A sparkling line-up in all the women’s sectors promises some brilliant battles ahead. The stars are back! The German Open has been full of upsets with some seeds struggling to impose themselves on the tournament. Let’s see if this unpredictable picture lingers into England.
Three-time winner TAI Tzu Ying usually has a scintillating presence on court & brings stardust to any tournament; exceptional racket skills and unconventional genius means that she will be challenging for the title. However there are some big challenges ahead. In 2021 Akane Yamaguchi hit a dazzling run of form. Liberation from Olympic expectations unleashed a new focus, her fitness has returned, and she must be eyeing the trophy with confidence. These two are seeded to meet in the final in a repeat of 2018. On that occasion TTY triumphed so Akane will want revenge. Neither of them were on good form in Germany; both crashing out in their R2 matches so they both must step up their play if they want the trophy.
China is consistently producing exceptional women players. It’s astonishing to realise that CHEN Yufei – the current Olympic champion – is only seeded #3. Of course she has not been able to participate fully in the tour owing to China’s Covid restrictions. She is a deadly opponent who can drain the fight from a rival before putting them to the sword. The bottom half of the draw is arguably able to offer her a smooth journey to the SF and a potential game versus Akane or Sindhu. Realistically her consistency and fitness make her favourite for this title. HE Bing Jiao is always a bit of an enigma. During the pandemic she has become leaner, but has she become meaner? I think we will probably find out if she makes it to a QF with her compatriot CHEN Yu Fei. After beating Akane in Germany her confidence should be sky high. The other notable Chinese player bringing form to the UK is ZHANG Yi Man who dispatched Sindhu in three sets in Mulheim. She meets CYF in R1 so it’s a tough ask to expect progress.
As the defending champion Nozomi Okuhara has little to prove but has a harsh draw to negotiate. She has remained quite low profile since Tokyo but in December – for the third year running – was crowned winner at the All Japan Badminton Championships. In the first couple of rounds she’ll have to overcome a double Danish challenge; in R1 round she is meeting Denmark’s Line Christophersen then R2 could offer Mia Blichfeldt. Further in, TAI Tzu Ying, May or AN Se Young await. She will need to be on her game from the moment she steps onto court on day 1.
Is this going to be AN Se Young’s tournament? The top half of this draw offers a lot of banana skins & she would probably have to overcome May, TTY or Nozomi to get to the final. This is my worry. I’m a little unconvinced that her stamina will hold up through a bruising tournament – the cumulative effect of game after game after game does have a cost, so she must be tactically clever and try to conserve energy wherever possible.
Ratchanok Intanon was in good form at the Olympics; the battle with TTY in Tokyo was outstanding and there is a possible repeat of that epic match in prospect in the semi-final. First May has to negotiate early rounds that include ASY. Under pressure she often she executes extraordinary shots, disdains percentage play and can unravel a rival with her extravagant skill. I love to watch her compete like this but I think sometimes it’s the consequence of a desire to speedily finish off a rival; if they manage to hang in the game there can be Trouble.
The renowned Big Game Player – Pursala V Sindhu – is hard to analyse. She has an Olympic bronze from 2021 but often over the past 2 or 3 years she has struggled to build a winning momentum that takes her all the way to the top of the podium. She wasn’t able to progress beyond R1 at the German Open in the run-up to this tournament so I’m not sure what we can expect. She is one of the best of her generation but Akane awaits in the QF.
I see CHEN Yufei as favourite for this title. However Akane enjoyed impressive form at the end of 2021; if anyone can beat her they are serious contenders.
All the badminton community is anticipating the international return of FukuHiro with warmth in their hearts. They are such a likeable pair: their spirit against the odds at the Tokyo Olympics was admired the world over. We have watched Yuki Fukushima joining forces with other players whilst Sayaka Hirota recuperated from knee surgery but now is an opportunity to see them attempt to recapture the title they won together in 2020. It’s hard to estimate where they are in terms of form and fitness. They will have to take one match at a time and see what happens. Nothing is impossible for two of the best players on the circuit.
The #1 seeds (and winners in 2019) can be a real handful for any opponent. CHEN Qing Chen is a valiant, tireless player who screws down the pressure whilst left-handed JIA Yi Fan loves to smash or get a hard flat rally going. They both have plenty of power and use it with venom. If it boils down to a brawl at the end of a game for the last few winning points then probably the Chinese pair will edge through. If they bring their A game to Birmingham, they will be unstoppable.
It’s been a while since Korea won the WD title in Birmingham. In fact, it was 2017 when LEE So-hee won it with CHANG Ye-na. What a record LEE has of competing and winning at the highest levels in badminton over nearly a decade. She is seeded 2 with SHIN Seung-chan and they kick off their campaign with a tricky tie against the Stoevas. KIM So-yeong and KONG Hee-yong are seeded 3 in the top half of the draw – both pairs have all the skills to get to finals weekend and once they are there anything can happen.
2021 was a break-out year for Nami Matsuyama and Chiharu Shida who upped their competitive levels and enjoyed plenty of success at the Indonesian Festival of Badminton. Their creative aggression marks out the evolution of the Japanese house style. I’m excited to see if they continue their development into the last stages of this competition.
I’m not neutral, I’ve followed and admired Greysia Polii for years. That gold medal win at the Olympics was one of my happiest badminton days so I want to watch the 6th seeds go deep into this competition. Although the GreyAp partnership remains in place for Birmingham it’s noteworthy that Apriyani Rahayu planned to be with a different partner at the German Open but unfortunately a minor injury scuppered that idea. PBSI have to plan for the future but I hope the Olympic Champions play well in Birmingham, no injuries and do themselves justice.
The current champions Mayu Matsumoto and Wakana Nagahara who habitually win big events have been forced to withdraw because of a knee injury sustained during training.
This doubles competition does have the potential for a few upsets from unseeded pairs. Pearly TAN and Thinaah Muralitheran never know when they are beaten and their opponents are always in for a difficult hour or so on court. Likewise Maiken Fruergaard and Sara Thygesen can mix it with the best – in round one they face GreyAp and that’s a tricky challenge for the sixth seeds.
I want to include XD in my women’s preview because I believe that it’s the performance of the woman in the duo that leads to victory . The role of the woman partner has shifted over the last 15 years to a more proactive aggressive stance – I think mainly because of the influence of Liliyana Natsir, one of the true greats of the game. This benefits mobile players who are comfortable in attack and defence.
It’s quite hard to see beyond the first four seeds for the title. Deservedly at the top of the draw are the Thai pair Bass/Popor. They are physically strong, worked hard through 2021 and got plenty of success. They didn’t participate last year because of their focus on Olympic prep but 2022 will see them travelling to the UK with a strong chance of grabbing the trophy for Thailand. I think it’s significant that Sapsiree Taerattanachai is not competing in WD too. Her sole focus at this tournament will be XD. The two shutters who can stop them are the Tokyo Olympic Champions: WANG Yi Lyu & HUANG Dong Ping. I’m a big admirer of HUANG who is a wonderful doubles player with power, touch and plenty of smarts. The destiny of the title is probably in her hands.
Who could challenge the favourites for the title? Japan’s Yuta and Arisa are a formidable pair. I love to watch them switch roles and see Yuta marauding at the net; this is a huge competitive advantage and very difficult to neutralise. The #2 seeds ZHENG Si Wei and HUANG Ya Qiong must also be eyeing the trophy but they have a very unconventional preparation for the tournament as they will be competing with different partners the week before in Germany.
So, a wonderful tournament hosting the best women players in the world lies ahead. The athletes who can stay fit and focused on their goals will be the ones who carry away the trophy on Finals Day. Every shot counts.
If you enjoyed this then take a look at my recent article about TAI Tzu Ying https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2022/03/02/tai-tzu-ying-at-the-all-england/
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