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Thomas Cup 2022 Preview

Can Indonesia rekindle the spirit that delivered gold last October or will another squad challenge their possession of the coveted trophy?  History tells us that this tournament tends to be dominated by Asia’s players so although 16 teams are travelling to Bangkok it will be a shock if badminton’s status quo is upset.

Image courtesy BWF

This is the 32nd time that the event has taken place and it starts with the sixteen teams split into four groups for the Round Robin portion of the competition. The top two in each group will advance into the draw for the quarter finals and this is where the battles become brutal. Some players thrive under pressure but these knockout stages and subsequent pathway to the podium will expose weaknesses. The athletes and coaches with a mental edge are the ones who will triumph.

Group A: Indonesia, Korea, Thailand, Singapore.

As defending champions Indonesia can step back onto court optimistic that they have the players who can repeat last October’s victory. Marcus Gideon is still rehabbing from ankle surgery but Kevin Sukamuljo has travelled to Bangkok so he will partner someone else if needed. The strength in depth of the MD cadre should give opponents nightmares. It is stuffed with winners. In singles, the red-hot form of Jonatan Christie was kick-started by his Thomas Cup heroics last time and he must be solid in his results now because Anthony Ginting has no winning momentum since his bronze at the Olympics.

Thailand are the home team but I think they will struggle to escape the group because Korea’s men have performed well lately. The fight for the second spot will be between these two although Singapore can expect LOH Kean Yew to make life difficult for everyone he faces.

Group B: Denmark, China, France, Algeria.

This is such an intriguing group; I’m excited to see who emerges from it. For Denmark, Viktor Axelsen is virtually unstoppable these days whilst Antonsen, Vittinghus and Gemke can all create winning opportunities in matches. The MD pairs can usually mix it with the best so it was a surprise that they won no medal at the recent European Championships. They must step up a level if they want to mount a realistic challenge for the cup. Behind Denmark, France is probably the second best team in Europe right now and they have sent six European Junior champions to Bangkok. They will need a hard miracle to get to the knockouts but they are building a formidable side.

Only a fool would describe any Chinese team as ‘weak’ so lets flip that and say they don’t look invincible. No SHI Yu Qi and an evolving MD landscape means that it’s hard to predict how far they can go, nevertheless it’s China and that means badminton success. This is a wait and see situation.

Group C: India, Taiwan, Germany, Canada

I’d love this Indian team to realise their potential and get to a Semi-Final. Sen is the man of the moment – his fearless competitiveness at the All England was scintillating – add in Kidambi and Prannoy and MS looks strong. In MD Rankireddy/Shetty will trouble everyone they meet so barring injuries this group of athletes could win their group.

After a long absence from the international stage LEE Yang/ WANG Chi-Lin are back for Team Taiwan. The Tokyo MD Gold medalists plus CHOU Tien Chen should have enough to escape Group C along with India but Germany might run them close. Mark Lamsfuss was outstanding at the recent European Championships so along with his partner Marvin Seidel may fancy his chances of an upset or two.

Group D: Japan, Malaysia, England, USA

Both Japan or Malaysia could get to the semi-finals of this competition. Japan’s strength in MD will probably decide who tops the group although Momota’s alarming dip in form compared to the rise of LEE Zii Jia could keep things very close. The English team will want to scrap for some results and they could see some encouraging development but it’s not likely that they or the USA will progress.

Conclusions

Indonesia’s quality is going to be hard to beat; the squad is stuffed full of proven top 10 players. However retaining a title is notoriously tricky. China and Denmark are probable medalists but they both will want their ‘fringe’ players to be ready to force results when the pressure is high. Other than these three then Japan, Malaysia or India could push through but they will need intelligent strategy blended with stamina and no injuries. There will be a few surprises along the way and the team who can cope with this will be the one with their hands on the Thomas Cup.


If you enjoyed this then take a look at my review of Indonesia’s triumph in 2021 here https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/10/17/indonesia-win-the-thomas-cup/


©2022 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Kevin & Marcus at the All England

From a partnership created in 2015 these 2 athletes have enthralled fans whenever they step on court. Kevin’s showmanship and exquisite racket skills are box office gold; Marcus is the bedrock of the duo. Rivals face unbearable intensity from over the net as the two Indonesian superstars wind up the pressure with split second finesse.

Indonesia’s Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo celebrate victory in the men’s doubles final.
Photo via Alamy/Reuters / Andrew Boyers

They are two-time champions at the All England, but recent history means that there is a sense of unfinished business at this event. Supporters crave an exhilarating run to the final. Whatever happens in 2022 they have a legacy of dazzling battles in Birmingham: some of their most electrifying games have been played here.

2017 Semi-Final v Conrad-Petersen/Kolding

What a Thriller! From the moment the first shuttle was hit it was obvious that this was going to be a special match. There were traces of nerves, but all four players were driven to brilliance by each other. The European champions had the measure of the Minions in set 1; after some astonishing passages of play they closed it out 21-19. Set 2 – and the destiny of the final –  turned on Kevin’s flick serve when the scores were level at 12-12. The Danes were outraged, the Indonesians were inspired then won 10 points in a row, eventually levelling 21-13. Rubber…points were traded but it was deadlock up until 17-17 when Kevin and Marcus seized the lead and then refused to relinquish control.  Gideon’s match winner was a delicate disguised drop shot. 21-17.

2017 Final v v LI Junhui & LIU Yuchen

Fast & Furious! How much firepower would they have left after the previous night’s epic SF? The contest fizzed with passion and desire.  Set 1 was close –  just edged by the Indonesians – but Set 2 saw them hit another gear as Kevin went beyond the range of normal perception. His zest and speed of thought were phenomenal. Gideon’s magnificent play liberated Kevin. It was breathtaking as he executed shots that mere mortals cannot even dream of. It felt like non-stop attack; they both were tireless as they pushed for the title.  The Chinese duo tried to resist but in vain as the Minions were unstoppable.  Their first All England title was won in a whirlwind 35 minutes 21-19, 21-14

2018 Final v Mathias Boe/Carsten Mogensen

The defending champions came back to Birmingham on a spectacular run of form that continued through to the final. Kevin’s mercurial brilliance blended with Gideon’s tough, focused play meant that they limited the Danes to controllable flurries of resistance.  Even though Boe & Mogensen were competing hard and never out of touch on the scoreboard the result seemed inevitable.  Kevin’s superhuman anticipation for the winning point – a sharp net kill – epitomized the pair’s dominance of the court.  Title retained in straight sets: 21-18, 21-17.

Conclusion

The effervescent genius of Kevin & Marcus has consistently lit up the All England over the years. The tempo of their games, their athleticism and their desire to win this historic tournament always creates high hopes when they arrive in the UK. Once again they are top seeds and should be fighting for a third title by the end of the competition.


©2022 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Indonesia Win The Thomas Cup!

Nineteen years of waiting is over – today Indonesia have won back the Thomas Cup.

They did it. Pic courtesy BWF

This team just got better and better as the competition progressed and to beat China 3-0 in the final was a measure of how far they improved together. This band of brothers will always be renowned as the athletes who won the trophy for Indonesia’s 14th time with the legendary Hendra Setiawan as their captain.

Who could have predicted what this team was capable of? It was packed with talent but some of the athletes had been misfiring in recent games and others were looking lackluster. The first tie was a 5-0 leg-stretcher against Algeria but next came Thailand. This match was equal at 2-2 with both senior MS losing, so it required Rhustavito to step up at the end to keep his team winning.  The contest with Taiwan was also finely balanced: this time Ginting and Christie won, only for the MD to lose.  Again they had to look to Rhustavito to rescue the result.  This victory was crucial to confirm seeding into the knockout stages.

The ‘El Classico’ against Malaysia in the quarter final was a tie I was regarding with a mixture of dread and excitement. It was lose-able. But this is when the team really started to look like they were contenders. LEE Zii Jia is in the form of his life but he was dispatched by Anthony in straight sets; the Minions overcame CHIA/SOH over three and the tie was wrapped up by Christie.  No need for any five match dramas.

A semi-final against Denmark on their home turf is always going to be a daunting prospect; especially when the first encounter is against Olympic Champion Viktor Axelsen. It was playing out true to form until the third match when Jonatan Christie walked on court to battle Anders Antonsen.  What followed was a truly great performance from a man who has struggled with his form for a while.  Over 100 minutes he stayed cool, kept to his plan and exposed Antonsen’s bland attack and his lack of stamina.  This blow to Danish ambitions was mortal, and Alfian/Ardianto executed the coup de grace for a 3-1 win.

One of the exceptional features of this team is that there was always a win around the corner from a loss.  Their self-belief escalated as the days passed. They knew that history was waiting to be made and when the chances came against China they grabbed them. A 3-0 victory is really something. The last words belong to one of my favourite players ever. Hendra Setiawan is an absolute icon and a wonderful ambassador for badminton; I’m thrilled that it was him who raised the trophy on the podium

“I cannot express this feeling. I am just happy”

Hendra Setiawan talking to BWF

If you enjoyed this then take a look at my recent article about Jonatan Christie https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/10/16/thomas-cup-semi-final-mvp-jonatan-christie/


©2022 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/


©2022 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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/


©2022 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Yonex All England 2021: Doubles Preview

The arena in Birmingham awaits. The stage is set for badminton royalty to remind fans why they dominate world badminton. A Super 1000 tournament is the ultimate test and a Super 1000 title is the sign of sporting magnificence.

Men’s Doubles

Will anyone be able to stop the Minion’s progress to the title?  Indonesian men’s doubles is the finest in the world but that doesn’t mean the path to the podium is painless.

Kevin Sukamuljo & Marcus Gideon – were last year’s beaten finalists and are top seeds.  The key question is whether or not they can overcome the sort of strategies Yuta & Endo used against them in the final last year – have they been able to add those couple of extra percentage points to their performance to grab the gold?  It is vital that they are focused from the minute they step on court in R1 because there are some outstanding rivals ready to eliminate them.  If they get to the QF it’s possible they may meet the talented Indian pair Rankireddy/Shetty or the recent Swiss Open champions Astrup/Rasmussen.  Both of these can defend a barrage of flat, aggressive shots so a crucial asset for the Minions is going to be patience, and to be confident in the breadth of their attack. Prediction: Final – they will rock the All England together!

Takeshi Kamura & Keigo Sonoda are Japan’s highest seeds at 3. Kamura has great vision and anticipation with shuttle hunting at the core of his game.  Sonoda is the steadfast partner who backs him up and feeds off what he creates. They are the epitome of “fast and furious” with rowdy shouting and a brawny, dynamic approach. They never run out of energy but their head-to-head record against the Minions is quite weak so if they face each other over the net on the Saturday all the stats point to an Indonesian win.  Prediction: Semi Final

Hiroyuki Endo/Yuta Watanabe: I adore Yuta’s swashbuckling style and he is nicely balanced by Endo’s steadier approach.  It’s a rare player who can match Kevin Sukamuljo’s net play but Yuta is not intimidated by the Indonesian’s blistering reactions and can hold his own. Last year’s champions have every chance of defending their title but as they are ‘only’ seeded 4 they are not going to get an easy passage to the final.  It seems extraordinary to me that Yuta has a realistic chance of winning XD as well; surely there must come a point where his stamina is diluted?

Hendra Setiawan & Mohammad Ahsan: these two badminton heroes keep playing at the highest level and digging out results in taxing games.  Hendra’s skills belong to a different dimension when he is at the net, and he brings such control and determination to his matches.  They did play well in Thailand but were not able to stop Lee/Wang’s hat-trick of titles; in the final of the WTF they were simply overwhelmed by the Taiwanese players high speed muscular approach. They are seeded 2 and I never ever write them off.  Prediction SF.

Fajar Alfian & Muhammad Rian Ardianto.  I’m not sure what to expect from the fifth seeds.  I didn’t feel that they hit their stride in Thailand but when these two are at their best the combination of Ardianto’s crisp smashes and Alfian’s control of the net is exhilarating. It’s crucial that they find their competitive groove quickly, their rhythm in Thailand was too stuttery and they used a lot of energy chasing points rather than dictating games. Its feasible that they could meet the Dads at the QF stage and they will not be the favourites to win that game.

Mixed Doubles

There are exciting athletes in XD at the moment.  I’m intrigued to watch the new unseeded pairing of Olympic Gold Medallist Misaki Matsutomo with Yuki Kaneko.  When TakaMatsu broke up last year, Misaki switched disciplines from WD to XD in a bid to get a spot at the Tokyo games.  I don’t think they can expect to get beyond a Quarter Final but she is a competitor from the top draw and her fans would love to enjoy watching a good run in this tournament.  It feels as though this is a competition ready to be won by someone unexpected, especially as Bass/Popor have decided not to compete. I can’t lie, I would adore it if they over-achieved.

Praveen Jordan & Melati Daeva Oktavianti. Seeded 1 and the defending champions – PraMel are sharp-witted and shrewd players. Jordan always looks so strong and menacing; no one has a smash as hard as him.  If he is in the right frame of mind he can ride the momentum of a game and annihilate opponents.  Melati needs him to be focused and fit so she can concentrate on her own role. He has had an injury but is reportedly back to full training so the mission to retain their title is feasible.

Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino: Yuta is not necessarily the most powerful player but he makes up for that with his anticipation and creativity.  It’s incredible that he has the stamina to compete at the highest level in two disciplines.  I like the partnership with Arisa because of her strength, when they find their positions reversed Yuta can rely on her to defend the back as he rules the front. This brings an extra dimension to their attack and can really turn the tide in their favour in a game. They are seeded 2 and I can’t really see who can stop their progress to a medal.

CHAN Peng Soon & GOH LIU Ying are the Rio silver medallists and should be looking at this competition as a good opportunity to win a title.  I think they must start brightly to try and build self-confidence before the possibility of a QF against Thom and Delphine.  They can get to the semi-final so long as they don’t get overwhelmed by the ebullient French pair.

Thom & Delphine: These two are being touted as the future of European XD and possible gold medallists at the Paris Olympics.  For now, they are just at the start of their journey but they are a confident duo who like to dominate and dictate the momentum of a match.  They are a stylish pair to watch, creative, zesty and always looking for gaps, especially out wide.  The intensity and quality of the competition they will face here is a step up from the Swiss Open but it is intriguing to measure them against some of the best in the world.  Prediction QF

Women’s Doubles

FukuHiro are top seeds and defending champions – they seem to have added a sprinkle of something extra to their game over the past year.  I think they have given themselves permission to be more than good.  In Denmark back in October Yuki Fukushima’s energy and desire propelled them on to the title.  Hirota’s swiftness of body and mind, her precision and anticipation screw down the pressure on opponents. If they bring the same aggression and accuracy to Birmingham the pair will be unstoppable. Prediction: Final

Embed from Getty Images

Nagahara & Matsumoto are often regarded as the Japanese pair with the most creative spark and aggression.  Matsumoto can unleash some brutal smashes and together they are a partnership that routinely wins big events.  Their rivalry with their compatriots will be an extra motivation especially after their defeat in the final at October’s Danish Open.  They failed to neutralise the influence of Fukushima and that was the decisive difference between them.  Prediction: Final

Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu: So, this looks like the last time Greysia will play at the All England and I’m sorry I can’t be there in person to cheer for one of my favourite players.  GreyAp competed fearlessly in January’s matches in Thailand and their triumph at the Yonex Thailand Open was a well-deserved, emotional victory.  I would love to see them on the podium here but I think the top seeds may just have a little bit extra over them.  Prediction:  My heart says final but my head says Quarter Final.  Good luck girls!

Jongkolphan Kititharakul & Rawinda Prajonjai can be a quick aggressive pair and are capable of despatching lower seeds without too much fuss but their head-to-head stats against the established Japanese players suggest that they are going to struggle to progress much further than a QF.  Their R1 game against Tan & Thinaah could be an awkward encounter.

Pearly TAN & THINAAH Muralitharan have a really tough draw because they are unseeded, but since playing in Thailand they have impressed everyone.  They possess winnability and seem to be able to squeak a result even when they are up against more experienced opposition. Their victory in the final of the Swiss Open against the Stoeva sisters was a good illustration of their desire; they played to win, not just to defend and they reaped the reward.  These two young Malaysians could be some stars in the making.

The doubles competitions in Birmingham are fascinating this year because so many of the top seeds have been absent from the international tour for a year or so.  Their challenge is to adapt to quarantine protocols quickly so they can compete at the levels of intensity and focus we expect.  There’s no doubt that the people who get to grips with the new procedures will be at an advantage. The saying goes that ‘when the sun comes out it dulls the other stars’, I’m very curious to see what the overall standard of play is. Will the athletes who have been missing now blaze a trail to the trophies despite their lack of match practice? or will they discover that while they’ve been away their European rivals have upped their levels?


If you enjoyed this read my review of last year’s tournament https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/03/21/yonex-all-england-2020-review/


©2022 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Indonesia’s Olympic Hopes

Indonesia’s badminton achievements at the Olympics has been outstanding. Along with rivals from Korea and China their players are the aristocrats of the sport. Badminton is a recent addition to the games, it was only introduced in 1992 and since then, the nation’s athletes have won at least one Gold at every tournament bar London 2012.

Embed from Getty Images

Men’s Doubles: with three pairs in the top 10 the depth of Indonesia’s talent in this sector is extraordinary. Power, speed, net skills and resilience are all key, but the essence of a successful doubles team is balance between the two players. The magnificent World #1s Sukamuljo & Gideon have been at the top for a while. Kevin’s sublime ability paired with Marcus’s more muscular game is almost irresistable, but they are not invincible. Their millions of fans must be anticipating the olympics feeling a mixture of impatience and anxiety because if an opponent manages to disrupt their prefered formation they can be vulnerable (as we saw in the 2020 All England Final). Endo/Watanabe were able to win because their strategy stopped Kevin dominating at the front. Ahsan & Setiawan are ranked #2. Hendra Setiawan is one of the greatest MD players ever; already an Olympic Gold Medalist (2008 Beijing with Markis Kido), he has won everything and then won it it again. I get goosebumps when I think about the Daddies after watching them win on three legs to clinch the 2019 All England: they are inspirational figures who play with great heart. Commentators often point to their age – it’s not irrelevent of course but that it is a small disadvantage that is outweighed by their poise and experience. Lets not forget Alfian/Ardianto: ranked #6 but as things stand these two will miss Tokyo because of the quota. This must be heart-breaking for them but the only attitude they can take is to keep competing. They are hungry and their time will come. Prediction: I’m frightened of Endo/Watanabe but I’ll say Gold for one of these pairs.

Men’s Singles: Anthony Sinisuka Ginting is a sublime player, but he can be simultaneously exciting and infuriating. His inconsistency costs him titles. When he is at his spectacular best the speed of his reactions, his touch at the net, and his courage means that he is a genuine Gold medal prospect. I would love to see a MomoGi final; at the moment Momota has the edge in their encounters but Anthony is still a developing athlete and I’m excited to see how he’ll emerge from the current hiatus. Jonatan Christie should be getting to Tokyo ranked #7. Another fine player, if he can get through the round robin stage unscathed he could have a chance at a medal. Prediction: At least one medal…& I crave a final with Anthony v. Kento.

Women’s Doubles: Two of my favourite players – Polii & Rahayu – should go to Tokyo ranked #8. This will be Greysia Polii’s last Olympics (possibly her last major competition) and she is another inspirational athlete who has served her sport well. The women’s sector is stuffed full of brilliant double’s teams and so these two may struggle to make the podium. The key to success or failure will be how Apri is deployed. We know that they can defend all day but predictable play will not be enough. I loved the way they battled when they won at the Indonesia Masters back in January and at the time I felt that their game was evolving. Apri was much more aggressive at the front and they were able to exert prolonged pressure on their opponents. Prediction: Maybe a Bronze? I hope so.

Mixed Doubles: One of the legacies of Liliyana Natsir is the XD title from the Rio games. Can the Indonesia players defend this successfully? The Mixed tournament is quite open so although on paper the Chinese duos Zheng/Huang and Wang/Huang look to be favourites at lot will depend upon how Jordan/Oktavianti and Faizal/Widjaja progress through the early stages. This competition is all about seizing the moment and if Praveen Jordan can be at his imperious peak at the right time the Gold is possible although it’s too close to call.

Womens Singles: All fans of this sector know that it is overflowing with dazzling players so for Gregoria Mariska Tunjung to survive the cut and get into the knockout stage would be great. She is a wonderful player to watch, with impressive skill and imagination. For her to make headway at the tournament outside factors will need to be in her favour in addition to her playing to her potential. If she can build up some momentum and confidence anything can happen. Tokyo will perhaps be a stage on her journey to more success rather than a defining competition.

So what then can we expect in Tokyo? Owing to the worldwide C-19 crisis everyone has had to endure disruption to training programmes and anxiety and frustration. The athletes who will triumph at the delayed games are those who have been able to maintain focus and keep their competitive hunger without burn-out. It’s a tricky balancing act because no-one can stay at peak performance for ever. Most competitiors training regimes would have been carefully constucted to peak for July 2020; so now they need to keep the pot simmering without it boiling dry. On the other hand, a break from relentless touring and a chance to address chronic injuries could be a key factor. Those who can step back and make adjustments without losing their momentum will have a huge advantage.

As an outsider looking in I see badminton as the Olympic sport where Indonesia dominates – not simply because of talented players but the influence of Indonesian coaches can be seen all over the world in other national teams. Of course we cannot ignore China’s leading position or Japan’s current abundance of world-beaters but this is what makes the tournament in prospect so thrilling. We have had extra time to build our anticipation for this event, when we emerge from quarantine and the BWF tour resumes it will be wonderful to support our favourites back on the road towards Olympic Gold.


If you would like to read more about Greysia Polii and Apri Rahayu follow this link https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/01/19/greysap-redux-polii-rahayu-are-back/ and my piece about Anthony Ginting is here https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/25/anthony-sinisuka-ginting/

If you are interested in the Minions here is an article I wrote last year https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/29/the-minions-indonesian-superheroes/

©2022 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Indonesia’s Liliyana Natsir: Greatest of All Time.

Since January 2019 Mixed Doubles has been missing one of the world’s best players. Liliyana Natsir is a genuine legend, one of badmintons immortals. No one else can match her achievements on the world stage.

Early on in her career she tasted some success in Women’s Doubles however it was her partnership with Nova Widianto that elevated her to superstar status. He was already a senior player, well-known for his fluent court coverage and potent smash. Together they were world #1 and among their 14 titles were two World Championships (2005 & 2007) plus a Silver medal at the Beijing Olympics. The badminton world was shocked in 2010 when the partnership was dissolved. On the surface this seemed like a catastrophe but it marked the beginning of the renowned Owi/Butet team. Far from being an ending it was the start of something special.

Competing with Tontowi Ahmad gave a new dimension to her career. She became the senior partner: the big sister. The Owi side of the duo is an infuriatingly inconsistent blend of committed athlete, hard worker, and skilled player. He was prone to ‘off’ days and stress. The blend of the two of them worked so well because at the core of the relationship was a shared hunger for success at the pinnacle of their sport. Together they dominated mixed doubles; there are too many titles to list but highlights include three All England titles in a row (2012, 2013, 2014), two World Championships (2013, 2017) and, best of all, Olympic Gold in Rio 2016.

She is a rock studded with precious stones and each one is a glittering skill that she brings to the court. Her emotional resilience, and desire for victory are the foundation of her sporting character. Tontowi needs a partner who can refocus him when a match gets tricky.

For sure, the main responsibility of a woman in classic XD strategy is to dominate the net area. There are thinner margins for error here. Her nerves of steel were crucial to her success. Her speedy reactions and interceptions reflect pressure back to her opponents and set up weak returns to be buried. Her touch is so refined, there are occasions when she just seems to brush the shuttle over the cord, other times she executes a brutal net kill and the point is won.

She is a creator, a wonderful athlete to have as a partner. One of the assets that sets her apart from many other women in XD is her rear court ability. A standard tactic is for the opposition to try and disrupt the traditional roles of the man at the rear and the woman at the front. However this was a very dangerous path against Owi/Butet. Her spatial perception of the court – her tactical vision – is second to none; it is as though her brain can compute more than one angle of view simultaneously. She finds space or she makes space. Her shot making skills are not diminished by distance from the net.

She retired with nothing left to prove. No other player has come close to her triumphs in mixed doubles. Her achievements are stellar. Highlights include four World Championships with two different partners, domination of the All England for three years in a row, and an Olympic Gold: these are the sort of stats that any athlete dreams of when they embark on a career in sport. Greatest Of All Time? Definitely.


©2022 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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

Or this one about Tai Tzu Ying https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/03/23/tai-tzu-ying-the-triple-champion/

Featured

Yonex All England 2020 Review

This was a competition that favoured players who could keep focus and grab opportunities. There is a joy to badminton that we all recognise and these are the times when we should celebrate happiness and curate our memories of watching the greatest tournament in our sport.

“Before its 21 anything can happen”

Praveen Jordan
Mixed Doubles – Praveen Jordan & Melati Daeva Oktavianti

The XD was an unexpected pleasure this year. Top seeds fell by the wayside and we arrived at Saturday night with the home favourites Lauren Smith/Marcus Ellis facing Praveen Jordan/Melati Daeva Oktavianti for a place in the final. The first set went to form – PraMel were shrewdly pulling Ellis out of position to neutralise his threat – but in the second the Brits held their nerve, saved two match points and roared on by the crowd forced the match to a decider. Praveen is notoriously unpredictable, however the hoohah around ‘time wasting’ and ‘being ready’ which resulted in an undeserved yellow card definitely lit a flame and the last game was a more comfortable 21-11 victory. The Indonesians were quicker and cleverer and deserved to progress.

No Thai player has ever won an All England title so Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai were staring down the barrel of history. They are a strong, fast pair and this was a match for all XD devotees. It ebbed and flowed but the balance of power was decided at the net. Praveen is such an imposing, athletic partner; he reached everything, his smash was vicious so this freed Melati to damage the Thai pair again and again. Even if she couldn’t score she keep the attacking momentum. Bass/Popor grabbed the second set but had given too much and were beaten 21-8 at the last.

Winning an All England title is the mark of a special player and Praveen Jordan has now won two with two separate partners.

Men’s Doubles – Hiroyuki Endo & Yuta Watanabe

This sector was lit up by the brilliance of Yuta Watanabe. He is faster than a flash. His net interceptions, his resilience and strength were irresistable. For his partner, it was a fourth appearance in the MD final, the first with his new partner and another chance to win the title that has eluded him.

This match sparkled. Gideon & Sukamuljo – world #1 – have already won the title twice but in the last year have consistently lost to the Japanese duo. The pace was superhuman. There was little to choose between these two teams as the intensity increased. No one cracked, no one avoided responsibility, here were four athletes trying everything to succeed. In the final set the Minions trailed 0-6, at the break they had pulled it back to 9-11. Marcus and Kevin bombarded Yuta & Hiroyuki in the last points but the Japanese held firm under incredible pressure. In the end the Japanese pair won the title. They deserved to win but Kevin and Marcus did not deserve to lose. It was a priviledge to watch.

Women’s Singles – Tai Tzu Ying

The Queen is the Queen.

All of TTY’s fans must have anticipated this tournament with a mixture of excitement and dread. We knew she had enjoyed success in January with the Begaluru Raptors and it was clear she was focusing on key competition in the run-up to Tokyo 2020. Her committment and strategy were perfect and in a repeat of 2019 she met CHEN Yufei in the final. This time the honours went to the Queen. (a longer appreciation of TTY’s progress through the YAE will be appearing on this blog as a standalone piece).

Follow the link here https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/03/23/tai-tzu-ying-the-triple-champion/

Women’s Doubles – Yuki Fukushima & Sayaka Hirota

All week Fukuhiro had been focused with a quiet confidence. This match had them in dominant form with Hirota especially dazzling with her interceptions at the net. Early on they were finding space with long cross-court precise shots. Their movement around court was fluent as they continued to pressurize DU/LI and raced to a 10-4 lead. The Chinese pair were struggling to find space but they gradually slowed the Fukihiro momentum to get to 9-14.

Hirota’s competitive vision and her ability to get to the shuttle at pace meant that DU/LI could not challenge the control the Japanese pair had. Fukushima was equally aggressive and her appetite for smashing – especially XC – was significant in keeping DU/LI ‘s ambitions down. The Japanese pair secured the title in two sets and they were worthy winners.

Men’s Singles – Viktor Axelsen

Axelsen demolished the #1 seed CHOU Tien Chen in two sets. No games at this level are ‘easy’ but Viktor bulldozed his way through it whilst CTC will want to forget his error strewn match. The Dane grabbed his opportunity and after such a tricky 2019 disrupted by injury and allergies it’s fair to say he is getting back to his best.

Follow the link here to read a more in depth piece I wrote about Viktor for the Yonex All England website https://www.allenglandbadminton.com/news/in-depth-i-viktor-axelsen/

I feel that this sector was dominated by players who were absent as much as those who competed. We all know the situation Momota is in. I was astonished by the exit of Ginting and Christie in R1. I watched Ginting’s match and he simply had no answers to Gemke, he could not raise his level to get any foothold in the game. Frustratingly, another YAE passes him by.

The unseeded LEE Zii Jia was one of the stars of the tournament and it was Christie’s misfortune to meet him in R1. LEE looks hungry. He is athletic, explosive and speedy around the court – I think he may fancy his chances at the Olympics.


This year’s tournament was buffeted by external forces out of the control of the players and these, of course, will be a huge part of all our lives for the next few months. All of the athletes must, to some extent, have been affected by anxieties. Firstly, would it even go ahead? Secondly would they get home? Despite this it was drenched in quality right from the start and the right people won.


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

I would like to thank all the people who contributed to the competition. As well as the athletes/coaches/support staff there is a huge group of people behind the scenes including the Badminton England volunteers. I’d particularly like to mention Jan in the media centre – always cheerful, professional and kind.

©2022 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Yonex All England 2020 pt 2

Doubles: The Bonfire of My Anxieties

Doubles is intense, it is the supreme embodiment of badminton. Fierce battles rage across the court; pace, power and guile form the contours of the match. The finest tournament in the world has an extra pressure this time around because it is Olympic year: many still strive to win enough ranking points to compete in Tokyo. This is great news for fans who love drama and stress but if you need a quiet life…look away now!

“Two people until the end, do not regret” Matsutomo

Indonesia

The magnificent MD athletes from Indonesia simply shine on every stage. Intensity, resilience and desire add up to some wonderful players.

The 2019 title holders – Mohammad Ahsan & Hendra Setiawan – famously won on 3 legs last year after an all-consuming final. I love them. They are outstanding players and incredible ambassadors for the sport. They have every chance of playing in the final so long as they carefully manage their old legs.

Gideon & Sukamuljo are top seeds and have a heavy weight of expectation loaded on their shoulders. At their best, with Marcus as reliable foundation and Kevin riffing around him they are simply unbeatable. Gorgeous shots, dazzling reactions and relentless athleticism raise the sport to heights few others can aspire to.

Fajar Alfian & Muhammad Rian Ardianto are seeded 5 and got to the Semi Final last year. Their high energy explosive game puts them firmly in the ‘fast ‘n’ furious’ camp; they should still be in the competiton by finals weekend.

If we consider WD then Greysia Polii & Apri Rahayu have had a great start to 2020 and if they play in the same way that took them to victory at the Indonesia Masters they will get to the semi-finals. I think they are more successful when Apri is decisive at the forecourt. I’ve mentioned before that their game and competitive strategy is evolving. Her power and confidence means they can really dominate rallies – they shouldn’t resort to defensive clears as a default tactic. I think they were fortunate to win the Spanish Masters because there were times when their gameplan slipped back to the 2019 version of themselves. The other Indonesian pair, Ramadhanti & Sugiarto, are in the same part of the draw as Greyap.

Japan

Park Joo-Bong – the legendary head coach – has overseen Japanese players challenge the traditional Chinese dominance in all sectors. This often means that their biggest rivals are each other.

As far as WD is concerned we are in the heart-rending position of knowing that only 2 out of the 3 top pairs from Japan are going to qualify to play in their home Olympics. The quest for points overshadows tournaments and I think the risk is that the four players who make the cut will be mentally exhausted by the time July arrives. That said, a win at the All England could virtually cement some players positions. Matsumoto & Nagahara are seeded 2 and were runners-up in 2019. Fukushima & Hirota are third seeds and are desperate to progress. And so we come to Matsutomo & Takahashi who are seeded 7 in Birmingham. Can the defending Olympic Champions get a podium finish? They need to focus every atom of experience and desire because they have a hard road to the final which includes a possible CHEN/JIA QF followed by compatriots who need success too. This is another pair who need to look after old legs.

The two main MD pairs Sonoda/Kamura and Endo/Watanabe are consistently excellent players who have to compete in a sector stuffed with Indonesian brilliance. I particularly like the fast and furious style of Sonoda/Kamura but that’s not enough to beat Marcus and Kevin. It’s possible either pair could get to a SF and then anything could happen, particularly if they can be more unpredictable with the pace they attack at.

China

Some say that China is not the dominant force it’s been in the past yet Chinese athletes are defending 3 titles at the All England this year. The strength is in the women’s sector; for now, the men are being eclipsed by the depth of other nation’s squads.

#1 Seeds and WD defending Champions CHEN Qingchen & JIA Yifan are aggressive, tough players. They are great at ratcheting up the pressure on their opponents: they can zero in on a victim with pitiless ferocity by using hard flat drives and fast smashes. Who can stop them winning? DU Yue & LI YinHui are seeded 6th but it’s hard to see them getting as far as the weekend.

There’s only one seeded pair in the MD: LI Junhui & LIU Yuchen – China used to be such a powerhouse but now the talented players in Indonesia and Japan dominate the rankings. Li & Liu are clever athletes; they can play a power game but they are also capable of varying the tempo and this can cause frustration for players like Sukamuljo. It can be a very smart tactic to break up the flow of the game against the Minions. It’s been pointed out that if Li/Liu run out of ideas they resort to a monotonous smashing game; that isn’t going to work in the big arena. Realistically I think they are going to struggle to get beyond QF.

Korea?

Korea’s WD players are experiencing a similar headache to their Japanese counterparts. As things stand there are still 4 pairs who could qualify for Tokyo. In Birmingham Lee So-Hee/Shin Seung-chang and Kim So-yeong/Kong Hee-yong are seeded 5 and 6 and look to be most likely to challenge. The drama over the past few weeks has been around the MD/XD player Seo Seung-jae who was suspended then not suspended by his national association (BKA) following confusion around sponsorship deals he had signed. It seemed disproportionate to punish his partners and destroy their hopes for this year so I’m glad he’s back in the mix.

Realistically I think we can only say that the WD teams have an outside chance of medals owing to the strength of the opposition. However, it’s interesting to observe that Korean badminton coaches enjoy plenty of success working away from home. I’ve already mentioned Park Joo-Bong and Japan, there is also Kang Kyung-jin who works with the Chinese squad plus Coach Kim who worked in India with PV Sindhu in the period she became World Champion.

Conclusions

China, Japan and Indonesia look set to see off opposition from the other nations for the doubles crowns. I adore following doubles; the tactics, tempo and talent mean that for fans the spectacle is second-to-none. The spine-tingling experience of watching the spotlit pairs as they play for glory at the All England is a joy. Ahsan & Setiawan had a fantastic 2019 and it would be wonderful to see them defend their title. As the tournament progresses, the tension will rise, legs will tire and towards the end it’s mental strength and an athletes appetite for the fight that gets them to the podium. May the best team win!


My preview of the WS part of the tournament is here https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/03/03/yonex-all-england-2020-pt1/

If you enjoyed this then take a look at my article about Polii and Rahayu https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/01/19/greysap-redux-polii-rahayu-are-back/ and this one about Kevin & Marcus https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/29/the-minions-indonesian-superheroes/

©2022 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

©2022 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved