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Yuki and Sayaka at the Olympics

“If you smile, I’ll be fine too.”

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

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

Facing elimination together – screenshot from Eurosport.

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

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

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

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

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

Interview in NHK translated by Sebastien.

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

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

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

Trans by Sebastien.

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

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


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

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


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Brilliant Polii and Rahayu Win Olympic Gold

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

Screengrab from Eurosport

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

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

Greysia Polii

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

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

Fast Forward To Tokyo 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artwork by Rachel Florencia

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


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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TAI Tzu Ying Wins Olympic Silver

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

Screen grab from Eurosport.

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

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

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

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


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

©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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TAI Tzu-Ying: Player of the Day

The Olympic Semi-Final

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

Pic from Shutterstock

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

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

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


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


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


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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The Olympics: Men’s Singles Preview

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

Pic from Shutterstock/Hirohito Takada

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

Kento Momota

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

Viktor Axelsen

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

Anders Antonsen

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

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

Jonatan Christie

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

SHI Yu Qi

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

Anthony Ginting

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

LEE Zii Jia

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

CHEN Long

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

CHOU Tien Chen

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

Predictions

The QF could look at bit like this:

Winner
MomotaVNgMomota
AxelsenVChristieToo close to call
Ginting VAntonsenGinting
LZJvCTCCTC

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


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


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

The Olympics: Women’s Doubles Preview

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

Pic Credit Sutterstock

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

Japan

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

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

Indonesia

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

South Korea

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

China

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

Conclusions

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


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

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

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

©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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The Olympics: Men’s Doubles Preview

When the going gets tough, the tough get going!

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

Pic credit Solomon7/Shutterstock

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

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

Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo & Marcus Fernaldi Gideon

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

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

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

Hiroyuki Endo & Yuta Watanabe

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

Hendra Setiawan & Mohammad Ahsan

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

Lee Yang & Wang Chi-Lin

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

Li Jun & Liu Yu Chen

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

Choi Solgyu & Seo Seungjae

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

Keigo Sonoda & Takeshi Kamura

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

Any Dark Horses?

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

Who will win Gold?

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


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


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Fyi

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

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

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

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


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Badminton,Team GB and Tokyo

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

Official Logo – picture from Shutterstock

Men’s Doubles: Ben Lane & Sean Vendy

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

Mixed Doubles: Lauren Smith & Marcus Ellis

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

Women’s Singles: Kirsty Gilmour

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

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

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

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

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

Women’s Doubles: Chloe Birch & Lauren Smith.

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

Men’s WH2: Martin Rooke

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

Can I Mention Rachel Choong?

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

Conclusions

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

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

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


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

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


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Kevin, Marcus and Tokyo Gold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“Partner Andalan”


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


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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My Perfect Player: Part 2

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

Vivacity: Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo

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

Embed from Getty Images

Bullet Proof: Kento Momota

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

Photo by Abdul Razak Latif/Shutterstock

Speed: Anthony or Yuta?

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

100% Legend: Hendra Setiawan

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

Street Fighting Man: Anders Antonsen

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

Firepower: Praveen Jordan or Viktor Axelsen

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

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


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


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved