January – Top Takeaways for Women’s Badminton.

A new year with old rivalries and the added piquancy of the Olympics in July. We are six months away from the biggest athletic event on the planet, the intensity and desire for success is going to build with each tournament and this all adds up to a scintillating few months in prospect for fans. The anticipation of qualification is offset by the dread of failure. 2020 has started with some thrilling matches; finals day at Istora was a cauldron of raw emotion – who didn’t relish those results with utter joy? What have we learned in January, who is up for the fight? Who has that podium in Tokyo in their sights?

Women’s Singles

TAI Tzu Ying has been treading a different path to her rivals this year. She is cherry-picking the best tournaments to support her ambition. This feels like an athlete with a plan and along with her coaches she understands that entering every tournament is not the effective way for her to achieve her goal. Getting the balance right between training, competition and fitness is what coaches are paid to do. I think it’s been a stroke of genius to play in the PBL. It has freshened up the daily grind, there are some excellent training partners for her and she gets to play matches that are important but it’s not a catastrophy to lose. For instance, only 16 years old but Gayatri Gopichand took a set off TTY in the PBL whilst playing for Chennai Superstarz – now here is a girl with ambition!

From BWF TV

As ever, this is the most dynamic, exciting sector of badminton with the best athletes. Head-to-head battles between the top 20 players are often gloriously unpredictable. In contrast to the men’s game there is no dominant player except that CHEN Yufei won 7 tournaments in 2019 and significantly she does not lose finals. As current World #1 she started 2020 in good form and won the Malaysia Masters by beating TAI Tzu Ying in two sets. Crucially she hasn’t built upon this opportunity to dominate; she was knocked out of the Indonesian Masters on the second day by the unseeded Line Kjaersfeldt.

Carolina Marin has been cultivating her old aura of unbeatability and has been on the podium at all three competitions this year. Reliable results should be a good indicator of future success so we have to acknowledge that she is the person in January who has delivered. Nevertheless, no titles yet and she has been beaten by three different players: CYF, May & Akane, so this tells me that she still has loads of work to do if she wants to defend her 2016 Gold medal.

Akane & Nozomi: no-one can be under greater pressure to do well in Japan than the two home players. January has been a good month for Akane. Her win over AN Se Young in the Thailand Masters final is perhaps a sign that she is emerging from a hard few months of injury disruption. Nozomi has had a quiet start to the year after a successful and frustrating 2019. Five finals, five runners up medals. There were times last year when she was modifying her game to incorporate more aggression, she has to be less predictable to just get that extra 1% that makes the difference between Silver and Gold.

Indian Badminton

Indian Badminton does seem to be going through a bit of a rough patch at the moment, last year was pretty uneven and not much has improved. Saina Nehwal is a true great of the game but results are not good enough at the moment to ensure her qualification for Tokyo. Only a fool would write off her chances at this point and on a positive note her triumph over AN Se Young in R2 of The Malaysia Masters was a reminder that she can beat anyone. I’m unconvinced that her current coaching setup adds to her competitive edge though; I think that if her fluency improves and strategies to get her qualification points whereever she can are used then we still may see her in Japan. Her withdrawal from the Badminton Asia Team Championships plus her recent political work point to a lack of focus. As an observer I just see chaos.

P V Sindhu has a reputation as a ‘Big Tournament Player’ and is the current world champion. Nevertheless, her tendency to crash out of tournaments too early is frustrating. We often excuse her underperformance because we see her respond well to the biggest challenges. I am sympathetic to this view but surely it’s better to win and get some competitive momentum rather than travel here, there and everywhere only to crash out early? Nevermind, emotions aside, I don’t think her results over the past six months are much worse than Akanes so perhaps it’s better to just enjoy the rollercoaster. Of course she will get to Tokyo, but will she get on the podium? On the strength of January’s performances I am sceptical.

Women’s Doubles

My highlight in January across all sectors has to be Polii & Rahayu’s victory at the Indonesia Masters. Their semi-final and final were emotionally exhausting epics. It’s taken a lot of courage for them to analyse and rebuild their game. Over the next few months I hope we see this revitalised pair win more. No Japanese duo has made a final yet this year and it’s still not decided which of them will be competing in Tokyo. This must be a difficult situation because they need to compete well to get ranking points to increase their chances of qualification however over-training and too much competition could risk injury or burn out. CHEN/JIA are very dangerous players, so strong and such brutal attackers but they are not dominating tournaments yet. It’s a very fluid picture; there is an opportunity in this sector for a pair to really boss the results – who will step up?

Any Conclusions?

Winning an Olympic Gold is never a fluke but rather the result of years and years of dedication. Carolina’s consistency in the routine of competition is the opposite of what we observe from P V Sindhu and yet judging by January’s results both of them risk being denied medals. TTY looks focused and although we know she can be perfectly imperfect, at the moment the logic of her regime seems sound. I’ve barely mentioned May or AN Se Young. Ratchanok had an excellent win over Marin in the final of the Indonesian Masters and no worries about her stamina in that 3 set match. ASY is still work in progress, but she is transtioning from Giant-killer to Giant. I wonder if this will be achieved by July?

There’s still a long way to go, a lot of matches to be played. The first milestone is the end of the qualifying period on the 26th April. Nerves are jangling a little already, once we have the final list of players the anticipation and dread can really begin.


I need to acknowledge the incredibly sad road traffic accident in Malaysia and offer sincere condolences to the family of the deceased driver, Mr N Bavan. I also send sympathy to everyone affected by this. We should appreciate the good things in our lives everyday. As Dato Lee Chong Wei said in his Chinese New Year Message …”time to put down everything, shut down the computer…go back home. There is someone there thinking for you. Always remember to treat it as the last new year you would ever have. Cherish your love one.”


If you enjoyed this article follow the link for my recent piece about Polii & Rahayu https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/01/19/greysap-redux-polii-rahayu-are-back/ or this one about AN Se Young https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/07/08/an-se-young-koreas-sensational-17-year-old/

©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Lee Chong Wei – Hero of a Nation

In 2018. Screen shot from BWF TV

Datuk Lee Chong Wei, for anyone in the Badminton world, this man needs no introduction. For nearly two decades Lee Chong Wei flew the flag for Malaysia in mens singles. Hailed by many as a hero for Malaysia his perseverance and willingness to never give up has inspired all.

Dazzling footwork, blinding speed and aggressive power

We can’t talk about Lee Chong Wei without discussing his two most defining aspects, his speed and power. He’s easily one of the fastest players there has ever been. He makes even the most difficult footwork look easy. He glides around the court, never missing a beat. Leading the rallies by setting the pace, other players are just playing catchup most of the time.

His speed is beautifully coupled by his raw physical power. Capable of hitting smashes way over the 380kmph consistently and even seeing smashes reaching 400kmph and above keeps his opponents in check. His straight smash from round the head on his backhand side is one of the most lethal shots I’ve ever seen if the opponent can somehow get it back he’s ready to follow up and kill the reply.

All of this combined gave the Malaysian a distinct playing style that very few could ever combat and even fewer have been able to emulate. There’s something mesmerising watching him covering the court with ease and then suddenly explode and start piling pressure onto his opponent. It’s exciting, to say the least.

Olympic glory, accolades and knighthood

3 Olympic silver medals, 3 World Championship medals, 46 Super Series title and more than 700 career wins! Lee Chong Wei’s trophy cabinet makes him one of the most decorated in not just in Badminton but in sport in general.

Sadly he never attained the two most coveted titles in Badminton, gold in the Olympics and the World Championships. How massive even these silver medals are for Malaysia that he was granted the title of Datuk, akin to a knighthood for Malaysians.

None could amount to his sheer dominance at his home event, the Malaysia Open! He won it a total 12 times with eight of them year on year. A record unprecedented by any other. He was untouchable on home soil, fueled by the roaring fans he lacked no confidence in any encounter.

One of the Four Kings in Badminton mens singles and a part of the Yonex Legends Vision team he’s cemented himself as one of the greats of the sport. His Badminton academy aims to deliver world-class coaching, mentoring and opportunities to the next generation of players who look up to and idolise him.

Badminton’s greatest rivalry

We can’t talk about Lee Chong Wei without talking about his biggest rival, Lin Dan. Their rivalry is one of Badminton’s greatest if not the greatest. In their prime, nobody came close to either of them. Titles were decided by the two of them and the two of them alone.

They met each other 40 times throughout their careers. Their matches were titanic clashes of speed, power and finesse. They met in the Olympic final twice in a row and Lee Chong Wei lost out in both of their meetings in 2008 and 2012. Finally, he managed to break the cycle by defeating Lin Dan in the semi-final of Rio 2016 in one of the most nail-biting matches ever.

They battled at the All England, the World Championships and countless other events throughout the years. Badminton was lucky enough to see these two greats bring out the best in each other. Lee Chong Wei was on the wrong side of a 28-12 head-to-head with Lin Dan but without those loses he wouldn’t be the incredible champion he is. Each loss inspired the next ascent to even higher greatness.

Hero of the Badminton world

Despite his setbacks, despite his loses, despite everything he had gone through he continued to fight on. His ability to keep on getting up and to press forward gave everyone else hope. They hoped they could be like him, to come back stronger and better than before.

Sadly, June 2019 saw his career come to end. Despite fighting back against nose cancer he was unable to return to competitive play. The world of Badminton wept for a man who could have gone even further even at the age of 36 he was still one of the best in the world.

A Badminton legend but also a wonderful person. Players and fans always met by his welcoming and friendly smile he was loved as a person as much as a player. Respected not just for what he achieved but how it never changed him, how showed everyone how to win and how to lose, with pride, decency and respect.

He taught us how to keep on fighting. How to get back up after a fall. His story inspired millions. He inspired the world, he definitely inspired me.

This article was written by Liam Walsh of BadmintonsBest. A Badminton blog inspiring more people to pick up Badminton and reach their full potential. 


If you enjoyed this you may like the following article about the current world #1 Kento Momota https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/12/27/kento-momota/ or this one about one of his most exciting rivals: Anthony Ginting https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/25/anthony-sinisuka-ginting/


Greysap Redux: Polii & Rahayu Are Back

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

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

Celebrating the win. Screenshot BWF TV

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

At this moment we all wanted to hug them!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The moment of victory. Screenshot from BWF tv

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

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

©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Susy Susanti: Inspirational Icon

By Ferdinan Utama

Barcelona!

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

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

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

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

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

Embed from Getty Images

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

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

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


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

Perodua Malaysia Masters 2020

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

Womens Singles Preview

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

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

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

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

TAI Tzu Ying – Seeded 1

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

Akane Yamaguchi – Seeded 4, and Carolina Marin – unseeded

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

CHEN Yufei – Seeded 2

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

Ratchanok Intanon – Seeded 5

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

Nozomi Okuhara – Seeded 3

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

Gregoria,Saina,Sindhu,HE

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

Men’s Singles

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

Conclusion

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


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

©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Chinese Men’s Doubles

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

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

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

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

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

HAN Chengkai & ZHOU Haodong – Current Status World #11

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

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

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

DI Zijiang & WANG Chang – Current Status World #33

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

Conclusions

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


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