Victor China Open WS Preview

The road to Tokyo2020 has been a bumpy one for a lot of the WS competitors so far – I wonder if the China Open is going to be any smoother for them?

I think this tournament will pose some awkward questions for several players. 2019 has produced upsets crafted by rising stars of the new generation and there hasn’t been a dominant athlete. So here is the last Super 1000 of 2019 and my opinions about the top seeds.

P V Sindhu: World Champion
On the podium at the 2019 World Championships
Pic from BWF TV

Since witnessing her obliteration of Nozomi in the World Championship final every player should be frightened of what Sindhu can do. It was an imperious campaign powered by Coach Kim and her refocus on skills. In that sort of form Sindhu can beat anyone, but she knows that to keep winning she cannot stand still; improvement must be continuous. It’s possible she might come up against Tai Tzu Ying in the SF and I think this will pose a new sort of problem. Prediction: Semi Final.

TAI Tzu Ying: The Queen

TAI Tzu Ying’s skills are always spinetingling to watch but her form has been a bit lacklustre recently – by her own extraordinary standards she is underachieving. Her focus sometimes wavers in the middle of matches: she needs to control this and be more cunning. In order to get to the final she may have to overcome Saina and vanquish the resurgent Sindhu. Can she do it? Of course! Will she do it? Hmmmm. Prediction: Final

Note to fans: Suffering is optional.

Akane Yamaguchi: World #1

After a fabulous July, Akane was brutally dumped out of the World Championships in R1. It was a gloomy sight for all her supporters who will want her to rediscover the touch that got her to World #1. Prediction QF.

Will She? Wont She? Part 1 – We Need To Talk About Saina.

From BWF TV

Saina has been on the comeback trail after a wretched six months of injuries and illness which started back in March. We expected to see her at the Chinese Taipei Open at the beginning of September but she withdrew at the last minute. A month earlier at the World Championships in Basel she had an unlucky – albeit controversial – loss to Mia Blichfeldt early on but seemed to be playing reasonably smoothly. Her fans ache for the ‘old’ Saina to turn up, literally and metaphorically. Saina plays to WIN not for the exercise but on this occasion I don’t think she’s going to progress beyond QF.

Ratchanok Intanon: Seeded #6

May was obviously overjoyed with her Bronze at the World Championships in August – she deserved it – she had to fight for it, save match points, and be patient. May knows how to win. That spirit and drive for success is such an asset in competitions crowded with talent which is why my prediction is: Final

Chen Yufei: Seeded #3

Feifei has home advantage in this tournament…except I’m not sure how much of a help this will be to a player who can blow a bit hot and cold. She is a patient, fit athlete with good stamina whose strategy often seems to keep the shuttle in play. She has the ability to adapt her game as a match progresses so this is a major strength. However, the knowledgable crowd are capable of undermining her occasionally shaky confidence and she could meet AN Se Young in R2 which is an awkward match to call. Prediction: either early shock exit or QF.

Nozomi Okuhara: Seeded #4

Nozomi was brutally destroyed by Sindhu at the World Championships; at times it was hard to watch – can she bounce back so soon after that carnage? According to the draw she will meet Marin in R1, and potentially Tunjung after that. She must bounce back from the disappointment of Silver in Basel quickly, her game was dismantled too easily and she had no way of fighting back. Too tough to call – time will tell!

Will She? Wont She? Part Two – The Return of Carolina Marin

Carolina’s first outing since rupturing her ACL back in January ended with a R1 exit at the Yonex-Sunrise Vietnam Open however, there are reasons to be cheerful. Her mental grit and defiance have to be applauded; treading the hard yards in rehab is no picnic but she has dedicated herself to returning to competition. I think that she will have to see how her body responds to her this outing and then structure her competitive calendar accordingly. Prediction:R1 exit to Nozomi

Gregoria Mariska Tunjung

Gregoria has a great opportunity to progress in this tournament, even though she’s unseeded with a fairly tough draw. Her matches are often tantalisingly poised, and there have been some agonising losses. If she can get off to a good start and find her tournament rhythm quickly her moment will come. Prediction: QF

Follow the link for my new blog about GMT https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/09/08/indonesias-gregoria-mariska-tunjung/

SUNG Ji Hyun, HE Bing Jao, AN Se Young

SUNG collected the Chinese Taipei Open trophy in early September and along with HE is always a respected player in these competitions, despite their seeding though it would be a major upset if they were to win. As for ASY, she is still a raw talent who is very capable of giant-killing but I don’t feel she is able to construct a long campaign on that basis yet.

Conclusion

From a personal viewpoint I would love to see the final contested by Ratchanok May and Tai Tzu Ying in front of the Chinese crowd. It’s always fascinating to watch these tournaments unfold: there are dramas along the way as the intensity builds and we get swept along by the momentum of the games. May can dig out wins when all seems lost, and TTY can dazzle us all. Who desires this title the most?


Follow the link to my new article about the new World Champion PV Sindhu https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/08/25/p-v-sindhu-world-champion/

Here is my recent piece about AN Se Young https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/07/08/an-se-young-koreas-sensational-17-year-old/

and this one about Saina https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/05/14/saina-nehwal-indias-beloved-champion/

©2019 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Indonesia’s Gregoria Mariska Tunjung

“I don’t want to just participate at the Olympics. I want to achieve something.”

On the podium at the 2017 World Junior Championships

Gregoria’s thrilling ability makes her games a delight to watch. She has a great touch at the net – soft hands – so the shots from her forecourt are one of her best assets. If there is a scale of styles with artistry & grace at one end (May/TTY) and raw power (Marin/Sindhu) at the other, she is located in the neighbourhood of TTY. That’s a huge simplification of course, because she is also athletic and very precise with her placement of the shuttle. She often replies to a high serve with a vicious smash, hit with pin-point accuracy just out of her rival’s reach. Her clever deception and skill allow her to easily execute cross-court drops to good effect.

A defining theme of her strategy is often her cross-court play. This can be a great way to control a rival because it will disrupt their momentum; the constant direction changes are eventually mentally and physically tiring. When she mixes these shots up with some deeper ones it means the pace is unpredictable too so it is hard for her opponent to settle into any sort of rhythm. In her recent loss against May at the 2019 World Championships in Basel the Thai player was on the ropes, and commented afterwards that she was grateful at times to just keep the shuttle in play and stay alive.

Back in 2017 Gregoria won the Women’s Singles category of the Junior World Championships. Other distinguished players who’ve held this title include: Saina, Ratchanok, and Nozomi.

This was an epic match that ebbed and flowed through three games. In the last one GMT was losing 17-19, then losing 19-20 but she eventually triumphed 24-22. She drew on immense mental strength to claw herself back from match point down in the biggest game of her career. It’s interesting to consider this because often recently her ‘inconsistency’ has been attributed to psychological factors – does she have a ‘mental block’ about beating the top players?

I don’t think so. If we consider any of the senior women players in the top 20 this year there isn’t a single one who we can say consistently wins. Akane was dumped out of the World Championships in the R1, CHEN Yufei blows hot and cold and TTY is in the middle of a dip in form. Firstly badminton is a demanding sport so it is hard to sustain excellence (Momota is exceptional in MS). Secondly – it’s a cliché but it’s true – we are in the middle of a golden generation as far as Women’s Singles is concerned, so the level of play is high. As Gregoria hasn’t been able to break into the world top ten yet, the way the seeding system works means she comes up against big-name players early on in a tournament. This is a difficult bind to escape.

I want to see her acquire the ability to win, once she can close out games she’ll lose her reputation for inconsistency. This is an area that all top sportspeople have to work on once they graduate from junior ranks. Being able to grab victory even if she is not playing well is a skill she needs to have if she is to progress further. We see it in flashes, I’m sure it’s there, her coaches have to discover the key to this part of her badminton brain. Her recent quote about the Olympics continued:

“I feel a bit nervous because of the in-house competition. There are three of us, so at each tournament I feel I have to perform better than the others” [Ruselli Hartawan & Fitriani Fitriani]

She needs to forget about the compatriot competition and get on with her own game. Being the best out of those three will not be good enough to get on the podium in Tokyo 2020. Given the quality of the opposition it is going to take a monumental effort to get to where she aspires to be but ‘if you want it you’ve got to sweat it’. It’s not impossible, tournament play in the emotional heat of the Olympics does weird things to some athletes and she needs to be ready to grasp every opportunity now to seal her right to compete at the top of her sport.


If you enjoyed this you may like the guest blog by Shubhi Rofiddinsa aka Podcast Tepak Bulu about Indonesian badminton https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/07/14/has-indonesian-badminton-stagnated/

Also my recently updated article about the Bronze medalists at the 2019 World Championships Polii & Rahayu https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/04/12/a-thriving-partnership-indonesias-polii-and-rahayu/

©2019 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Yonex Chinese Taipei Open: WS Preview

XXXX STOP PRESS – SAINA WITHDRAWS XXXX

The news has broken this morning that Saina has withdrawn. What a pity, because her participation has been so eagerly anticipated by her millions of supporters all around the world. So, nevertheless we are left with the possibility of some great games – the opportunity is still there now for a player to grasp the chance for glory in front of some of the most knowledgable and committed fans in the world.

Saina was on the comeback trail after a year disrupted by injury, so her fans were eager to see the ‘old Saina’ collect this trophy. If she had played she would have stood every chance of winning and this would surely kick-start her campaign for Tokyo qualification. We know that she’s got unparalleled mental toughness; she doesn’t play for fun, she plays to WIN. I guess we will just have to wait a little longer before she shows us what she’s got.

Gregoria Mariska Tunjung

Gregoria is a thrilling talent with brilliant net skills; a lovely player to watch. She hasn’t been able to break into the top 10 in the world rankings so this often means she comes up against the big players early on in a tournament. She needs to acquire the ability to win; once she can do this she’ll lose her reputation for inconsistency. Gregoria had an exceptional game against Ratchanok in the recent World Championships – including 2 match points – but in the end was conquered by May over three games. Prediction: Semi Final

Michelle Li: Contender

At the start of August LI won her third Pan Am Games Gold medal and is a worthy #2 seed. It’s well-known that she has had an injury disrupted career – taking a chunk of time off in 2017 to recover from surgery – but she’s back now. Remember her victory over Tai Tzu Ying at the Japan Open 2019? That’s what makes me say: Finalist.

Beiwen ZHANG: Seeded 3

After a stop-start career spread over a few countries it looks like ZHANG is settled in the USA with a firm chance of Olympic qualification. Obviously the coaching resources and support available to her are nowhere near what she could’ve had in Singapore or China hence it’s a tribute to her talent and robustness that she is so successful. She’s a punchy attacker who loves to get hold of a game; once momentum is on her side she is difficult to stop. On her day she can overcome anyone and must fancy her chances in this tournament. Prediction: Semi Final.

AN Se Young: Young Gun

AN Se Young is such a raw exciting prospect – one of the new generation of women’s singles players. Her victory over Tai Tzu Ying in the Sudirman Cup this year was a huge shock. It’s apparent that she has learnt to win matches rather than merely playing well. As she no longer has to deal with Saina my prediction is finalist.

YEO Jia Min: Giant Killer

YEO’s confidence must be sky high at the moment but she’s drawn Michelle LI (seeded 2) in the first round and it’s a very tricky match for both players. She sensationally beat Akane Yamaguchi in the first round of the World Championships in August, this followed her triumph over AN Se Young in the final of the Hyderabad Open. No prediction!

Saina Nehwal: #1 Seed XXX WITHDRAWN XXX

She had a very unlucky – not to say controversial- loss at the recent World Championships to Mia Blichfeldt. I am very, very uneasy about her chances against AN Se Young in the first round. Saina is going to need all her experience and cunning. However if she conquers the Korean I reckon she is going to be a finalist.

Any Surprises?

Once a tournament begins it quickly becomes apparent who is on form & who is slightly off-colour. It’s not good enough to be a talented player; as one match quickly follows another the ability to grow into a competition and grasp victories is a key asset. The Korean player SUNG Ji Hyun is seeded 4 and must be in with a great chance. there is a large Korean contingent and KIM (Ga Eun) has got to be respected too. Scotland’s Kirsty Gilmour, the Thai player Jindapol and of course Indonesia’s Fitriani are all in with a shout but I think the opposition will be just too tough this time.

Can I Quickly Mention Polii & Rahayu?

Bronze Medalists at the World Champs

They come into this tournament as top seeds in the Women’s Doubles sector and I cannot see who will beat them. They played with courage and heart at the World Championships and deserved their place on the podium. WD is completely dominated by the exceptional Japanese pairs at but I really think these two are world class and who knows what surprises could be instore in the next few months

Conclusion

The first match can be a nerve wracking encounter for players as they have to get used to the arena’s conditions: drift, humidity & its effect upon the flight of the shuttle. Whoever adapts first and rides the momentum of the game gets a great advantage. Tunjung could be one to watch; there’s less fuss around her at the moment – the noise is for AN & YEO – so this is an opportunity for her to get a podium finish and try and climb the rankings. LI and ZHANG must have their eye on this title – it’s a cliché but who wants it most? All in all, a great week in prospect.


If you enjoyed this follow the link to my article about Saina

https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/05/14/saina-nehwal-indias-beloved-champion/

Or this one about AN Se Young https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/07/08/an-se-young-koreas-sensational-17-year-old/


©2019 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Featured

P V Sindhu: World Champion

Sindhu has always been regarded as a player for the big occasion and in Basel she unleashed her inner badminton beast to grab Gold. In the final she completely annihilated Nozomi Okuhara; it’s no exaggeration to describe her play as majestic.

A wonderful moment for Sindhu and all her fans.
Pic from BWF TV

All through the World Championships it has been a joy to watch this revitalised athlete demolish her rivals. Her style can be summed up in three words: pressure, pressure, PRESSURE. There was precision and panache to her shots. It was evident she was thinking clearly and following her plan to great effect. Momentum is so important in sport; her rivals were simply incapable of stopping her.

Sindhu in control.
Pic from BWF TV

Earlier this year the situation was very different. We were watching a player who had lost her mojo. The spark was missing; she was lacking in confidence and often was quite deflated. Her millions of fans around the world have high expectations so there was huge disappointment at a dreary performance at the Yonex All England, & then ‘only’ bronze at the Yonex-Sunrise India Open – her home tournament.

Recently performances have improved. July saw definite progress. The Blibli Indonesia Open – one of the best quality competitions on the tour – saw her clinch silver. She was beaten in the final but we saw a glimpse of the player on show at this World Championships. She was more assertive on court, and just seemed easier in herself.

Pic from BWF TV

I think we can point to the increasing influence of coach Kim Ji Hyun as one of the main reasons for her change. In a revealing interview with Dev Sukumar on the BWF website she said

“The way she plays, I feel it is not smart enough, I mean, at the top level, you have to be smart. It has to be a combination…your technique, and hitting and mentality. There are so many skills she has to work on, especially net skills and deception. Step by step. We’re working on skills and changing tactics.” Coach Kim

It’s clear now that we have been watching a player working hard to evolve her game. She has the reputation of a big smash – and of course that is true – but she has demonstrated a new level of skill in the World Championships. Against Nozomi the strategy was to try and push her back with some strong clears, this was supported by powerful smashing and, most importantly, great follow ups. There was such a positivity to her game, she was completely in control.

The players handshake at the end emphasizes their height difference.
Pic from BWF TV

Sindhu becomes the first player from India ever to win Gold at the World Championships. It was a brilliant achievement from a woman who has not been content to rest on the laurels of her Olympic success in Rio. We are, of course, in the qualifying year for Tokyo 2020. There’s no doubt that she is a very serious contender for the title there too; it’s going to be a very exciting year ahead.

“It was a very important win for me and I’m really very happy!” P V Sindhu

P V Sindhu – World Champion

Here is the link to my piece about YEO Jia Min who sensationally beat Akane Yamaguchi at the start of the tournament https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/08/23/yeo-jia-min-giant-killer-from-singapore/

If you would like to read Dev Sukumar’s article in full please click this link https://bwfworldchampionships.bwfbadminton.com/news-single/2019/08/14/life-lessons-from-coach-kim-ji-hyun

And here’s a link to my blog about Akane Yamaguchi https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/08/09/japans-akane-yamaguchi-hotter-than-july/

© 2019 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

YEO Jia Min: Giant Killer from Singapore

YEO Jia Min has burst onto the elite badminton scene with some outstanding performances at this World Championships. Her memorable win against a below par Akane Yamaguchi means that she is suddenly under a spotlight.

The games against Akane and then Vu have showcased a player who is stepping up to compete against top opposition. She plays with a great attitude; very calm and unhurried, so she allows herself to flourish even under pressure.

Pic from BWC TV

Her range of shots and lovely smooth movement around the court let her attack and dominate the rallies. She is able to go toe-to-toe with anyone to trade tumbling net shots and she has been likened to Tai Tzu Ying by Gill Clark. I think this is because of the flair she shows around the front and midcourt. Outrageous angles, confident smashes/kills, and a disguised sliced drop all form part of her armoury.

From BWF TV

Her badminton education has been wide ranging. Last year at age 19 she left home in Singapore and went to play in the Danish league. No doubt the high standards expected there helped hone the pitiless killer instinct we saw against Akane.

It’s interesting at this point to consider her coach – Mulyo Handoyo – and acknowledge the influence coaches from Indonesia have in the world of Badminton. He was once the coach of the legendary Taufik Hidayat, and who better to have in one’s corner than someone who has seen it all, who stays calm, & smiles encouragingly when shots don’t quite work out. It’s also noticeable that he often encourages her to an unofficial time-out face wipe after she’s won a tough rally.

“Her fighting spirit was high when she played against the top seed and tried to control the game by making clear decisions during the tie” Mulyo Handoyo

Although she lost in the quarter final to Ratchanok Intanon she can be very proud of what she has achieved during this World Championships. She’s at a crucial point in her career – essentially its ‘win or learn’. Of course she still makes mistakes, but her hard work has got her to a position now where she can play with the elite and be their equal. It’s going to be a very exciting year for YEO Jia Min.


Here’s the link to my blog about the new World Champion P V Sindhuhttps://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/08/25/p-v-sindhu-world-champion/

If you enjoyed this follow the link to my article about AN Se Young https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/07/08/an-se-young-koreas-sensational-17-year-old/

and this one that looks at TAI Tzu Ying https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/07/01/tai-tzu-ying-goddess-or-mortal/

© 2019 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Badminton World Championships Basel 2019: WS Preview

The Badminton World Championships start on August 19th so I’m taking a look at some of the main contenders for Women’s Singles gold.

Pic from Twitter

This discipline is full of talent – and unlike the men’s singles it’s not dominated by one person – so it will be an intriguing contest right from the beginning. All tournaments offer a rising intensity as players progress through the rounds: physical endurance can be sapped as well as the emotional drain of competition. The parity of ability amongst the top seeds means that being able to deal with tournament pressure will have a huge part to play. Who will relish the fight?

“…every player has a chance of being crowned champion.” Ratchanok

Nozomi Okuhara: Contender

From BWF TV

Nozomi’s been in the waiting room this year – she hasn’t enjoyed the same level of success as Akane and yet she is a fabulous player. Her tactics often mean she gets stuck in a war of attrition so I’d like to see a bit less patience and more drive to finish off a rally. I think her edge is blunted by predictability so it would be great to see her surprise her opponent (& us!) a bit more often. Prediction: Final.

Tai Tzu Ying: The Queen

Shutterstock

Tai Tzu Ying has never won the World Championships and goes into this competition as #2 seed. Because of her hints about retirement and her lack of big tournament form recently, fans have focused on this title with the sense that time is running out. I cannot pretend to be neutral about Tai Tzu Ying – the way she plays is brilliant and gives me so much pleasure – so I wish I felt more confident about this tournament. Her possible path to the final is tough and includes Sindhu who would relish a big battle. Prediction Semi Final.

Akane: World #1

From BWF TV

Akane’s triumph at the Indonesian Open quickly followed by success in the Japan Open – her home tournament – means that she enters the World Championships as #1. Since disappointment in the Sudirman Cup her game has become more aggressive with a willingness to push her rivals around. She can’t just win everything from now on though, can she? Prediction Semi Final.

Chen Yufei

Feifei is a very clever player with the might of the Chinese coaches behind her. I think she is good at rebalancing her game to beat whoever she faces. Often she traps ‘flair’ players into thinking they will conquer her by playing their natural game. She waits it out and then finishes them off; her natural strength means she can get through three draining games. It’s been said that her weakness is her inability to cope with her nerves but this seems to be eratic. Prediction: Final

P V Sindhu: fighter

(Xinhua/Zheng Huansong)

Sindhu is renowned as a big match player and this skill is a huge advantage in the top tournaments. By her own standards 2019 has been quite quiet but July saw her spring into life. It was great to see a refreshed player getting her game back. I love her style when she unleashes her inner badminton beast and dominates the court with her aggressive smashes and drives. I think that’s going to be the secret of success for her; when she’s confident and plays like that she can become unstoppable. She is seeded 5 and her path to success looks very tough: Zhang Beiwen in R16 and possibly TTY in the quarters. Prediction: QF owing to hard draw.

Saina Nehwal

2019 has seen Saina endure various injuries and this has obviously disrupted her training programme. Her half of the draw is no picnic & includes players like Chen Yufei and P V Sindhu. She always has the desire to win and heaps of experience but realistically I can’t see her progressing beyond QF. That’s not necessarily a bad performance in the context of her year so far. I see this competition as her opportunity to continue to work on her match fitness and focus on her aim to get to Tokyo 2020. Prediction QF

Ratchanok Intanon

“… women’s singles is so competitive that on any given day whoever can control herself and play her style of game will be the champion.” Ratchanok

May lost out in the Thailand Open Final to Chen Yufei but she played very well in that match. CYF won because she played with patience and endurance – often in rallies she was content to simply keep sending the shuttle back. Towards the end May did slightly alter her approach but by that point it was too late. It’s been noticeable that since then she has been posting plenty of evidence on IG of her hard work in the gym so perhaps this means she’s preparing her body for longer games with less reliance upon a dazzling winner and more focus on turning the screw. Prediction Semi Final

Any Surprises?

Funny things can happen in knock-out tournaments; sometimes athletes really fly through their games and suddenly find themselves in a quarter final. The Indonesian players -Fitriani & Tunjung – are both talented but frustratingly inconsistent. Their homeland can have high hopes of medals from others but it would be a welcome shock if honours came from WS.

Michelle Li from Canada can push anyone on her day and often gets good results but realistically I don’t think she would trouble Chen Yufei (assuming she gets past Saina).

Chochuwong had a great run in the Thailand Open but again her draw is tricky. Lastly He Be Jiao is seeded 6 so has to be taken seriously as a possible semi-finalist.

So, in conclusion…

That gold medal, that title, the culmination of years of work, is realistically within the reach of about eight of the players. It’s going to take an immense effort – physically and emotionally – to clinch the prize. I also think it requires someone to play with inspiration and joy; there is more to winning this than mere sweat and toil.

© 2019 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Lauren Smith: Doubles For Britain.

Lauren Smith has become one of the best doubles players in Europe this year. With Tokyo 2020 getting closer and closer, the possibility of representing Great Britain in the Olympics is very real.

The interesting question is: will she get there and be in Women’s Doubles with Chloe Birch, Mixed Doubles with Marcus Ellis or both?

Pic from BWF TV

There’s no doubt she has the hunger and temperament to compete with the best and 2019 has seen her play take on more consistency – especially in Women’s Doubles. The partnership with Chloe Birch is an interesting one. Birch also plays singles, and has observed in the past that experience in this discipline enhances her doubles play. I think she’s right: having a partner who is used to covering the whole court and battling through long rallies must be an advantage.

They have earned some great results together this year. Who can forget the crucial win in the Sudirman Cup against Denmark’s Fruergaard & Thygesen? It was the last match in the tie with the scores drawn at 2-2. The highlights clip below doesn’t really do justice to the determination and intensity that Birch & Smith brought to the court. It was an exhilarating game to watch because they played with courage and character to challenge the Danes.

Video by kind permission of BWF

It went to three games but it ended in victory for the Brits: 21-12, 19-21, 21.-11. That was probably their highest profile success this year but prior to that they had won the Super 100 Orleans Masters and the Azerbaijan International. After that they went to the European Games in Minsk and beat the Danish pair again, on their way to clinching silver.

Pic from Badminton England twitter

Her mixed doubles partnership with Marcus Ellis is also flourishing. Most recently they came away with the European Games XD Gold after beating the Adcocks (#1 seeds) in the final at the Falcon Club. That reversed the previous year’s result in the Commonwealth Games when they got silver.

Ellis gives a vast experience to the pair – Bronze with Langridge in Rio is a favourite – but the success is not based on past glory; it’s more to do with the willingness to commit to hard work, unglamourous travel, and coherent development. Just as in WD, Smith is happy to take responsibility at the net, she executes good kills and is not intimidated by the opposition. She can always be relied on to battle even if the match isn’t going her way. Fast reactions, a good defence, nerve and great stamina all add to her arsenal. She also has an oddly unsettling racket position when she serves low; it’s very difficult to see what she is about to do.

She is strategically nimble in both disciplines, good at rotating pressure and not letting herself be a victim of a rivals attempts to bully. She has mentioned before that she’s inquisitive and likes to see how other elite athletes train, so I think this is a very positive aspect of her attitude.

There’s more opportunities for success in XD. Part of Smith’s strength is her personal attitude: when she’s playing she is aggressive and decisive. A typical comment from her on twitter after reaching the QF with Ellis in the Indonesian Open was:

“…found the conditions pretty tricky so it wasn’t the prettiest game! But as always really happy with our fight in the tough moments!”

She has been successful all through her career with various partners and now the focus is with her to drive on to the next stage to explore what she can achieve next.


If you enjoyed this follow the link to take a look at my blog about Tai Tzu Ying – one of the world’s most adored athletes https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/07/01/tai-tzu-ying-goddess-or-mortal/

And this one about the current World #1 in Women’s Singles: Akane Yamaguchi https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/08/09/japans-akane-yamaguchi-hotter-than-july/

©2019 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi: Hotter Than July

Wow! Akane – what a July!

As we enter the second half of 2019 Akane Yamaguchi is at the top of the world rankings. First she won the Indonesian Open – arguably the best tournament in the world – and then followed it up a week later by triumphing in her home tournament: The Japan Open.

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?

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.

Akane and VERY BIG SMILES. This tweet was from the Akane Yamaguchi Fanbase (@AYamaguchiFans).

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

Indian Badminton Needs A Fresh Impetus As Stars Continue To Falter

By G Rajaraman.

PV Sindhu enjoyed a good run to the women’s singles final of the Indonesian Open Super Series in Jakarta, but was found wanting when facing Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi across the net in the title clash. It was not her physical prowess that was tested, but her ability to think on her feet. We saw that last year as well in the Asian Games women’s singles final, where Sindhu was up against Tai Tzu-Ying of Chinese Taipei.

Such repeated tactical failures, not to mention the lack of success on the BWF World Tour lead to questions about whether those coaching the elite players have explored all possibilities in helping them realise their potential.

In any other sport the chief coach would have been held responsible. Pullela Gopichand, who took over the reins as National Coach from Vimal Kumar back in 2006 and has ploughed a lonely furrow by and large, has delivered some heartening results in the past. But that should not be a reason for the Badminton Association of India to gloss over recent results.There is no point lamenting the unexplained departure of Indonesian Mulyo Handoyo in early 2018. Nor will much be served by pointing fingers at the conspicuous absence of a team of coaches working to ensure that the assembly line would not lose shape and form. It is perhaps more important to see what can be done to remedy the situation.

India’s badminton gained momentum when Saina Nehwal won the Olympic games bronze medal in London 2012 and Sindhu topped it with a silver medal in Rio four years later. Yet, the high of 2017 when Srikanth won a clutch of four Super Series titles has receded as a distant memory now in the following 18 months. Indeed, the slide has been quite palpable: if we consider winning an international title as a benchmark, the drought is stark.

Credit: Veri Sanovri/Xinhua/Alamy Live News

Last year, Sameer Verma won the men’s honours in two Super 300 events – while PV Sindhu claimed the women’s singles crown in the World Tour Finals in Shanghai. And this year, Saina Nehwal won the Indonesian Masters, a Super 500 event. To be sure, Sourabh Verma won two Super 100 titles while Sameer Verma and Subhankar Dey picked up one each last year. It is significant that there have been no winners even in Super 100 tournaments this year. As for doubles competition, suffice to say that the story has been bleaker than in singles.

Sameer Verma winning a Super 300 title – The Syed Modi International – last year. Video by permission of the BWF

The BAI’s junior programme has not inspired confidence that the success of a handful of elite players at global level over the past few years can be replicated in the immediate future. A huge part of the reason is the inadequate exposure provided to most of the juniors.

Lakshya Sen and Kartikey Gulshan Kumar are ranked in the top five in the men’s section while Jakka Vaishnavi Reddy and Aakarshi Kashyap are in the top 10 in the women’s section, but it would be a good wager that they have paid their own way (or got their own sponsors) for most tournaments.

Of course, some good news surfaces in a sporadic manner, the most recent being left-handed Malvika Bandod defeating top-seeded Phittayaporn Chaiwan 21-18, 21-19 in the WS second round of the Badminton Asia Junior Championships in Suzhou, China. If the right support is extended to the deserving, some of them may go on to be good flag-bearers for Indian badminton.

Word has it that the Sports Secretary – Radheysham Julaniya – has indicated to the BAI to come up with a dynamic plan to help the juniors sharpen their competitive skills. The reported decision to not fund trips to all international events for the senior lot can come as a wake-up call against stagnation.

For a sport that has caught the fancy of youngsters, it would be a pity if badminton were not to capitalise on its popularity. While many a discipline is struggling to create a mass base in the country, this sport has ignored the need to create rungs between the base and the elite level. It is never too late to do some course correction so that the legacy is not lost.

The BAI is not short of cash. According to data in the public domain it earned no less than Rs 11.62 crore from broadcast rights & Rs 9.57 from sponsorship in 2016-17. The powers that be must identify a team of committed coaches across the nation to handle the junior programme but with a chief coach for juniors who can help with a roadmap for the transition. It must take the most talented juniors under its wings, providing them with the righ environment in training and support to compete so they can move to the next level.

Resting on their oars has never helped anyone progress. The time for BAI to realise this is fast slipping away. Yes, Indian badminton needs to get off the treadmill that it has found itself on and get going. Sooner than later if it wants to stay relevant on the global stage and not cede its position in the popularity stakes in India to other disciplines of sport.


A longer version of this article was published by The Quint in July 2019 https://www.thequint.com/


If you enjoyed this please follow the link to the blog about P V Sindu https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/03/25/p-v-sindhu-indias-superstar/ and this one about Saina Nehwal https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/05/14/saina-nehwal-indias-beloved-champion/

Has Indonesian Badminton Stagnated?

By Shubhi Rofiddinsa (Podcast Tepak Bulu)

After a disappointing semi-final exit against Japan in this years Sudirman Cup – losing 3-1 – many fans and experts heavily criticised the 20-player squad and questioned if they would ever repeat the win of 1989 and bring the cup home again. The fact that Indonesia hasn’t won any major team-tournament events since the 2002 Thomas Cup and 1996 Uber Cup makes the loss hurt a little more. Many regarded the Singles players contribution as disappointing as the team relied solely on doubles to rake up points.

Sudirman Cup 2019 team. Picture from Badminton Indonesia IG

The biggest question of them all is: has Indonesian badminton become stagnant recently? To answer that, let’s take a look at each disciplines’ progress so far this year before we set our eyes on the upcoming Indonesian Open 2019 in a few days.

Men’s Doubles

Who can Indonesian fans rely on to win games or tournaments? It’s always men’s doubles. The Minions – otherwise known as Marcus Fernaldi Gideon & Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo – are instantly recognised everywhere. They won all their matches in this year’s Sudirman Cup and their stature rises after each tournament.

The combination of attractive playing style and off-court demeanour add to the entertainment value of the game itself, making it more interesting to watch. Although the world number ones haven’t won as many titles as they did last year, their game is evolving: they are playing less explosively and being more patient in attack.

Meanwhile, Mohammad Ahsan/Hendra Setiawan are back on top again after their split in 2017 and have had a great first-half of the year so far: getting to four finals and winning two of them, All England and New Zealand Open .

Recovering from a game down Ahsan/Setiawan powered their way to the All England title.
Video courtesy BWF

Fajar Alfian/Muhammad Rian Ardianto is also a pair to watch this year winning the Swiss Open and silver at the Asian Games.


Women’s Doubles

from bwf tv

Another discipline that can be counted on when it comes to consistent success in every tournament is Women’s Doubles. Nevertheless Greysia Polii/Apriyani Rahayu is the only Indonesian pair in the top 10 with no-one obvious waiting in the wings to join them there. They won all their matches in the Sudirman Cup until eventually succumbing to the Japanese powerhouse Mayu Matsumoto/Wakana Nagahara – the world number ones – in the semi final.

Polii will be 32 years old this year and questions have popped up about her successors. Names that have been mentioned are Ni Ketut Mahadewi Istarani, Rizki Amelia Pradipta, Della Destiara Harris, Agatha Imanuela and Siti Fadia Silva Ramadhanti. Indonesia’s head coach for women’s doubles, Eng Hian, said

“Maybe after the Olympic Games. 2021 maybe, finishing her contract with the sponsors first. After that, she might have thought about her next step (on what she wants to do). Be it a professional player or else”

This is a tricky area to regenerate. Finding a pair as successful as Polii/Rahayu, Polii/Maheswari or even Natsir/Marissa will be tough. It is the only sector that has not won an Olympic gold medal since Badminton’s inception in the games back in Barcelona 1992.


Mixed Doubles

The search continues for the ‘next’ Liliyana Natsir – one of the greatest of all time – after she retired from the badminton world earlier this year. Suprisingly, not many pairs from juniors are now competing at elite level. Although there has been good progress so far – by creating a competitive environment between the four main pairs – they always come up short in their finals.

Praveen Jordan/Melati Daeva Oktavianti have lost three finals so far this year: one in India, one in New Zealand, and another in Australia. The match that fans will always remember though is the semi final heartbreak at this year’s All England against the superior Zheng Siwei/Huang Yaqiong where they led 20-17 in the second set after winning the first one and ended up losing the match.

Meanwhile, Hafiz Faizal/Gloria Emmanuelle Widjaja haven’t been in top form. They lost their match against Denmark in the Sudirman Cup, they got to the final of the German Open but lost that too and are generally struggling to make much headway beyond quarter & semi finals. The newest pair – Tontowi Ahmad/Winny Oktavina Kandow have so far made good progress by contesting five quarter finals in six months. Ahmad is expected to be a good mentor for the 20-year-old youngster and the pair is fighting for the Olympic Games spot.

The 2017 World Junior Championship winners, Rinov Rivaldy/Pitha Haningtyas, seek to rise to the occasion as the elite pair for Indonesia in the coming years. Although they must be carefully observed and developed by their coaches if we want to see more of them in the future.


Men’s Singles

This is where it gets tricky because performances fluctuate. 2016 was the first time Indonesia could pin their hopes onto three youngsters to represent the nation.

Antony Sinisuka Ginting, Jonatan Christie and Ihsan Maulana Mustofa were in the Thomas Cup squad that year and the team finished runners-up after defeat by Denmark, the first European country to win the prestigious trophy. The first two players mentioned above have won three titles each and their form continues to improve with next year’s Olympics on the horizon. It seems that Ginting and Christie are the only players Indonesia can rely on to win titles but they often run up against the relentless Momota and don’t yet seem to have worked out how to beat him.

It’s going to be interesting to see how far Indonesia advances in the Thomas Cup next year.


Women’s Singles

No Superseries titles have been won by Indonesian women since its inception in 2009. Gregoria Mariska Tunjung and Fitriani frequently underachieve, although Fitriani did win the Thailand Masters back in January. It’s a realistic possibility that only one player will qualify for Tokyo 2020. Women’s Singles still has a lot of catching up to do to improve their competitiveness and succeed at the highest level. This is thrown into relief by the recent success of the South Korean player AN Se Young – if she has been coached to take on and beat the established top 20 players then why not the Indonesian women?

Re-live Fitriani’s maiden title in 2019 at Thailand Masters.
Video courtesy BWF

If this all seems rather folorn there is some positive news. With his success at producing great players like Nozomi Okuhara and Akane Yamaguchi, Reony Mainaky’s return home from Japan after his eight-year stint as a coach for their national team, will restore the public’s faith in the ambition of this team.


Conclusion

Men’s doubles will be the front-runner to grab the Gold medal in this year’s world championships in Basel, and also at the Olympics next year. Meanwhile other players performances can lack consistently good results.

In the end, Indonesia remains as one of the powerhouses in World Badminton; but languishing in the top five is not good enough for a nation with such a successful past and a fan base with the highest hopes. The stagnation can actually be seen from the over-dependency on certain disciplnes, especially doubles and this obviously hinders the ambition to win team championship titles.

Reony Mainaky’s return is a sign of intent but this is a mark of work in progress not ‘job done’. For these players to fulfil everyone’s expectations and realise their immense potential there needs to be a new approach that refuses to accept that what they are achieving on the world stage at the moment is the maximum possible rather it’s the start of something wonderful.


The author of this article – Shubhi Rofiddinsa – also broadcasts about badminton as the wonderful Podcast Tepak Bulu. Here’s a link to one of his episodes where he talks with Badminton Becky https://t.co/9YlAzrVhey?amp=1

You may also enjoy this piece about two of my favourite players: Polii & Rahayu https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/04/12/a-thriving-partnership-indonesias-polii-and-rahayu/

And this piece about Liliyana Natsir written by Dev Sukumar on the BWF website https://bwfworldchampionships.bwfbadminton.com/news-single/2019/08/08/winny-will-need-support-liliyana-natsir/