First, a confession – I didn’t watch the match today between Saina and Selvaduray Kisona. However, I want to award my ‘Player of the Day’ accolade to the Indian player because the last 24 hours must really have tested her resolve to get out on court and compete, let alone win.
The shocking news yesterday that two Indian players had tested positive for Covid made headlines worldwide. Her millions of fans were dismayed at the news that one of them was Saina and that her opponent had been awarded a walkover.
What a difference 24 hours has made. Gossip started leaking out that she had been retested and was now confirmed ‘negative’. Would she be allowed to reenter the competition? Was she OK?
She is a player who has a steely core; we’ve seen this throughout her career. Late yesterday when we got the news that she’d been reinstated it was also revealed that she had been stuck at the hospital for 10 hours. Today, in the last game of the session, having been shifted onto Ct 3 at short notice she won in two sets 21-15, 21-15.
I can’t report that her fitness is back to its best, or that niggling injuries are healed. But I’m thrilled to tell you that there can be no questions about the mental resilience and grit of this athlete. Congratulations Saina!
Honourable mentions today go to Daren LIEW who shocked Anders Antonsen by dumping him out of the tournament in two sets and Ratchanok Intanon who looked sharp and fit in her victory over YEO.
Sometimes players burst onto the badminton scene from nations with no obvious tradition in the sport. It’s a fascinating topic to examine, not least because it includes some of our favourites. It’s remarkable that the majority of these athletes are women who play singles. Here are people who have had to break down barriers at every point in their careers and it’s arguable that a resolute focus translates best to the singles game. The loneliness of the court, often with no support staff can be a difficult challenge. To be able to meet the challenge and succeed takes an exceptional person.
Carolina Marin. The current Olympic Champion hails from a country that has never enjoyed headline success in badminton yet she has won the World Championships 3 times and has been on the podium at just about every BWF tournament at some time in her career. Initially she loved flamenco, but after watching a friend play badminton she was hooked. The sport had such a low profile in Spain it’s said that her parents had not even heard of it when she asked for her own racket. It’s important to her story that her coach – Fernando Rivas – has also been a single-minded pioneer. He is a sports scientist who has studied badminton and conducted research in other European countries. He had been a player but not the country’s best. When he arrived at the national training centre in Spain (2005) he encountered signifiicant resistence to his new approach. The prevalent culture had been shaped by an influential coach who had left but there was a reluctance to embrace a different style. The rise of Marin could not have happened without Rivas and his development of a new way of training. Likewise Rivas needed a talent like Marin to prove that his methods worked. Clearly they do; the next step is to see if a badminton legacy is created and Spain becomes a European powerhouse of the sport.
Saina Nehwal. Today Saina is a worldwide superstar whose appeal reaches far beyond sport. It’s not true to say that badminton was unknown in India before she came along because Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand had been high profile men’s shuttlers – both winners of the All England amongst other titles. Nevertheless Saina elevated the game and contributed hugely to the normalisation of women’s participation in it in so many countries. Often in the early days, her career was characterised by the phrase ‘Saina versus China’ because the world scene was dominated by exceptional Chinese players. Her determination and stubborness got her to the point where she could compete with – and beat – the world’s best. She is an inspiration to millions of people who have taken up the sport because of her. A true trailblazer.
Michelle Li is the best Canadian to compete in World badminton. Although she was born in Hong Kong her playing career began after her family settled in Canada. She receives no financial support so has to fund her tournament participation. Despite this she is a top 15 WS, who has come back from serious knee surgery
“…I kind of do everything on my own. When I’m in Canada I don’t have any training because I don’t have anyone to train with…most of my training happens in tournaments…For sure, if I win a medal in Tokyo it will get better. Nobody in Canada expected me to do well. If I can generate better results for Canada, it will change the situation.
Michelle Li in Sportstar.
Kirsty Gilmour is Scotland’s stand-out player. Recently the Scottish women’s team qualified for the Uber Cup and will make their debut in the competition with Gilmour as a key component. Although Britain has a vibrant badminton community, athletes who make it into the world top 30 are not common and it’s a tribute to her dedication that she can go toe-to-toe with the best in the world. She set her sights on Olympic qualification and this has taken her on what can be a lonely road to get enough points. She often has to compete with no coach at her side but should qualify for Tokyo as a member of TeamGB.
