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?
The competition begins with 14 groups of three players: ONLY group winners will progress to the round of 16 on July 29th.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The QF could look at bit like this:
|Axelsen||V||Christie||Too close to call|
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/
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