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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/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Featured

Brilliant Polii and Rahayu Win Olympic Gold

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

Screengrab from Eurosport

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

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

Greysia Polii

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

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

Fast Forward To Tokyo 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artwork by Rachel Florencia

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


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

The Olympics: Women’s Doubles Preview

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

Pic Credit Sutterstock

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

Japan

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

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

Indonesia

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

South Korea

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

China

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

Conclusions

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


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

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

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

©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Featured

Kevin, Marcus and Tokyo Gold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“Partner Andalan”


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


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Featured

My Perfect Player: Part 2

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

Vivacity: Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo

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

Embed from Getty Images

Bullet Proof: Kento Momota

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

Photo by Abdul Razak Latif/Shutterstock

Speed: Anthony or Yuta?

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

100% Legend: Hendra Setiawan

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

Street Fighting Man: Anders Antonsen

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

Firepower: Praveen Jordan or Viktor Axelsen

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

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


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


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Featured

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/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Featured

January 2021 Review: A Month In Thailand

Shock withdrawals, shock exits and shock reinstatements; January’s tournaments were never dull.  Unless of course, you happen to be a player quarantined in the Bangkok Novotel for 20 hours a day with chicken for dinner again.  Indomie products were suddenly currency and some athletes were  incentivised by the prospect of a year’s supply of the world’s best instant snack.

This is my look at the three Thailand tournaments.  I’m not pretending that I’m unbiased, or that I can cover everything but I hope my highlights remind you what a cracking few weeks fans have just enjoyed. 

HK Vittinghus’ January was epic.  Initially on the reserve list he had the ambition to gamble and start the long trip to Thailand from Denmark with no guarantee of a game.  Events moved in his favour when the Japanese team turned back at Tokyo airport following Momota’s positive test.  His story stuttered at the Yonex Thailand Open when he lost to compatriot Gemke in R1 but the following week saw him excel and become the focus of fierce support from fans in Indonesia who had realised that the further he progressed the more likely Anthony Ginting was to qualify for the World Tour Finals.  Some wild incentives involving Indomie noodles were offered.  Through very intense games he found a route to to the final and a match against Axelsen.  Along the way, his results meant that Anthony Ginting did qualify. Axelsen powered through the encounter but HK can be proud of his month’s work.

Astonishingly there were triple champions in MD and XD and double champions in MS and WS which suggests that finding the winning formula fast in the impact arena offered big rewards.  I think that people with good underlying fitness combined with the resilience and drive to make the most of opportunities were at an advantage. Fatigue – mental and physical – was a factor for some as there was little breathing space between each tournament.

Men’s Singles

The Danish men controlled the courts all month – I’ve already mentioned Vittinghus but the fluctuations in the balance of power between Axelsen and Andersen is fascinating and I’m really looking forward to see who has the upper hand in March.  Andersen prevented his fellow Dane from a clean sweep of titles by some tactics at the World Tour Finals that some found controversial.  Not me.  I felt he was strategically very smart.  It’s unfair to reduce his astute strategy to his ‘easy’ concession of the second set.  Throughout the match he refused to give Viktor pace from smashes to feed off and this was a key element in his win.

There were times when we saw sublime standards from Anthony Ginting and I was disappointed that he didn’t get to a final.  His challenge is to stay with a game at the death. CHOU Tien Chen consistently made the semi-final of all three tournaments but somehow just lacked the resources to finish a match off.

Women’s Singles

Tai Tzu Ying by Abdul Razak Latif/Shutterstock

Carolina Marin – like Viktor – completely dominated her sector in the first two tournaments; bulldozing TAI Tzu Ying aside as she triumphed in both of their finals .  At the season’s finale she was prevented from making it a hat trick by a tactically astute performance by TTY who finally managed to eliminate errors when it came to the crucial stage of the game.  This link will take you to my article that discusses TTY’s win in more detail https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/02/02/tai-tzu-ying-genius/

I’m often dazzled by Ratchanok Intanon to the extent that I don’t give enough attention to the other athletes in the Thai team.  Pornpawee Chochuwong can look back over her matches with a lot of satisfaction.  We saw her potential twelve months ago when she beat Marin in the final of the Spain Masters and it turns out that that was not a fluke. At the end of a hard month she was a semi-finalist at the World Tour Finals and posed a threat to every player.  AN Se Young also caught my eye: she got to three semi finals but couldn’t quite push through to a podium finish.

Mixed Doubles

A deserved hat-trick of titles for the home pair Dechapol Puavaranukroh & Sapsiree Taerattanachai (Bass/Popor).  They have been on the brink of good results for a while and this month they competed with gutsy resilience and strong self-belief.  They are a wonderful team with excellent mobility, stamina and racket skills. 

“This is my reward for nine months of hard work and dedication”

Sapsiree Taerattanachai courtesy BWF Media press office

This success could see them start to dominate their sector.

Women’s Doubles

I’ve always been a big fan of GreyAp and so I was beyond thrilled to watch their emotional win in the YTO.  Soon their journey together will end.  I’m delighted that they have used these tournaments to showcase their best style: Greysia smiling and Apri roaring on to victory. Well played girls!

Men’s Doubles

The Taiwanese duo – LEE Yang and WANG Chi-Lin – really enhanced their reputations throughout January.  Not only did they win all three competitions but their humble self-deprecating comments endeared them to watching fans.  Playing to their strengths they used power and muscle non-stop to overcome rivals.  They were too fast and furious even for Ahsan and Setiawan to tame and no-one beats the Dads by accident.  On the subject of the Dads; once again these two gnarly warriors battled through adversity and showed why they are admired worldwide. Here is my look at Ahsan’s gritty fight to stay in the game when he was struggling with an injury https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/01/20/mohammad-ahsan-player-of-the-day-total-legend/

Finally…Coach Kim, Happiness and Hope

The effervescent Coach Kim popped up in Thailand with the Korean team. Her energetic style radiates confidence and is irresistible. During the interval she seems able to outline any observations to her team in about ten frenetic cheerful seconds then she calmly sits down whilst the opposition coach remains standing.

It was an uplifting few weeks. Back to back tournaments undoubtedly stretched athletes but they still delivered some breathtaking matches full of skill. I think they gave supporters hope that there is a return to regular badminton just around the corner.


Here’s my recent article about Momota https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/12/27/momota-the-return-of-the-king/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Mohammad Ahsan: Player of the Day & Total Legend!

Today two brave warriors fought through the pain barrier together and probably seized a place at the World Tour Finals.

The iconic Dads are renowned worldwide for their match genius. The rock-ribbed duo will force a win when all hope seems lost. Remember the celebrated victory on three legs at the All England in 2019? This R1 win against Ellis & Langridge was on a par with that. Perhaps it was an even ‘better’ victory because we would all crawl to the arena to participate in a final but this was a game in the first round.

Shockingly the English pair raced to the first mid-game interval with an 11-2 lead. Morten spotted that Ahsan was in trouble with a leg injury. All was lost.

All was not lost. Slowly, slowly they dragged themselves back into the set. At 15-16 down there was a draining 79 shot rally and I feared for Ahsan as it progressed; but he was brave and scored the winning shot to level the score at 16-16. The set progressed to 21-21 and then somehow the Indonesian pair got two points and they were over the line. But could they continue?

As the second set progressd it became clear that the English players had lost focus. They didn’t exploit Ahsan’s lack of mobility enough. On the other side of the net the Dads drew on all their experience and tactical nous. Setiawan covered for his partner: they changed their tactics, kept the scoreboard ticking over and the rallies short. Into the interval leading 11-7. Two fighters refusing to concede. Incredibly they kept going. Calmly dealing with everything the English pair could throw at them they sealed the second set and so the match 21-15.

I named Ahsan as my player of the day but I could easily have said “Setiawan” because together these two become more than mere athletes. They are lionhearts who proved once again why they are legends. Bravo! This was an absolute priviledge to watch!


If you enjoyed this then take a look at my article about Apriyani Rahayu https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/01/16/apriyani-rahayu-semi-finals-player-of-the-day/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Badminton Reloaded Pt 2: Yonex Thailand Open – Doubles Preview.

Doubles highlights everything that’s brilliant about badminton. The tempo, teamwork and tactics all combine to create an electrifying show.

The Yonex Thailand Open will be our first opportunity to watch most of these pairs since March. The impact of local Covid protocols will have caused training disruption and periods when it was impossible for partners to practice together. Some athletes will have spent the last 10 months enriching their skills whilst others will have stagnated. Now there is a fresh start for everyone and I’m impatient to see who has used this time wisely.

Women’s Doubles

We have been used to the domination of the Japanese & Chinese pairs in this discipline recently so their absence is an opportunity for the other seeds – predominantly Korean and Indonesian competitors – to make a mark. Three Korean pairs are seeded: Kim/Kong (4), Lee/Shin (3) plus Chang/Kim (6) . Kim/Kong will bring a bit more to the party in terms of aggression and imaginative badminton. I wonder if the success of the Korean competitors will be determined by the performance of Apriyani Rahayu. If she can dominate the play and build off the rock-solid foundation that Greysia Polii always provides then Greyap could get to the final. The other twosome to catch the eye are the Danes: Sara Thygesen and Maiken Fruergaard. They could go far if they clear the early rounds and get into their competitive rhythm; they were outstanding at this years Indonesia Masters.

This is a link to my piece about Rahayu being the best player in the SF https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/01/16/apriyani-rahayu-semi-finals-player-of-the-day/

Mixed Doubles

This promises to be an exhilarating event. The #1 seeds and home favourites Puavaranukroh and Taerattanachai (that is, Bass/Popor) have a fabulous opportunity for a podium finish. Blistering speed, great technique, accuracy and aggressive style mean that they are a handful for any rival, but they are still ‘work in progress’. They were beaten in this years final of the All England over three sets by #2 seeds, Praveen Jordan and Melati Daeva Oktavianti and the prospect of a return match is a tantalising thought. When Jordan is focused and fit his ferocious smashes and cunning play form the bedrock of a formidable team; Melati’s pace and anticipation make them hard to dominate. So who could get in the way of these two pairs? Marcus Ellis and Lauren Smith are England’s best chance of a podium spot in the whole tournament. Ellis knows how to win tough games; his mental and physical resilience are superb and Smith is just getting better and better. They lost to PraMel in the All England semi final this year and would relish the chance of revenge.

Men’s Doubles

Kevin’s positive test and subsequent quarantine at home in Indonesia was a disappointment, likewise the no-show Japanese and Chinese pairs. Nevertheless, because standards are so high in this sector it is not a catastrophe for the quality of the tournament.

The brilliance and depth of talent in Indonesian badminton means that there are still 2 seeded pairs with every chance of making the final on Saturday an all-Indonesia affair. The legendary Daddies – Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan – are superb competitors with impecable standards. Setiawan’s technical ability combined with his proactive, intelligent play means that they have the resources to claw their way to victory even when they are under the most severe pressure. Their apparently nonchalent attitude on court disguises an unshakeable winning mentality. I’m a little nervous of the Indian duo Rankireddy/Shetty who they will probably play in R2. They are young, energetic and improving all the time so this is potentially a game where the Dads need to be ready to douse any fireworks that are thrown their way. Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto who are the second Indonesian seeded pair (#5) must be eyeing the podium. The English pair Marcus Ellis and Chris Langridge are unseeded but could be battling them for a place in the Semi-final.

The top half of the draw opened up with the withdrawal of the Minions. The Malaysian 8th seeds Aaron Chia and Wooi Yik Soh have emphasized in recent interviews how hard they have been training during the long lay off and that they have focused on strengthening their defensive game. This could be their chance to step up and win a major tournament. The dangermen in their way will be the Russians Ivanov/Sozonov.

After such a long break these competitions will be won by the duos with the most ambition – the trophies are there for the taking. The athletes who have been able to adapt to the covid protocols in Bangkok fast without letting it disrupt focus will enjoy a huge advantage. Thailand is the heart of badminton for January with three tournaments in a row within a safety bubble: finally, after some very hard months we can say ‘Badminton is BACK!’


Part 1 of my preview is here https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/01/07/badminton-reloaded-yonex-thailand-open-singles-preview/ and here is a link to an article I wrote about two of my favourite doubles players https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/01/19/greysap-redux-polii-rahayu-are-back/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

2020 Imagined Olympic Finals: Men’s Doubles

There’s a saying that there are only two stories in the world. The first is about a person who goes on a journey and the second is when a stranger rides into town. Well, I’ve got the third story, it’s cool because it combines the original two plots. It’s about a duo who go on a journey, arrive in a strange town, AND WIN A GOLD MEDAL.

Super Saturday in Tokyo and the hugely anticipated Men’s Doubles final was contested by the World #1 Kevin Sukamuljo/Marcus Gideon and LIU Yuchen/LI Junhui. These pairs have met before at the Musashino Forest Sportsplaza, the dilemma for both was how to use the slow conditions to their best advantage. Throughout the tournament opinion had differed regarding tactics, and in fact no particular strategy seemed consistently successful other than perhaps the need for stamina.

Each pair had very different routes to the ultimate match. The Minions had to dive deep into their mental reserves during the SF against Endo/Watanabe. A three set thriller beset by nerves, unforced errors and inspired net play by Kevin. Watanabe was Superman but he just could not find a way past the Indonesian players; he’ll have another attempt at Gold later in XD. Although Chinese athletes have struggled to make an impression on the badminton tournament here, LI/LIU enjoyed a quite serene progress to the final. The two set SF against Rankireddy/Shetty was a clinical dissection of a duo whose time will come.

Set 1: 21-14 LI/LIU

It was a brutal first set. The Chinese duo seemed determined to play their own game; the barrage of steep smashes that rained down onto Sukamuljo and Gideon was awesome. The twin towers disasterous tactics from the 2018 Japan Open were firmly forgotten and they stayed on the attack permanently. At the interval the score was 11-8 but they pulled away and sealed the game quite emphatically.

Set 2: 19-21 Gideon & Sukamuljo Fightback

The cameras were focused on the Indonesians at the interval. Their demeanour was relaxed and calm, Gideon rolling his neck just listening to the coach. The Indonesian fans behind the back tramlines were uncharacteristically quiet, maybe not worried yet but definitely thoughtful – some of those spectators I recognised from earlier matches of the Olympic tournament and it was clear they were hardcore badminton lovers. Gill Clark and Morten started to speculate about a two set final.

Liu to serve and instantly he was put under pressure by a flat aggressive return. The rally was more than 60 shots old when Gideon executed a delicate drop that died at LI’s feet. The points rolled by, & into the interval at 10-11 the Chinese pair just with their noses in front but we all sensed that the balance of power was shifting. The second half of the second set was Kevin Sukamuljo’s stage. He seized the initiative at the net, and despite LIU’s long reach he was passed repeatedly. The Chinese men were desperately trying to vary the tempo of shots to jolt the Minions off momentum but they failed again and again. Kevin was liberated by to be King of the Forecourt by Marcus’s pugnacity and energy. The key to the swing in the balance of power was the inability of the Chinese players to score points from the long rallies; Marcus and Kevin had figured it out that if they were able to stay in their favoured positions and keep the shuttle in play then the chances would come. Its a simple strategy but exhausting. Their counter-attacking expertise with their solid defending got the Minions back in the fight – one set each.

Set 3: Gold!

LI/LIU resumed their positions on court but there was a pause while Sukamuljo fiddled with his shoelace. Years of training, planning and sweat were focused on the next twenty minutes. LIU taps his partners hand and smiles. Kevin to serve, a flick, not good enough and so it’s smashed right back at him. Typical outrageous Sukamuljo returns it with a behind the back shot that tips the net cord, and expires as LI dives forward despairingly. Lucky. Then a run of 3 more points in a row until disaster. Gideon smashes, breaks a string and cannot defend effectively enough. The momentum swings back to the Chinese and they go into the interval 11-8 ahead. Ten points from Gold.

However ten points from Gold is a lot of shots with a lot of running, jumping and stretching. The Chinese players are in constant movement but Kevin is picking up points with precision and verve. He is a man who adores the big stage and where better to showcase his sublime ability than the last moments of an Olympic final? The speed of the rallies was supersonic, the four athletes perfectly focused on the shuttle whilst the crowd screamed.

Point by point the Indonesians got in front. Their play was brave and exhilerating. Exchanges of hard flat drives keep the Chinese at a slight disadvantage. Kevin constantly taunting the twin towers with shots just slightly out of reach or just in reach but forcing a weak response for Gideon to kill. 20-19 match point.

20-19 match point. Kevin to serve, nothing is certain.


This never happened, it’s all fiction. Feel free to write your own so that your favourites win.


If you enjoyed this then take a look at my piece about Kevin and Marcus https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/29/the-minions-indonesian-superheroes/ or this one by Daniel DM about Chinese Men’s Doubles https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/01/02/chinese-mens-doubles/

I’ve written an imagined MomoGi final as well https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/08/05/2020-imagined-olympic-finals-mens-singles-momogi/

©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved