with a silver medal in Rio four years later. Yet, the high of 2017 when Srikanth won a clutch of four Super Series titles has receded as a distant memory now in the following 18 months. Indeed, the slide has been quite palpable: if we consider winning an international title as a benchmark, the drought is stark.

Credit: Veri Sanovri/Xinhua/Alamy Live News

Last year, Sameer Verma won the men’s honours in two Super 300 events – while PV Sindhu claimed the women’s singles crown in the World Tour Finals in Shanghai. And this year, Saina Nehwal won the Indonesian Masters, a Super 500 event. To be sure, Sourabh Verma won two Super 100 titles while Sameer Verma and Subhankar Dey picked up one each last year. It is significant that there have been no winners even in Super 100 tournaments this year. As for doubles competition, suffice to say that the story has been bleaker than in singles.

Sameer Verma winning a Super 300 title – The Syed Modi International – last year. Video by permission of the BWF

The BAI’s junior programme has not inspired confidence that the success of a handful of elite players at global level over the past few years can be replicated in the immediate future. A huge part of the reason is the inadequate exposure provided to most of the juniors.

Lakshya Sen and Kartikey Gulshan Kumar are ranked in the top five in the men’s section while Jakka Vaishnavi Reddy and Aakarshi Kashyap are in the top 10 in the women’s section, but it would be a good wager that they have paid their own way (or got their own sponsors) for most tournaments.

Of course, some good news surfaces in a sporadic manner, the most recent being left-handed Malvika Bandod defeating top-seeded Phittayaporn Chaiwan 21-18, 21-19 in the WS second round of the Badminton Asia Junior Championships in Suzhou, China. If the right support is extended to the deserving, some of them may go on to be good flag-bearers for Indian badminton.

Word has it that the Sports Secretary – Radheysham Julaniya – has indicated to the BAI to come up with a dynamic plan to help the juniors sharpen their competitive skills. The reported decision to not fund trips to all international events for the senior lot can come as a wake-up call against stagnation.

For a sport that has caught the fancy of youngsters, it would be a pity if badminton were not to capitalise on its popularity. While many a discipline is struggling to create a mass base in the country, this sport has ignored the need to create rungs between the base and the elite level. It is never too late to do some course correction so that the legacy is not lost.

The BAI is not short of cash. According to data in the public domain it earned no less than Rs 11.62 crore from broadcast rights & Rs 9.57 from sponsorship in 2016-17. The powers that be must identify a team of committed coaches across the nation to handle the junior programme but with a chief coach for juniors who can help with a roadmap for the transition. It must take the most talented juniors under its wings, providing them with the righ environment in training and support to compete so they can move to the next level.

Resting on their oars has never helped anyone progress. The time for BAI to realise this is fast slipping away. Yes, Indian badminton needs to get off the treadmill that it has found itself on and get going. Sooner than later if it wants to stay relevant on the global stage and not cede its position in the popularity stakes in India to other disciplines of sport.


A longer version of this article was published by The Quint in July 2019 https://www.thequint.com/


If you enjoyed this please follow the link to the blog about P V Sindu https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/03/25/p-v-sindhu-indias-superstar/ and this one about Saina Nehwal https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/05/14/saina-nehwal-indias-beloved-champion/

Has Indonesian Badminton Stagnated?

By Shubhi Rofiddinsa (Podcast Tepak Bulu)

After a disappointing semi-final exit against Japan in this years Sudirman Cup – losing 3-1 – many fans and experts heavily criticised the 20-player squad and questioned if they would ever repeat the win of 1989 and bring the cup home again. The fact that Indonesia hasn’t won any major team-tournament events since the 2002 Thomas Cup and 1996 Uber Cup makes the loss hurt a little more. Many regarded the Singles players contribution as disappointing as the team relied solely on doubles to rake up points.

Sudirman Cup 2019 team. Picture from Badminton Indonesia IG

The biggest question of them all is: has Indonesian badminton become stagnant recently? To answer that, let’s take a look at each disciplines’ progress so far this year before we set our eyes on the upcoming Indonesian Open 2019 in a few days.

Men’s Doubles

Who can Indonesian fans rely on to win games or tournaments? It’s always men’s doubles. The Minions – otherwise known as Marcus Fernaldi Gideon & Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo – are instantly recognised everywhere. They won all their matches in this year’s Sudirman Cup and their stature rises after each tournament.

The combination of attractive playing style and off-court demeanour add to the entertainment value of the game itself, making it more interesting to watch. Although the world number ones haven’t won as many titles as they did last year, their game is evolving: they are playing less explosively and being more patient in attack.

Meanwhile, Mohammad Ahsan/Hendra Setiawan are back on top again after their split in 2017 and have had a great first-half of the year so far: getting to four finals and winning two of them, All England and New Zealand Open .

Recovering from a game down Ahsan/Setiawan powered their way to the All England title.
Video courtesy BWF

Fajar Alfian/Muhammad Rian Ardianto is also a pair to watch this year winning the Swiss Open and silver at the Asian Games.


Women’s Doubles

from bwf tv

Another discipline that can be counted on when it comes to consistent success in every tournament is Women’s Doubles. Nevertheless Greysia Polii/Apriyani Rahayu is the only Indonesian pair in the top 10 with no-one obvious waiting in the wings to join them there. They won all their matches in the Sudirman Cup until eventually succumbing to the Japanese powerhouse Mayu Matsumoto/Wakana Nagahara – the world number ones – in the semi final.

Polii will be 32 years old this year and questions have popped up about her successors. Names that have been mentioned are Ni Ketut Mahadewi Istarani, Rizki Amelia Pradipta, Della Destiara Harris, Agatha Imanuela and Siti Fadia Silva Ramadhanti. Indonesia’s head coach for women’s doubles, Eng Hian, said

“Maybe after the Olympic Games. 2021 maybe, finishing her contract with the sponsors first. After that, she might have thought about her next step (on what she wants to do). Be it a professional player or else”

This is a tricky area to regenerate. Finding a pair as successful as Polii/Rahayu, Polii/Maheswari or even Natsir/Marissa will be tough. It is the only sector that has not won an Olympic gold medal since Badminton’s inception in the games back in Barcelona 1992.


Mixed Doubles

The search continues for the ‘next’ Liliyana Natsir – one of the greatest of all time – after she retired from the badminton world earlier this year. Suprisingly, not many pairs from juniors are now competing at elite level. Although there has been good progress so far – by creating a competitive environment between the four main pairs – they always come up short in their finals.

Praveen Jordan/Melati Daeva Oktavianti have lost three finals so far this year: one in India, one in New Zealand, and another in Australia. The match that fans will always remember though is the semi final heartbreak at this year’s All England against the superior Zheng Siwei/Huang Yaqiong where they led 20-17 in the second set after winning the first one and ended up losing the match.

Meanwhile, Hafiz Faizal/Gloria Emmanuelle Widjaja haven’t been in top form. They lost their match against Denmark in the Sudirman Cup, they got to the final of the German Open but lost that too and are generally struggling to make much headway beyond quarter & semi finals. The newest pair – Tontowi Ahmad/Winny Oktavina Kandow have so far made good progress by contesting five quarter finals in six months. Ahmad is expected to be a good mentor for the 20-year-old youngster and the pair is fighting for the Olympic Games spot.

The 2017 World Junior Championship winners, Rinov Rivaldy/Pitha Haningtyas, seek to rise to the occasion as the elite pair for Indonesia in the coming years. Although they must be carefully observed and developed by their coaches if we want to see more of them in the future.


Men’s Singles

This is where it gets tricky because performances fluctuate. 2016 was the first time Indonesia could pin their hopes onto three youngsters to represent the nation.

Antony Sinisuka Ginting, Jonatan Christie and Ihsan Maulana Mustofa were in the Thomas Cup squad that year and the team finished runners-up after defeat by Denmark, the first European country to win the prestigious trophy. The first two players mentioned above have won three titles each and their form continues to improve with next year’s Olympics on the horizon. It seems that Ginting and Christie are the only players Indonesia can rely on to win titles but they often run up against the relentless Momota and don’t yet seem to have worked out how to beat him.

It’s going to be interesting to see how far Indonesia advances in the Thomas Cup next year.


Women’s Singles

No Superseries titles have been won by Indonesian women since its inception in 2009. Gregoria Mariska Tunjung and Fitriani frequently underachieve, although Fitriani did win the Thailand Masters back in January. It’s a realistic possibility that only one player will qualify for Tokyo 2020. Women’s Singles still has a lot of catching up to do to improve their competitiveness and succeed at the highest level. This is thrown into relief by the recent success of the South Korean player AN Se Young – if she has been coached to take on and beat the established top 20 players then why not the Indonesian women?

Re-live Fitriani’s maiden title in 2019 at Thailand Masters.
Video courtesy BWF

If this all seems rather folorn there is some positive news. With his success at producing great players like Nozomi Okuhara and Akane Yamaguchi, Reony Mainaky’s return home from Japan after his eight-year stint as a coach for their national team, will restore the public’s faith in the ambition of this team.


Conclusion

Men’s doubles will be the front-runner to grab the Gold medal in this year’s world championships in Basel, and also at the Olympics next year. Meanwhile other players performances can lack consistently good results.

In the end, Indonesia remains as one of the powerhouses in World Badminton; but languishing in the top five is not good enough for a nation with such a successful past and a fan base with the highest hopes. The stagnation can actually be seen from the over-dependency on certain disciplnes, especially doubles and this obviously hinders the ambition to win team championship titles.

Reony Mainaky’s return is a sign of intent but this is a mark of work in progress not ‘job done’. For these players to fulfil everyone’s expectations and realise their immense potential there needs to be a new approach that refuses to accept that what they are achieving on the world stage at the moment is the maximum possible rather it’s the start of something wonderful.


The author of this article – Shubhi Rofiddinsa – also broadcasts about badminton as the wonderful Podcast Tepak Bulu. Here’s a link to one of his episodes where he talks with Badminton Becky https://t.co/9YlAzrVhey?amp=1

You may also enjoy this piece about two of my favourite players: Polii & Rahayu https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/04/12/a-thriving-partnership-indonesias-polii-and-rahayu/

And this piece about Liliyana Natsir written by Dev Sukumar on the BWF website https://bwfworldchampionships.bwfbadminton.com/news-single/2019/08/08/winny-will-need-support-liliyana-natsir/

Marin is sorely missed

Since her devastating ACL injury back in January there has been something missing in badminton.

Some of Marins best points – video courtesy of BWF

In a WS world that has a lot of ‘retrievers’ here is an unashamed attacker. Marin rampages around the court – so fit and powerful – and demands victory. After winning a point, she shouts, she wheels away, a brisk walk with her back to her opponent, then onto the next serve. Constantly trying to build that unstoppable momentum that carries her forward.

The Spaniard is missed for a lot of reasons but I am highlighting her big on-court personality because I think it’s crucial to her psychological make-up and her future. Marin takes up a lot of space: she’s physically big of course – she can reach anything – but all the shouting and stomping around means her opponent has to work hard to zone her out. The noise can disrupt concentration and her rivals need to stay emotionally tranquil to get the upper hand.

That horrendous day when she injured her knee; we have all seen the slo-mo replay of the point in the game where she leapt, reached, hit, then crumpled. (I don’t want to post film of it here because it makes me feel so uncomfortable). It was evident it was bad. Over the following days things became clearer: serious damage, an operation, heavy duty rehab. Here is her reaction:

“It’s time to prepare for the most difficult battle, but I have no doubt that I will come back stronger”

She has come through tough tests before and has a record of facing up to challenges successfully. Let’s rewind a few years. In 2014 and 2015 she won the World Championship and then came Gold in Rio 2016. Spain has Rafa: he is the ace racketeer, but suddenly there was Carolina. Winning the Olympic title inevitably brought her to the attention of the non-badminton community and it is the pinnacle for most sports. After this she suffered a common problem for Gold medallists, to find a motivation to continue and to do this she had to look into herself.

Her big challenge was to regain her enthusiasm for the game that she had devoted her life to. What else was there to win? There followed a period of reflection and it almost was like she was treading water, trying to get herself back to the player she was. She obviously has a great team around her and this includes a psychologist. Whatever it was they added, it worked: August 2018 she became World Champion for the third time and back to her best.

Highlights of the World Championship WS Final courtesy BWF

So what does the future hold? She seems to be targeting the World Championships in August in Basle. It would be amazing if she were back to her highest level so soon after an ACL rupture however, don’t bet against it. After being denied the pleasure of playing since January she must be hungry to get back on court to mix it with the top players. No need to worry about motivation, nevertheless an anxiety is going to be around rerupture and returning too early. We all want her back on court, raising noise levels and charging around so lets wait and see if she can reappear soon and return to her strutting best.

August 2019 UPDATE: Marin withdraws from BWF World Championships. Carolina posted a message withdrawing from these on 4.8.19. Although she must be personally disappointed not to make this milestone in her rehab, when we look at the bigger picture it must be the right decision. Bodies take time to heal: it doesn’t matter if you are an elite athlete or someone who gets on court for a hit once a week. By giving herself this bit of extra time it removes the pressure to perform when things are not quite 100%. I know all of her fans only want her to be fit and happy and so will welcome her back once her body is right. Best of luck, Carolina, for the year ahead!

If you enjoyed reading this follow the link to my piece about the wonderful Ratchanok https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/06/26/ratchanok-can-thailands-sweetheart-get-gold/ and the new sensation AN Se Young https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/07/08/an-se-young-koreas-sensational-17-year-old/

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

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

Video courtesy BWF

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

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

Video courtesy BWF

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

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

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

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

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

And so we come to the recent Canadian Open: another opportunity to gain experience and Olympic qualification points. Again AN Se Young had a fairly low profile, again she progressed without much fuss, and again she won against decent opposition. She’s steadily climbing the rankings whilst getting to know how the superstars operate. We all have our views as to who will get Olympic Gold. Here is a player who has burst onto the scene, a tough rival but someone who isn’t quite the finished article. I think Tokyo2020 is going to arrive a little too early on her path to greatness but there are going to be plenty of other medals along the way.

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

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

Ratchanok Intanon: Can Thailand’s Sweetheart Get Gold?

Ratchanok Intanon is a magnificent player.

Malaysia Open 2019. Picture credit: Shutterstock.com

She is so elegant – almost balletic – she glides around the court with incredibly light feet. This graceful style is one of the features that makes her so enjoyable to watch. There’s a lot of depth and technical skill to her game so this combination makes her a very successful competitor and a tricky opponent to beat.

May is loved by all and is a very popular player on the circuit; it’s not unusual to see photos of her socialising with the Japanese players and recently it emerged she had played doubles in an exhibition match with Nozomi Okuhara.

May’s 24 though it seems like we have enjoyed watching her for years: she turned professional in 2007 and first exploded onto the international scene when she was only 14. How she came to the sport is quite a well-known story. Her parents worked at a sweet factory in Bangkok whose owner encouraged his employees children to play at the factory’s badminton courts to keep them away from the cooking and hot sugar. Her natural athleticism was recognised and so she was encouraged and supported to follow her pathway to success.

The compilation video below by Shuttle Flash calls her ‘Queen of Comebacks’ and I think this is a strong element of her approach. She doesn’t know when she is beaten; it’s rare that she just gives in. This must partly be the result of her experience but it also says something about her as a person. She is renowned for her determination and focus in training so I think this attitude carries through into matches quite easily.

Video courtesy of ShuttleFlash.

She won the Vietnam International Challenge in 2009 she was just 14, then became the youngest ever winner of the BWF World Junior Championships also when she was still 14. In 2013 she was triumphed in the BWF World Championships beating Li Xuerui over 3 games in the final and is still the youngest ever singles winner of that event. That year she also suffered from a foot injury and a back problem which limited the other tournaments she entered. The following two years were reasonably quiet by her standards – perhaps the older players had ‘found her out’ and possibly she lost some fitness through injuries – however 2016 is a different story.

Rio Olympic year saw Ratchanok win 3 Superseries titles in a row (India, Malaysia, Singapore): she beat Li Xuerui, Tai Tzu Ying and Sun Yu in each of the finals. This extraordinary run of form saw her become the first Thai to hold the world Number One spot, qualify for the Olympics, and was the flag bearer at the opening ceremony. In spite of this she was halted by Akane Yamaguchi and didn’t get beyond the round of 16; the rest of the year fizzled out somewhat owing to the knee injury she picked up in Rio.

Since then there are so many achievements, an honour roll can’t begin to tell the whole story. I cannot remember ever seeing her play an ugly game. She has a beautiful touch at the net; it’s almost as though she can hold the shot back for a split second longer than the opponent expects – so not strictly speaking deception but still deceptive. She can vary the pace of the game and this tactic often disrupts her rivals rhythm.

She has a ‘fast racket’ and great technique which of course means that a full armoury of shots are at her fingertips. She is 169cm tall and uses her height and reach shrewdly, I love seeing her set up net kills that she executes so sharply. Her reverse slice drop shot is a thing of beauty, there are also punchy clears plus she has a dangerous straight and cross court smash. Her precision is outstanding; she will consistently place the shuttle right on the line.

So what does the future hold? She has been clear about her ambition:

“…to win an Olympic gold medal and to be Number 1 in the world”

Is Tokyo Gold a realistic possibility? In terms of ability and experience definitely yes but we can all name some outstanding players who will stand in her way. Morten Frost pointed out that the key to that medal will lie in the seeding and her weakness is that she is stagnating as a top 10 player. The consistency needed to stay in the top 10 for as long as her is remarkable but she needs to be in the top 4 so she can avoid meeting competitors like Akane or Tai Tzu Ying until the semi finals.

This is a very interesting look at Ratchanok’s training and it includes her mum cooking! Video courtesy of BWF.

It seems to me that she has lots of motivations for playing. Partly she has been driven by her desire to provide for her family but it also is important that she enjoys her games. Similar to Tai Tzu Ying she is not really a percentage player – I think she revels in her skills – for instance when she plays a cross court over the net to mid court it could go horribly wrong. It’s death or glory, but the glory on offer is too delightful to ignore. She’s an intelligent woman who loves her sport and is loved by everyone who watches her – we all want this refined, clever player to continue to win and make history.

Follow the links to read more about two of her main rivals. My article about Nozomi Okuhara is here https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/04/23/nozomi-okuhara-racket-ready-for-tokyo-glory/ and Tai Tzu Ying is here https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/03/18/tai-tzu-ying-taiwans-sporting-icon/