It’s not true to claim that these players came out of nowhere. They are athletes who have emerged from a club environment with an extra spark that has driven them to new competitive heights. Most of them are self-funded with a tiny support network compared to Chinese or Indonesian players. There are plenty more that I could have looked at: Beiwen Zhang (USA) and Yvonne Li (Germany) are two obvious examples. They are typically women who have had to work hard and sacrifice things along the way to achieve a dream. I hope we see them all compete successfully at the Olympics and continue to inspire others to enjoy a wonderful sport.
India’s badminton players have a good record at the Olympics recently but what can we hope for when the Tokyo tournament gets under way? This will be the first time that badminton appears at the Paralympics so the athletes from this sector will also be aiming for a place on the podium.
Before the postponement it’s true to say that many in the Indian Olympic team were drifting. Form has been affected by injuries and lack of focus; there’s also been disruption amongst the coaching staff with some contracts cut short. It could be that the delay to the games will benefit some players who have been struggling for form.
Saina Nehwal – London 2012 Bronze Medal: Saina’s Olympic dreams are on a knife-edge. The first hurdle for her is to qualify. She has been particularly badly affected by the confusion regarding the qualifying period. Before the C-19 crisis arose she was struggling with niggling injuries which affected her ranking place. Now she seems fitter and it’s clear that she would have been one of the athletes who made up ground at the end of the period. It’s an unfortunate sequence of events but this is a player will fierce mental strength. This break could be an opportunity for a review and analysis of training needs; if she works to a clear strategy once the tour resumes it is still possible she can be in Japan.
Pursala V Sindhu – Rio 2016 Silver Medal: Sindhu doesn’t need to worry whether or not she’ll be in Tokyo; the concern is around her form and the tactics she uses in matches. When she’s on form she is a formidable, daunting opponent but there are times when she crashes out of tournaments too early. Her best result in 2019 was the World Championship when she briskly overwhelmed Okuhara in the final. Coach Kim was at her side that day but has now left the Indian setup; Gopichand has recruited the legendary Agus Dwi Santoso to work with the elite players. With the hiatus in competition there is plenty of scope for introducing a new regime and helping the players progress towards Japan.
Lakshya Sen has been training under the guidance of the legendary Morten Frost and is starting to make an impact. Realistically these Olympics will still come around too soon on his badminton journey although it’s fair to say that many analysts and fans see him as a player with enormous potential.
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy & Chirag Shetty: Men’s Doubles is dominated by stellar Indonesian and Japanese pairs and so the task for these two – assuming they qualify – is to make sure their results in the round-robin part of the tournament are good enough so they can progress. If they can get to the knock-outs they will still have a stern task to get on the podium but given the quality of their rivals this would be a good achievement.
What About India’s Paralympic Hopes?
India has some of the best Parabadminton players in the world. The coaching setup always seems committed, well-organised and supportive of their players. I think there will be a good chance of more than one medal here, if things go well then possibly more than one Gold. It’s frustrating that some of the disciplines where the nation’s athletes excel are not included at these games, specifically Women’s Singles SL3 and Men’s Doubles SL/SU. There are also some people who will miss out, not because of lack of ability but because there is a set quota.
Pramod Bhagat – Arjuna Award Holder & World Champion: Bhagat is one of the superstars of parabadminton and should qualify as the #1 seed for SL3 Men’s Singles. Of all Indian athletes this man is the most consistent acheiver. Indian shuttlers dominate SL3. Manoj Sarkar, Umesh Vikram Kumar and Kumar Nitesh are top 10 players – as we know, it’s not possible for all of them to compete in Tokyo – nevertheless this strength in depth means that excellence is chased with focus and committment. It’s unfortunate that there is no Men’s Doubles competition, if there was then Bhagat with his partner Manoj Sarkar would stand every chance of being on the podium together.
Manasi Joshi – World Champion SL3: Like Sindhu she trains at the Gopichand Academy, also like Sindhu she won Gold in her category in Basle. It’s regrettable that unlike Sindhu she will not get the chance to compete in this category in Tokyo because it is not part of the tournament. It is a measure of her drive and personality that she has decided to try and qualify to play in the XD with Rakesh Pandey and she could compete in the WD too with Arati Patil. Parul Parmar is another SL3 athlete who is trying the doubles route to qualify.
In addition to these household names Tarun Tarun, Suhus Lalinakere Yathhiraj & Sukant Kadam in MS SL4 and Nagar Krishna in MS SH6 all have a good prospects.
India’s badminton contingent can really turn this delay to their advantage, despite the frustrations and disruption to their training programmes, it could be that the extra time will help them. It’s still not certain what adjustments may be made to the qualifying criteria by the BWF but I think we can be sure that there will be some who will feel the unfairness of an unwieldy system. Never mind, the best thing to do is knuckle down, try and keep training, and be ready to come out fighting when the tour resumes. P V Sindhu is the most likely to get a medal; she’s a renowned ‘big tournament player’ and she should be expecting to do well. She could even upgrade her Silver from Rio.
The Parabadminton athletes have got this. They are amongst the best in the world; they can approach the Olympics with the highest hopes. None of these games are easy but they have proved over and over again that when big questions are asked, they know the answers.
Who will be the next Indian badminton player to win a medal at the Olympics? The current World Champion, and Silver medallist from Rio 2016, Pusarla Venkata Sindhu must have high hopes. Sindhu has a reputation as a ‘big tournament player’; the bigger the stage, the bigger the prize. This is a player who motivates herself by focussing on the major titles, the ones that everyone wants to win.
When she is performing to the best of her ability, she is unstoppable. There are times when her attacking power is breath-taking. Nevertheless, her erratic form can be very frustrating for her supporters. Playing singles can be a lonely game. It requires strong self-belief. Sometimes when she plays her confidence seems a little unsteady. She can look quite vulnerable, but this should be an area that her coach will help with. Even when playing alone on the court there should always be someone at her side during the mid-game break offering encouragement and suggestions.
We all know by now that Tokyo 2020 has become Tokyo 2021. Coach Agus Dwi Santoso was appointed to the national coaching team in February and the unexpected extra months could give him and the players chance to build their training routines rather than be drawn into increasingly desperate firefighting. The Indonesian has a great pedigree and has recently been working in Thailand with players like Busanan and Kantaphon. It is a key moment for Indian badminton. Since Coach Kim left, Sindhu’s form has been inconsistent and the other top players seem to be drifting with time running out for qualification. With a fresh approach and a clear vision they may still be able to turn things around.
Sindhu is a fantastic player; no-one flukes winning a World Championship final. The fundamental strategy in singles is about movement. At her best, Sindhu’s aggression has its foundation in her ability to control the rally by moving her foe around the court and provoking a weak shot. Her technique and strength mean that she already hits the shuttle fiercely; her stature allows her to find steep angles. This gives less time to the opponent on the other side of the net. Sindhu follows up her smash very swiftly – often with a net kill to bury any weak return. This is a wonderful way to keep pressure high and provoke mistakes.
Her offensive game is not simply based on smashes. Her fast, flat clears (very different to the loopy kind we all see at local club nights), and punched drives are a good way to keep the momentum of the match on her side. It’s dangerous to attempt to gain recovery time by clearing over her head; a slight misjudgement and a savage riposte is the result.
Her long stride and reach give her good court coverage but she can look a little susceptible when the tables are turned and she is forced to defend the corners. Getting trapped by a sequence of ‘over’ reaching can undermine her poise. The disadvantage of a high centre of gravity is the risk to stability. I think this is a weakness that has been exploited in the past but has improved. People often claim that tall players lack agility and balance but this is a skill that can be developed in the gym and it’s obvious this is an area that has been worked upon.
If Sindhu plays with conviction, she has no-one to fear. Her precision and power make her invincible since her attacking game is so hard to defuse. She has extra time now to prepare for Tokyo and must use it to her advantage. She has a great chance of getting on that Olympic podium and upgrading her 2016 Silver to a 2021 Gold.
After the excitement of the PBL and the Team Championships the tour arrives in Europe for the next few months
We are counting down to the end of the Olympic qualifying period. The situation for players who have already confirmed their spot – such as Marcus & Kevin – is excellent. They can manage their preparations to peak in July; no need to risk injury or burn-out. However, athletes who are hovering in the borderlands, those who are in the position of being ranked between about 10-25, are going to get drawn into an increasingly fraught scrabble for points. Some will be anxiously looking over their shoulders whilst others know that they can get to Japan, with a huge effort plus a bit of luck.
Because of the tragic situation in China and elsewhere regarding Covid-19 the travel restrictions have had an impact upon some players attendance. I believe the Chinese team are going to have a European base for a while to help with their quarantine compliance. Unfortunately this will not be in time for this Spanish tournament so there have been some significant withdrawals. Well, it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good; the competitors who can make Spain must make the most of the circumstances they are in.
Women’s Singles – WARNING! THIS IS ALL ABOUT SAINA
Carolina Marin must be looking at the other players in her home tournament in much the same way that a lion views antelope drinking at a water hole. Prediction: Winner!
