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Sudirman Cup Review

This edition of the SC was lit up by the brilliance of the women players.  Their spirit and strength were at the heart of the most successful teams. 

Misaki Matsutomo

The return by Misaki to Women’s Doubles for this tournament was a bittersweet gift to her admirers. The scratch pairing with Mayu Matsumoto had a few rough edges yet it was a treat to watch.  Misaki is a genius at the net – her touch and vision are sensational – but the skill that lifts her to Goddess status is her will to win.  At critical moments she can find a new level and seize victory.  In the semi-final against Malaysia, especially in the second set, her drive and aggression were unplayable and they beat TAN/THINAAH to seal the win for Japan. I wish her all the best in her Mixed Double’s journey but I wish she was still playing WD.

Akane Yamaguchi – Most Valuable Player

At a pivotal time in the final Akane gave a stellar performance: she had the self-belief and resources to challenge the best and gave BirdJapan hope.  She is an outstanding defender; in the final there were patches against CHEN Yufei when she was under intense pressure from the Olympic Champion.  Her strategy of keeping her tempo and defending everything however hopeless meant that CYF could never really settle into the sort of rhythm that lets her win 5 or 6 points in a row.  Often functioning on instinct, she was simply brilliant and won the match in two games 21-19, 21-16.

CHEN Yufei

In the run-up to the final, CYF was always the nucleus of Chinese victory.  In the quarter-final against Denmark her match against Mia Blichfeldt was a ‘must win’ because China – already trailing – risked elimination 0-3 if she could not level before the Men’s Singles.  The tie was pulsating with the competitive advantage ebbing and flowing between the two athletes. She held her nerve under intense scrutiny and clung on in the decider to win. In the semi-final against Korea, she lost the first set to AN Seyoung but was resolute and sucked ASY into her patient, error-free style which suffocated resistance.  It was only in the final against Yamaguchi’s faster pace that she lost a match.

Pearly TAN & THINAAH Muralitheran

The young Malaysian pair have been catching my eye for the last year or so and they have really started to challenge some of the more established doubles teams.  They stood out in this competition because of their fighting spirit and unwillingness to concede defeat.  Against GreyAp in the quarter final they battled the Olympic Champions for 90 minutes and saved six match points.  There’s no doubt they are the rising stars of this sector and I can’t wait to watch them again.

Honourable Mentions Also To:

CHEN Qing Chen and JIA Yi Fan for closing out the final and refusing to be intimidated by MatsuMatsu. Gregoria for making a fight of it in Indonesia’s quarter final and ending the competition with a 100% record. Mia Blichfeldt for her epic encounter with CHEN Yufei, and Greysia Polii for ‘surviving’.

Congratulations to China for their twelfth win in the Sudirman Cup – even without some of their best-know stars they arrived as favourites. There were some nail-biting matches and Denmark came close to eliminating them but in the end they deserved their victory.


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved


Sudirman Cup Preview

The battles in Finland will prove which nation has the best squad and who can hold their nerve when the pressure soars. Bragging rights and national prestige are at stake: this is the trophy that everyone wants to take home.

Screenshot from BWF

It’s the 17th time that the World Team Championships have been held and invariably the Asian badminton powerhouses monopolize the finals. Pick one from China, Indonesia or South Korea and history guarantees that their players will be walking onto the court on the last day. No other country has ever won. Could we see a surprise this time?

The Sudirman Cup starts with sixteen teams in four groups on September 26th; during this stage, all five matches across the sectors are played. After this phase is complete, there is a draw to determine the Quarter-Finals and subsequently Semi-Finals. Crucially this is a knockout stage and every tie is “best of five”. This is when players who can force results and drive teammates on to glory will shine.

Group A: China, Thailand, Finland, and India

China dominate this competition and their twenty-strong team is an intimidating prospect for any rival. Over the last few months CHEN Yufei’s patient, error-free game has seen her crowned Olympic and China National Games Champion; in XD WANG/HUANG hold the same twofold honour whilst in Women’s Doubles CHEN/JIA will be in the vanguard of the Chinese defence of the title. This is a magnificent team but they look susceptible in the Men’s sectors. A revitalised SHI Yu Qui is a great asset but there is no CHEN Long with him in the Singles. I’m curious about the Men’s Doubles line up as this is definitely a sector in transition. Are they beatable? Yes! But probably not until the Final….and possibly not even then.

The battle for second place is likely to be won by Thailand considering they have more firepower than an Indian team weakened by the absence of Saina and Sindhu. Thailand have an exciting fusion of experienced winners like Bass/Popor in XD, alongside Chochuwong and Ongbamrungphan in WS, balancing out the relative inexperience of triple junior world champion Kunlavut Vitidsarn in Men’s Singles. India won’t be a pushover though, especially in the doubles categories so clearly the tie between them will decide group position. I think Finland will have plenty of home support but to escape this group will require impossibly dramatic results.

Group B: Taiwan, Korea, Tahiti, Germany

Korea has a fine tradition in this tournament; and in Thailand this year we saw good-to-great performances from it’s doubles pairs and AN Se Young. I think they will top the group and leave Taiwan and Germany to fight it out for second spot. Taiwan’s team is disadvantaged because they are not bringing their Olympic medalists: LEE/WANG or TTY so this could be a tight fight for qualification. Germany’s squad includes Lamsfuss, Herttrich and Yvonne LI and they must realise they have a good chance of winning a couple of their ties if they can get results in key areas. Tahiti can compete unburdened by expectation but results against them may turn out to be important.

Group C: Indonesia, Denmark, ROC, Canada

Indonesia’s team of all the talents can travel to Finland confident that they have the quality and experience to get to the final. The squad is exceptional with Olympic Gold medalists and title holders to match China. Two influential players are at the core of it: Hendra Setiawan and Greysia Polii have the mental strength to inspire their fellow Indonesians to aim high. I think two key personnel are Praveen Jordan and Anthony Ginting because they will inevitably be participating in crucial matches; they must keep focused and crush their opponents.

The cup has never been won by a European nation but Denmark has been in the final twice, most recently in 2011. They are by far the best team in Europe and in Viktor Axelsen they have the Olympic Champion. The squad is capable of challenging hard. I don’t think they quite have the depth across all the sectors to win but they should progress to the knockout stages and could get to the Semi-Final.

Group D: Japan, Malaysia, England, Egypt

After their subdued performance at the Olympics and some high profile retirements I’m curious to see how BirdJapan approach the competition they came so close to winning in Nanning 2019. They may be short of a bit of Men’s Doubles experience but this is still a wonderful team who are well-known for mutual support from the sidelines. I think we should disregard the Tokyo results and look to Momota, Nozomi and the rest to play without pressure, build early confidence and do well. Prediction: Semi Final

Malaysia and England will be scrapping for second place; both are teams in transition who have brought a selection of youngsters. I remember the scintillating Sudirman Cup tie between England and Denmark back in 2019 especially the courageous performance of Birch/Smith in the WD and I hope they can rekindle that spirit here and escape the group. It’s going to be tough to equal Malaysia’s quality but this is the tie they must win to progress.

Who Will Bring It Home?

Can anyone stop China winning again? It will be a big task to equal their ambition and dedication to possession of the Sudirman Cup. This is a unique tournament which rewards special athletes. The only other team with the all-round depth of talent that can sustain a long campaign is Indonesia. The beauty of this tournament is that no player can triumph on their own; so the squad with the spirit and resilience to compete without flinching will be bringing the trophy home.


If you enjoyed this then take a look at my recent article about Polii and Rahayu https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/08/12/brilliant-polii-and-rahayu-win-olympic-gold/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

CHEN Yu Fei

We have to wait a little longer than expected to see if CHEN Yu Fei will follow in the footsteps of LI Xuerui, ZHANG Ning and GONG Zhichao to win Olympic Gold. It’s indisputable that she would have expected to be on the podium if the tournament had gone ahead in July.

CHEN Yu Fei’s victory at the 2019 Yonex All England kickstarted a year which climaxed in December when she was crowned world #1. She is the first Chinese Women’s Singles player since LI Xuerui to achieve this distinction.  Still only 21, CHEN Yu Fei has enjoyed an extraordinary run of success since her triumph over TAI Tzu Ying in Birmingham last March.   In the return encounter in March 2020 TTY reversed the previous year’s result but there is no doubt that she ill be a key competitor in the Olympics in 2021.

 The talent and quality in this generation of Women’s Singles players is magnificent. Part of the appeal of this sector is that there is no particular style that dominates every tournament.  The fitness of the athletes, their technical skills and tactical sense all mean that results can be erratic. Some key players have lacked consistency – for instance Sindhu and Akane have had a tendency to crash out in the early rounds of competition.  Others, like Saina and Marin have had their seasons disrupted by injuries.  However, CHEN Yu Fei has been a reliable presence most of the time with the stand-out ability to win in a final once she gets to it. 

As a 21-year-old, with the backing of the Chinese coaching establishment to support her she can continue to develop and extend herself; the improvement since 2018 has been stellar which reveals her commitment and focus.  CHEN has been identified as perhaps the spearhead of a renaissance in Chinese women’s singles.  For instance, not so long ago they dominated the All England.  Between 2000 and 2014 there were 11 winners and 12 runners-up in this sector but then the talent seemed to dry up. Since then only one podium spot (WANG Shixian in 2016) until CHEN’s title win in 2019.

The foundation of CHEN Yu Fei’s badminton is quite simple.  She is a fine player with excellent all- round mastery of the game.  Her physical durability is such a positive feature; consistent fitness allows her training to build up to tournaments in a controlled way. She is an extremely intelligent strategist, always alert to opportunities to gain points.  Her tendency to rebalance her game as the match progresses is a major asset; this responsiveness to threats means that if she can stay in a game when she is under pressure, she can often grind out a win. Her default strategy is patience.  Frequently, against someone who relies more on flair and deception, she will sit back and let them play.  She has got endless stamina.  She can wait for a storm to blow itself out and then pounce.  I love the way she will cleverly conserve energy: she can keep the shuttle in play and then towards the last few points in a set she can accelerate away and inflict defeat.  Against players with suspect resilience this is a brutally efficient approach.  It’s a method of increasing pressure because her rival will feel the desire to win the game briskly or else risk running out of energy.  This is the trap that is set.  The need to win provokes mistakes and often the match spirals away.  The temptation is to risk more, to aim for the lines, to score a quick point.  This makes compelling theatre for spectators but is ineffective most of the time.

Patience is at the core of her strategy and if I had to single out a weakness, I would say that this can stray into an avoidance of risk.  In a very close match, the ability to be unpredictable can make the difference between Silver and Gold.

She returned to the Yonex All England a tougher player than ever: as well as her tour triumphs she had a central role in China’s Sudirman Cup victory. She was seeded #1 and got to the final but was out-thought by TAI Tzu Ying. Her main rival had arrived at the party with a new strategy; this time TTY played with patience and picked her moments to attack. CYF just could not get a foothold in the game and lost it in straight sets.

When the BWF tour resumes it will be fascinating to see what she has learned from this loss because acheiving the correct balance between risk and safety, attack and defence is going to be crucial in her progress to the podium in Tokyo.


If you enjoyed this follow the link to my most recent look at TTY https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/03/23/tai-tzu-ying-the-triple-champion/ and this is an a piece I wrote in 2019 about CYF https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/04/03/another-sensational-player-from-china-chen-yu-fei/

©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi: Hotter Than July

Wow! Akane – what a July!

Akane has always been a formidable player with plenty of successes along the way but suddenly her achievements have become supercharged and she is unstoppable. Women’s Singles is an incredibly competitive discipline at the moment so what is it that is giving her the edge over her rivals?

Pic from Hafiz Johari/Shutterstock.com

Bizarrely I think it was failure that has spurred her on. Looking back to the Sudirman Cup, the crucial tie in the final was the Women’s Singles: Akane Yamaguchi against Chen YuFei. It was a three game battle with neither player consistently dominant. The Chinese crowd was very noisy; it was an intense and passionate atmosphere with huge emotional pressure exerted on both athletes. It’s been noted that at one point in the game Morten Frost described Akane’s play as erratic. That’s quite a brutal assessment, but the point is that in the end she lost.

Both players finished flat out on the floor but CHEN Yufei was the victor.
Video courtesy BWF

We all know it’s a team competition but losing that three game match was pivotal to Japan’s eventual loss in the final. The Japanese team oozed togetherness and exuberance as they supported each other through the tournament so it must have been utterly devastating for them all not to get gold.

Up until recently Akane has always been known as a retriever, which often means that she is a defender. This is a very simplistic reduction of an elite athletes game; it’s quite a reactive style but she is great at covering the court and very quick to regain her base position.

However, things have changed since the Sudirman Cup…everyone had some time off before they got back to training. Time to recover physically and mentally but also an opportunity to take stock. Then came July and one of the principal events in the badminton calendar: The Indonesian Open.

It was a fresh Akane with an evolved style. Suddenly she was applying her explosive power to a more attacking game and the final against P V Sindhu showcased how effective this new aggression was.

Sindhu found her game being squeezed. Yamaguchi, above all, was being ferocious in her follow-ups. There were some ruthless flat drives, and midcourt smashes. There was more pressure applied in rallies. She began each game like a tornado and barely relaxed her focus. No longer content to react, Akane was taking the game and demanding to win.

Akane wins the Indonesia Open – Video by kind permission BWF

It was a great victory. Sindhu played well but just couldn’t equal Akane’s fierceness; without warning Yamaguchi had stepped up her game.

So we come to the Japanese Open – her home tournament. Her progression to the final took in triumphs against Sindhu and Chen Yufei to set up a meeting with her compatriot Nozomi Okuhara. The scoreline of 21-13, 21-15 lets you know it was an emphatic victory. Again, this was the evolved style. Yamaguchi went toe-to-toe with Okuhara and it was her intensity allied to some awesome accuracy that meant she was able to withstand Okuhara’s propensity for lengthy rallies.

“I was worried I wouldn’t be able to win the long rallies, but I was patient, and whenever there was a chance to make a decisive shot, I was able to make the sharp shots,” said Yamaguchi.

I think it’s a good measure of Akane as a woman and an elite player that she took the worst kind of defeat and used it as fuel for progress:

“I wish I could’ve played this well in the Sudirman Cup final. The loss in the final made me learn and helped me improve.”

The road to Tokyo 2020 has a lot of twists and turns yet but momentum and big match experience counts for a lot. I want to end this piece by urging you to watch the film clip below – the happiness on Akane’s face is so infectious it is an utter joy to see.

https://twitter.com/AYamaguchiFans/status/1155455793610629121

If you enjoyed this follow the link to my piece about Nozomi Okuhara https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/04/23/nozomi-okuhara-racket-ready-for-tokyo-glory/ and also this one about Tai Tzu Ying https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/07/01/tai-tzu-ying-goddess-or-mortal/

©2019 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved