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
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.
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.
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/