Her die-hard supporters are still focusing all their positivity around Saina Nehwal‘s push to qualify for the Olympics again. If she can, it would be a magnificent acheivement. If she fails, then armchair fans can easily identify areas that should have/could have been managed differently. It’s a lack of consistency that has frustrated her ambitions over the last 12 months. She has had persistant injuries and has commented that her problems on court stem more from an inability to move smoothly rather than any lack of desire. There also seems to be a lack of clarity around her coaching support. As an experienced elite player she surely is the best judge of who she needs courtside but I feel lukewarm about the idea of her husband providing this help. Tactical advice should come from an expert. It’s undeniable that she has fallen prey to distractions away from the game too: Vogue covers and political ambition may refresh a jaded player or they may dissipate focus.
At a minimum she must get to the semi-final but Line Kjaersfeldt awaits in R2. She has already beaten the Indian this year at the Thailand Open and, during the Indonesian Masters back in January, she shocked CHEN YuFei in the second round in straight sets so Saina must be awake from the minute she gets on court. Kjaersfeldt could easily play the sort of strategy that exploits Saina’s lack of fluency. The key question is: Can Saina’s cunning carry her through? If she can play the sort of game that saw her win against AN Se Young in Malaysia then the answer is YES! Prediction: Semi
XXXX STOP PRESS XXXX DANES WITHDRAW XXXX
After their wonderful victory in the European Women’s Team Championships on 16.2.20 some key Danish players have withdrawn from the tournament citing injuries. Unfortunately Mia Blichfeldt (originally seeded 2), and Line Kjaersfeldt will be missing from the Women’s singles. Saina MUST take advantage of this to accrue Olympic points; she will not get dealt a better hand by fate this year!
Busan Ongbamrungpham and Pornpawee Chochuwong are two Thai players who are often overshadowed by May’s superstar status but I’m sure there are benefits to this. They must get to train with her at times and it’s interesting that Thailand is getting more strength in depth these days (consider the success of the juniors). Either of these two could get themselves a podium place but the prize on offer will be more than that. Both are still fighting for an Olympic spot, but both cannot go because of Ratchanok. Chochuwong is slightly behind her compatriot in the rankings so I think she needs to do well here. Saina needs to watch out because either of these two could trample on her ambitions to fulfil their own.
The BWF ranking list that’s due to be published at the end of April will confirm which players make Tokyo and who stays home. Some athletes are on a knife edge now; they have to seize the moment. The absence of many of the Chinese players gives an unlooked-for advantage to the competitors in this tournament. If we consider Marin, her side of the draw looks reasonably trouble-free; she should be able to pocket this home tournament. The interesting question is, can Saina rise to the challenge?
Saina Nehwal is the superstar who has leapt over mere sporting boundaries to make history all through her career.
Millions of fans have followed her since the early days of succcess when she was the torchbearer for women’s badminton in Indian. Before her famous victories its profile was modest but she sent a jolt through the sporting community and now the sport is enjoyed and supported by millions.
“when I was a match point down it was like a shock. It was a big match and winning it means a lot to me. Even many years from now those present here will remember how Saina won the Gold. It is a proud feeling” Saina after her CG Gold.
What she says is true. Speak to any devotee and they will remember where they were on the day of the Delhi Commonwealth Games WS Badminton final. Some were at the office watching on a shared TV, some at a club, others were at home with family but everyone recalls the happiness and relief of that moment when she seized her destiny.
She is a dangerous, complex player to face. Her foundations are rugged, she possesses the full array of shots and takes a somewhat orthodox approach: a standard singles strategy of pulling and pushing her opponent around the court, shifting focus from side to side, waiting for a weak return to seize upon and punish. This is hardly the full story though. The characteristics that have elevated her are psychological strength combined with tactical dexterity.
While she doesn’t have the pace of three or four years ago she can compensate for this with her resilience. She is a good defender and although too much reliance on retrieving can be a weakness I don’t recognise this as a fault in her game. She is an intelligent reader of other players and can out-maneouvre opponents during the match. Of course, this mental strength really draws the sting of a rival. She is lethal once the momentum starts to go in her direction. As soon as this happens she turns the screw and can make sure the other player suffers a drought of opportunities. Her emotional muscle often overpowers because the other player just runs out of ideas.
Since the All England Championships she has had to cope with a sequence of injuries which will have affected her training and so her fluency on court. As she recovers her fitness she will have an eye on the Olympic qualifying date of 30th April 2020; she must be ranked in the top 16 then to book her place in Tokyo. So long as her regime is well-managed I don’t see any reason for her to miss this milestone. Could she win another medal?
Saina was the first Indian to win the World Junior Badminton Championships (2008)
She was the first Indian woman to win a Super Series Tournament (Indonesian Open 2009)
First Indian to win an Olympic medal at badminton (London 2012)
First Indian Woman to be ranked World Number 1 (2015)
Saina would have been a success whatever profession she chose; she could have been a scientist, engineer or architect, it wouldn’t matter. She is a person who brings 100% commitment and integrity to whatever she undertakes. She has inspired millions of people all around the world and given so much to the badminton community. The loyalty and passion of her fans is second-to-none and the sport is by far the richer for her influence.
The tour swings by Europe for October: first Denmark then France. In the last few months we’ve seen Akane dispatched in R1 (thrice), Nozomi crumple somewhat after her World Championship final mauling by Sindhu and HE Bing Jiao end her 3 year search for a title; so what does the Danish tournament have in store? In a year of jaw-dropping upsets, giant killings and injuries will we have predictable problems or unexpected catastrophes? One thing is certain, the final in Odense will not be between the top two seeds….or will it?
TAI Tzu Ying: Defending Champion & World Number 1
So what can we expect? Well, the extraordinary is ordinary for TTY. Her stunning technical ability combined with a no-limits approach is an irresistible blend. Her weakness is often her focus, which can drift. Sometimes she snaps back into the match and scores points at will, but occasionally the momentum is handed to her rival and the game is lost. She is defending champion but only seeded 4. To her advantage, Coach Lai will be looking after her full-time now he has stepped down from his Taiwan national team duties. Prediction: Final
P V Sindhu: World Champion & seeded 5
Following the excitement of Basle, Sindhu has crashed out of two tournaments without touching the podium. In the larger context of her career this isn’t a concern; clearly her normal life has been disrupted by the hoohaa surrounding her fabulous victory. More alarming though is the unfortunate departure of coach Kim; I hope appropriate support is in place to fill the gap. Tunjung is her R1 opponent and she is very capable of beating the Indian. AN Se Young is potentially her next challenge. It’s no exageration to say she has the worst draw of any of the seeds. Prediction either early exit or final!
CHEN YuFei: Ms Consistency & seeded 2
Since the beginning of 2019 Feifei has won four finals (including the All England), lost 5 semi-finals, and had a crucial role in China’s victory in the Sudirman Cup. Her style is patient and clever; often she ‘just’ keeps the shuttle in play and sets traps for her unwary opponents to walk into. Perhaps because of this approach she seems less susceptible to injury. Her first round opponent is the giant-killing YEO Jia Min who could spring a surprise: if CYF is to progress she must be ready as soon as she steps on court. Prediction: Semi
Carolina Marin: She’s Back!
What a thrill to see the irrepressible Marin back on court and winning the China Open! She was playing freely with no loss of speed so it seems that her recovery from her horrible injury has been good. It’s difficult to predict how she will progress here but there is no doubt that she is entering tournaments because she can win them. Don’t underestimate how unnerving it will be for her opponents to play her so soon after damaging her ACL: should they try and put pressure on the wounded side? Prediction: Hmmm, not sure…
HE Bing Jiao: Seeded 7
Winner of the Korea Open – including saving 4 match points against Ratchanok – HE Bing Jiao is often an overlooked player on the tour. This low profile has been caused by a Gold famine (3 years up to Korea) and her compatriot’s success. It’s feasible that her Korea Open win will be the beginning of a medal rush. Seeded 7. Prediction QF.
Ratchanok Intanon: Seeded 6
“Sometimes to be a champion, it’s not just about the competition, it’s also about how you live your daily life”
The losing finalist at the Korea Open has enjoyed a good year so far. For all her balletic grace on court she is a gritty fighter who never gives up even when the situation seems irretrievable. Her racket shoulder does seem to be quite heavily strapped these days but that isn’t particularly unusual for many players. Recently I think she has been beaten by CYF & HBJ because they sat back and let her try to force the game. She doesn’t need to play like that, it would be good if she sometimes had a bit more patience. Prediction: QF
Nozomi Okuhara: Seeded 3
Things haven’t been easy for Nozomi since her loss in the World Championship final against Sindhu. A couple of bad results haven’t suddenly made her a bad player though. In my opinion she can sometimes rely too heavily on her retrieving abilities. I’d like her to be a bit more ‘Momota’, that is to say, more unpredictable and more explosive. All top players are refining their skills constantly so it will be exciting to see how her game evolves in the run-up to Tokyo2020. Prediction: Final
Can Saina & Akane Escape From The Treatment Room?
Saina’s had a miserable few months with injuries; just as it seems she is back to full fitness she suffers a setback. This must make it impossible to follow a progressive training regime and the risk exists (albeit small) that she will not qualify for Tokyo. Prediction 50/50 whether she is fully fit to play but if she does then QF
Akane – seeded 1 – on the other hand has had a pretty good year culminating in a wonderful July. She became world number 1, won the Indonesian Open and then the Japan Open over a few crazily successful weeks. The euphoria around this has diluted somewhat owing to her premature exits in the World Championships, the China Open and the Korea Open. She has had a back complaint; this disrupted her training and hindered her movement in a match. However, the good news -according to Morten Frost on Badminton Central – is that she has told him the back injury is healed. “No back problems any more”. However, she is having a problem on her right calf muscle. Prediction QF
These two players- if they are fit- could win the tournament, but there’s no evidence either of them have regained full fitness. I’m more hopeful for Akane and a decent run of games is just what she needs now.
Any Fairytales For The Home Contingent?
The WS category has Line Kjaersfeldt and Mia Blichfeldt who are both fine players but the seeding is against them and I can’t see either making much headway against Ratchanok and similar top 10 competitors. Just as an aside I think it’s a different story in MS. Who would bet against Viktor getting to the final? He’s ‘only’ seeded 7 but I think that’s the product of his allergy blighted summer. Anders Antonsen is another live prospect; his improvement over the last months has been terrific and it would be no big shock to see him on the podium too.
Any surprises? The most competitive sector of badminton always throws up something. It wouldn’t be impossible for someone like SUNG Ji Hyun, Tunjung or AN Se Young to overachieve and get to a semi-final. If the seeding plays out then it will be Akane Vs Feifei on October 20th. I love to watch tournaments unfold; it’s not only about the spectacular wins, for true fans its also the pleasure in seeing a favourite improve, a new player burst onto the scene, courage under pressure or simply a beautiful shot. Often the player who gets a feel for the arena early on can build her momentum towards Gold. P V Sindhu has a very harsh draw, but if she can hit the ground running it could be a great final to contest. Aside from podium finishers, I hope Saina can compete well. She’s a legendary player and this year must be terribly frustrating for her. This is going to be a fascinating competition and may the best woman win!
The road to Tokyo2020 has been a bumpy one for a lot of the WS competitors so far – I wonder if the China Open is going to be any smoother for them?
I think this tournament will pose some awkward questions for several players. 2019 has produced upsets crafted by rising stars of the new generation and there hasn’t been a dominant athlete. So here is the last Super 1000 of 2019 and my opinions about the top seeds.
P V Sindhu: World Champion
Since witnessing her obliteration of Nozomi in the World Championship final every player should be frightened of what Sindhu can do. It was an imperious campaign powered by Coach Kim and her refocus on skills. In that sort of form Sindhu can beat anyone, but she knows that to keep winning she cannot stand still; improvement must be continuous. It’s possible she might come up against Tai Tzu Ying in the SF and I think this will pose a new sort of problem. Prediction: Semi Final.
TAI Tzu Ying: The Queen
TAI Tzu Ying’s skills are always spinetingling to watch but her form has been a bit lacklustre recently – by her own extraordinary standards she is underachieving. Her focus sometimes wavers in the middle of matches: she needs to control this and be more cunning. In order to get to the final she may have to overcome Saina and vanquish the resurgent Sindhu. Can she do it? Of course! Will she do it? Hmmmm. Prediction: Final
Note to fans: Suffering is optional.
Akane Yamaguchi: World #1
After a fabulous July, Akane was brutally dumped out of the World Championships in R1. It was a gloomy sight for all her supporters who will want her to rediscover the touch that got her to World #1. Prediction QF.
Will She? Wont She? Part 1 – We Need To Talk About Saina.
Saina has been on the comeback trail after a wretched six months of injuries and illness which started back in March. We expected to see her at the Chinese Taipei Open at the beginning of September but she withdrew at the last minute. A month earlier at the World Championships in Basel she had an unlucky – albeit controversial – loss to Mia Blichfeldt early on but seemed to be playing reasonably smoothly. Her fans ache for the ‘old’ Saina to turn up, literally and metaphorically. Saina plays to WIN not for the exercise but on this occasion I don’t think she’s going to progress beyond QF.
Ratchanok Intanon: Seeded #6
May was obviously overjoyed with her Bronze at the World Championships in August – she deserved it – she had to fight for it, save match points, and be patient. May knows how to win. That spirit and drive for success is such an asset in competitions crowded with talent which is why my prediction is: Final
Chen Yufei: Seeded #3
Feifei has home advantage in this tournament…except I’m not sure how much of a help this will be to a player who can blow a bit hot and cold. She is a patient, fit athlete with good stamina whose strategy often seems to keep the shuttle in play. She has the ability to adapt her game as a match progresses so this is a major strength. However, the knowledgable crowd are capable of undermining her occasionally shaky confidence and she could meet AN Se Young in R2 which is an awkward match to call. Prediction: either early shock exit or QF.
Nozomi Okuhara: Seeded #4
Nozomi was brutally destroyed by Sindhu at the World Championships; at times it was hard to watch – can she bounce back so soon after that carnage? According to the draw she will meet Marin in R1, and potentially Tunjung after that. She must bounce back from the disappointment of Silver in Basel quickly, her game was dismantled too easily and she had no way of fighting back. Too tough to call – time will tell!
Will She? Wont She? Part Two – The Return of Carolina Marin
Carolina’s first outing since rupturing her ACL back in January ended with a R1 exit at the Yonex-Sunrise Vietnam Open however, there are reasons to be cheerful. Her mental grit and defiance have to be applauded; treading the hard yards in rehab is no picnic but she has dedicated herself to returning to competition. I think that she will have to see how her body responds to her this outing and then structure her competitive calendar accordingly. Prediction:R1 exit to Nozomi
Gregoria Mariska Tunjung
Gregoria has a great opportunity to progress in this tournament, even though she’s unseeded with a fairly tough draw. Her matches are often tantalisingly poised, and there have been some agonising losses. If she can get off to a good start and find her tournament rhythm quickly her moment will come. Prediction: QF
SUNG collected the Chinese Taipei Open trophy in early September and along with HE is always a respected player in these competitions, despite their seeding though it would be a major upset if they were to win. As for ASY, she is still a raw talent who is very capable of giant-killing but I don’t feel she is able to construct a long campaign on that basis yet.
From a personal viewpoint I would love to see the final contested by Ratchanok May and Tai Tzu Ying in front of the Chinese crowd. It’s always fascinating to watch these tournaments unfold: there are dramas along the way as the intensity builds and we get swept along by the momentum of the games. May can dig out wins when all seems lost, and TTY can dazzle us all. Who desires this title the most?
AN Se Young is such a raw exciting prospect – one of the new generation of women’s singles players. Her victory over Tai Tzu Ying in the Sudirman Cup this year was a huge shock. It’s apparent that she has learnt to win matches rather than merely playing well. As she no longer has to deal with Saina my prediction is finalist. Follow the link for an in depth look at ASY https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/07/08/an-se-young-koreas-sensational-17-year-old/
XXXX STOP PRESS – SAINA WITHDRAWS XXXX
The news has broken this morning that Saina has withdrawn. What a pity, because her participation has been so eagerly anticipated by her millions of supporters all around the world. So, nevertheless we are left with the possibility of some great games – the opportunity is still there now for a player to grasp the chance for glory in front of some of the most knowledgable and committed fans in the world.
Saina was on the comeback trail after a year disrupted by injury, so her fans were eager to see the ‘old Saina’ collect this trophy. If she had played she would have stood every chance of winning and this would surely kick-start her campaign for Tokyo qualification. We know that she’s got unparalleled mental toughness; she doesn’t play for fun, she plays to WIN. I guess we will just have to wait a little longer before she shows us what she’s got.
Gregoria Mariska Tunjung
Gregoria is a thrilling talent with brilliant net skills; a lovely player to watch. She hasn’t been able to break into the top 10 in the world rankings so this often means she comes up against the big players early on in a tournament. She needs to acquire the ability to win; once she can do this she’ll lose her reputation for inconsistency. Gregoria had an exceptional game against Ratchanok in the recent World Championships – including 2 match points – but in the end was conquered by May over three games. Prediction: Semi Final
Michelle Li: Contender
At the start of August LI won her third Pan Am Games Gold medal and is a worthy #2 seed. It’s well-known that she has had an injury disrupted career – taking a chunk of time off in 2017 to recover from surgery – but she’s back now. Remember her victory over Tai Tzu Ying at the Japan Open 2019? That’s what makes me say: Finalist.
Beiwen ZHANG: Seeded 3
After a stop-start career spread over a few countries it looks like ZHANG is settled in the USA with a firm chance of Olympic qualification. Obviously the coaching resources and support available to her are nowhere near what she could’ve had in Singapore or China hence it’s a tribute to her talent and robustness that she is so successful. She’s a punchy attacker who loves to get hold of a game; once momentum is on her side she is difficult to stop. On her day she can overcome anyone and must fancy her chances in this tournament. Prediction: Semi Final.
YEO Jia Min: Giant Killer
YEO’s confidence must be sky high at the moment but she’s drawn Michelle LI (seeded 2) in the first round and it’s a very tricky match for both players. She sensationally beat Akane Yamaguchi in the first round of the World Championships in August, this followed her triumph over AN Se Young in the final of the Hyderabad Open. No prediction!
Saina Nehwal: #1 Seed XXX WITHDRAWN XXX
She had a very unlucky – not to say controversial- loss at the recent World Championships to Mia Blichfeldt. I am very, very uneasy about her chances against AN Se Young in the first round. Saina is going to need all her experience and cunning. However if she conquers the Korean I reckon she is going to be a finalist.
Once a tournament begins it quickly becomes apparent who is on form & who is slightly off-colour. It’s not good enough to be a talented player; as one match quickly follows another the ability to grow into a competition and grasp victories is a key asset. The Korean player SUNG Ji Hyun is seeded 4 and must be in with a great chance. there is a large Korean contingent and KIM (Ga Eun) has got to be respected too. Scotland’s Kirsty Gilmour, the Thai player Jindapol and of course Indonesia’s Fitriani are all in with a shout but I think the opposition will be just too tough this time.
Can I Quickly Mention Polii & Rahayu?
Bronze Medalists at the World Champs
They come into this tournament as top seeds in the Women’s Doubles sector and I cannot see who will beat them. They played with courage and heart at the World Championships and deserved their place on the podium. WD is completely dominated by the exceptional Japanese pairs at but I really think these two are world class and who knows what surprises could be instore in the next few months
The first match can be a nerve wracking encounter for players as they have to get used to the arena’s conditions: drift, humidity & its effect upon the flight of the shuttle. Whoever adapts first and rides the momentum of the game gets a great advantage. Tunjung could be one to watch; there’s less fuss around her at the moment – the noise is for AN & YEO – so this is an opportunity for her to get a podium finish and try and climb the rankings. LI and ZHANG must have their eye on this title – it’s a cliché but who wants it most? All in all, a great week in prospect.
If you enjoyed this follow the link to my article about Saina
Sindhu has always been regarded as a player for the big occasion and in Basel she unleashed her inner badminton beast to grab Gold. In the final she completely annihilated Nozomi Okuhara; it’s no exaggeration to describe her play as majestic.
All through the World Championships it has been a joy to watch this revitalised athlete demolish her rivals. Her style can be summed up in three words: pressure, pressure, PRESSURE. There was precision and panache to her shots. It was evident she was thinking clearly and following her plan to great effect. Momentum is so important in sport; her rivals were simply incapable of stopping her.
Earlier this year the situation was very different. We were watching a player who had lost her mojo. The spark was missing; she was lacking in confidence and often was quite deflated. Her millions of fans around the world have high expectations so there was huge disappointment at a dreary performance at the Yonex All England, & then ‘only’ bronze at the Yonex-Sunrise India Open – her home tournament.
Recently performances have improved. July saw definite progress. The Blibli Indonesia Open – one of the best quality competitions on the tour – saw her clinch silver. She was beaten in the final but we saw a glimpse of the player on show at this World Championships. She was more assertive on court, and just seemed easier in herself.
I think we can point to the increasing influence of coach Kim Ji Hyun as one of the main reasons for her change. In a revealing interview with Dev Sukumar on the BWF website she said
“The way she plays, I feel it is not smart enough, I mean, at the top level, you have to be smart. It has to be a combination…your technique, and hitting and mentality. There are so many skills she has to work on, especially net skills and deception. Step by step. We’re working on skills and changing tactics.” Coach Kim
It’s clear now that we have been watching a player working hard to evolve her game. She has the reputation of a big smash – and of course that is true – but she has demonstrated a new level of skill in the World Championships. Against Nozomi the strategy was to try and push her back with some strong clears, this was supported by powerful smashing and, most importantly, great follow ups. There was such a positivity to her game, she was completely in control.
Sindhu becomes the first player from India ever to win Gold at the World Championships. It was a brilliant achievement from a woman who has not been content to rest on the laurels of her Olympic success in Rio. We are, of course, in the qualifying year for Tokyo 2020. There’s no doubt that she is a very serious contender for the title there too; it’s going to be a very exciting year ahead.
“It was a very important win for me and I’m really very happy!” P V Sindhu