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Badminton at The 2022 Commonwealth Games

This is always a lively tournament despite -or perhaps because- some of the big guns from the badminton world are missing. Like the Olympics it’s only held every four years and there’s an exquisite pressure when national prestige is added into the mix.

Some performances really stand out. India’s haul of 3 Golds was exceptional. Sindhu, Sen and Rankireddy/Shetty ruled finals day with a self-belief and swagger that was unstoppable. These athletes have delivered gold when the weight of expectation was heaviest.

In the singles competition there was an opportunity for a Golden Indian double. First up PV Sindhu faced Canadian Michelle Li. Sindhu is a renowned big game player with notable successes in all the blue riband competitions and she arrived on court prepared to unleash her power game. She was uncontainable and dispatched LI in two sets. In the Men’s Singles Lakshya Sen was the hot favourite for the title and he came from behind in his debut Commonwealth Games to beat Ng.

PV Sindhu with GOLD.
Screenshot courtesy BBC

In Mixed Doubles the Singaporean couple Terry HEE and Jessica TAN got the first Gold of the day in two sets. Their attack and intensity gave them a momentum that Ellis & Smith failed to disrupt. In the Men’s Doubles, Lane and Vendy couldn’t live with the quality of Satwik/Chirag and went down in straight sets. Lastly, in the Women’s Doubles, Pearly TAN and Thinaah Muralitharan demolished the English opposition and will be bringing Gold medals home to Malaysia. England had finalists in all three doubles competitions but they had to settle for Silver in each match.

Team Competition

Malaysia’s Gold in the team championship was a great example of an inspired group of players who ignored their critics and seized their moment. Many predicted struggles owing to the absence of LEE Zii Jia however with NG Tze Yong amassing confidence with each success they rode their momentum right to the top of the podium. It was a well deserved Gold. India fought hard and were rewarded with Silver, the Bronze to Singapore. For the first time ever, England failed to win a team event medal.

It’s been an enjoyable tournament with lots of good quality play but not many surprises. However, representing Malaysia, NG Tze Yong has shown incredible grit and nerve since the beginning of the team tournament and he can be proud of his achievements over the past two weeks. Lauren Smith, in getting to two finals, has fed off the home crowd and blended their support with a focus on the prize. I’m fascinated to see how successes and failures in Birmingham fuel performances in the upcoming World Championships.


©2022 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

 

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TAI Tzu Ying: The Comeback Queen

Dr Tai prescribed happiness for her millions of fans with this magnificent victory to reach the final of the Indonesia Open. Badminton Lovers enjoyed the exquisite pain of watching the Queen dead and buried only to witness an astonishing fightback and eventual triumph.

TTY’s reaction to the net fault. Screengrab courtesy Sept & BWF

The first set was absolute carnage. CHEN Yu Fei assembled quick bursts of points and dominated without doing anything dramatic. She is particularly good at screwing down the pressure on opponents in these situations. Fate was working against TAI Tzu Ying as well. The umpire called a doubtful fault for touching the net at 0-3. TTY was incredulous but summoned up a Polii moment, smiled then turned away. It was looking bad and a spiral down to defeat beckoned. Before we knew it the first set was gone 10-21.

The second set was breathtaking. 0-3 down and the match was slipping away. But TTY refused to concede any easy points; she upped her pace and fought for every scrap. The Istora Senayan pulsed with excitement as the lead switched between the two players. It was unbearably stressful to watch as TTY faced down five match points, eventually closing out the set 26-24 to force a decider.

After such an extraordinary battle the third set was tranquil in comparison; TAI Tzu Ying easing through 21-12. Fans crave days like these. She is a once-in-a-generation competitor, her resilience and spirit in the second set to pull off a hair-raising escape was spectacular. Tomorrow is another day. The final and a chance to win her third Indonesia Open. Go TAI!


©2022 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Greysia Polii

Greysia’s farewell party is at Istora on the last day of the Indonesia Masters – the rumours are true; she is finally hanging up her racket. It is a chance for Indonesian badminton fans to celebrate her successes and for her to put an official full stop to a wonderful career.

“I was born to be a badminton player…I wanted to make history for Indonesia”

Greysia Polii
Apriyani Rahayu and Greysia Polii of Indonesia react after winning their match against Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan of China. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

GreyAp’s Gold medal match at the Olympics was dazzling; they played their best game at the perfect moment and wrote themselves into Indonesian badminton legend.

2021 was the Golden Year but there have been countless twists and turns in a lifetime of badminton achievements. There have been critical moments along the way when she could have given up the sport and found a conventional job. The thing about Greysia is that she really does live the motto #Comebackstronger: she is brave and resilient. If she gets knocked down, she just gets back up again, greets the hard tests with a smile and continues the fight

It must have been tempting to walk away from the sport following her harsh treatment at London 2012. The black card was a shocking sanction especially with a suspension on top, but she endured this and then rekindled her career with Nitya Krishinda Maheswari.

Between 2013-2016 the duo stepped up a level and proved that Indonesia’s  WD had the quality to compete against the best. Their 2014 Asian Games gold was evidence they relished testing themselves against the world’s finest pairs. Over the next 2 years they consistently reached finals and semis; as the Rio Olympics loomed, they were ranked 2 in the world with every hope of a medal. Disappointingly their 100% record in the group stages was shattered in the QF, and they returned home empty handed.

Nitya’s injuries meant her career was at an end so for a second time Greysia contemplated her own exit. It was a pivotal moment; her 30th birthday was on the horizon, and there was no obvious partner for her to continue with. At this point fate took a hand in the form of Eng Hian who persuaded her to defer retirement so that she could help to mentor some of the juniors. In 2017 along came a young, raw Apriyani Rahayu. Success together came quickly (2017 Thailand Open and 2017 French Open) but it was a sector full of high caliber pairs and they were never able to totally dominate , after a couple of years some analysts believed they were reaching the limit of what they could achieve together.

History tells us that the analysts were wrong and they completely underestimated Greysia Polii’s fighting spirit and commitment to her sport. She is an athlete who is strong and smart and will always be remembered as Indonesia’s first WD Olympic Gold medalist. I still cry when I watch the end of that match, don’t you? Thanks for everything Greysia and Happy Retirement.


If you enjoyed this then read my article about the Olympic campaign https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/08/12/brilliant-polii-and-rahayu-win-olympic-gold/ or watch the match on YouTube


©2022 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Uber Cup 2022 Preview

A spectacular lineup of the top women players will be contesting the Uber Cup in Thailand. There are mouthwatering head-to-heads promised as 16 teams chase their dream of winning the Uber Cup. Can anyone stop China from keeping hold of the trophy for another 2 years?

Just like the Thomas Cup this tournament begins with a Round Robin. The top 2 from each pool of four then progress to the Death or Glory knockouts.

Group A: Japan, Indonesia, France, Germany.

Akane’s regeneration since the Olympics has been dazzling; now she has rediscovered her joy at simply playing badminton and with this squad I would expect the Japanese team to dominate all their encounters in group A. Once they get past this stage though, they will be tested. A fully fit Nozomi is one of the best players in the world but lately there are question marks around her recovery from recent injuries. In doubles FukuHiro are back and should be able to hold their own along with NagaMatsu. The athlete who potentially can provide the special ‘something’ for this team is Misaki Matsutomo. Currently with the team as a refugee from XD, her touch and vision could make the difference when the pressure is on. I still feel a gnawing regret that she is no longer full-time in the WD sector. As she has made the trip to Bangkok the implication is that she will be part of a scratch pair.

The puzzle in this group is who will come second. Indonesia has sent some of its lesser known players who are unlikely to go further. Germany’s players had an excellent European Championship, so this points to progress to the quarter finals ahead of France.

Group B: China, Taiwan, Spain, Australia.

This group holds the possibility of some fabulous ties. WANG Zhi Yi could be seen as China’s WS3 but her recent triumph over Akane in the singles final at the Badminton Asia Championships has highlighted what a talented player she can be. Along with new-look HE Bing Jiao, CHEN YuFei and in WD CHEN Qing Chen/JIA Yi Fan China’s athletes must be optimistic that they will be unbeaten through the entire tournament.

The battle for second place must be between Taiwan and Spain – both teams with an iconic singles player at their head. Carolina is back after her second major injury layoff and although she won the title at the European Championships she is 20% off her best. That still means she is an exceptional player, but she needs games to fine tune her net play and to eliminate mistakes. Rumours are swirling around that she wont be playing at all; she’s sitting out the first tie against Taiwan so after that we’ll have to wait and see. TAI Tzu Ying should be able to lead Taiwan to second place but the heavy-lifting of progress is going to come down to the desire and tactics of teammates of both superstars.

Group C: Thailand, Denmark, Malaysia, Egypt.

Thailand are in a tough group but if they can win it they must fancy their chances of a semi-final or better. In WS May and Mew along with Busanan are capable of great wins; in WD Prajongjai/Kitithatakul will face tough games against Denmark and Malaysia and these results could be crucial to their progress. I wish Popor was part of their squad.

It’s hard to write off Malaysia against Denmark for second spot. The Danes have the edge in singles, but doubles is more even. Analysts are favouring the Europeans, but Malaysia has talent; if they get their winning momentum then they could get through.

Group D: Korea, Canada, India, USA.

Korea must be strong favourites with their foundation of exceptional WD blended with AN Se Young in singles. None of the other 3 in this group will be able to equal them so once again the debate will be around who can come second. I’m hesitant about the Indian team; some of the selection decisions were controversial and it’s arguable that they have subsequently had no luck regarding injuries. Of course, PV Sindhu is one of the best singles players in the world, but she cannot win the trophy singlehanded. It’s so disappointing that the duo of Treesa Jolly & Gayatri Gopichand Pullela who were brilliant at the All England this year have had to withdraw. Canada’s team can challenge because they have a balance of good quality singles and doubles, and perhaps a bit more depth.

Conclusions

China must be confident that they can defend this trophy as they just ooze all-round quality. However, sport can be unpredictable and the Japanese team could upset Chinese hopes so long as they are all playing to their maximum. There’s so much to look forward to in this tournament including Group B H2H between TAI Tzu Ying and CHEN YuFei, Misaki guest-starring in Women’s Doubles, and – as usual – Nozomi cheerleading from the sidelines with the rest of BirdJapan by her side. It’s going to be great!


If you enjoyed this then take a look at my Thomas Cup preview here https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2022/05/05/thomas-cup-2022-preview/ or my recent article about TAI Tzu Ying here https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2022/03/02/tai-tzu-ying-at-the-all-england/

Images courtesy BWF and Alamy.


©2022 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Featured

Thomas Cup 2022 Preview

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

Image courtesy BWF

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

Group A: Indonesia, Korea, Thailand, Singapore.

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

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

Group B: Denmark, China, France, Algeria.

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

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

Group C: India, Taiwan, Germany, Canada

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

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

Group D: Japan, Malaysia, England, USA

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

Conclusions

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


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


©2022 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Yonex All England 2022: Men’s Preview

It is 2022 and all our favourites have returned to Birmingham to chase a place on the podium. There are unanswered questions from last year’s competition in both sectors and I am expecting to see plenty of athletes playing with a point to prove.

The Dads winning on 3 legs in 2019.
Credit: PATRICK ANTHONISZ/Alamy Live News

Men’s Doubles

The #1 seeds and crowd favourites will be trying to capture an elusive third title. Kevin Sukamuljo and Marcus Gideon create a thrilling aura of stardust together and must feel eager to get back on court to express themselves. Kevin’s brilliant inventiveness belongs on the grandest stages at the biggest moments. They should be wary of their first match as they haven’t played competitively since Bali. Originally they were listed in R1 to meet CHOI/SEO though it seems that the Korean’s may’ve withdrawn.

If the seedings unwind as expected, they will clash with the fifth seeds Rankireddy/Shetty in what should be fierce quarter final. I love the Indian’s willingness to attack but of course in a tie against the Minions they risk having their intensity turned against them. It will be fascinating to discover which pair prevails in an arena that traditionally offers slowish conditions.

The current World Champions Hoki/Kobayashi have seized their opportunities and really grown into their role as Japan’s top pair. Their control of the game under pressure, their bravery and shuttle placement will give them an advantage in Birmingham. As third seeds they could face Gideon/Sukamuljo in the semi-final which has the potential to be a Battle Royale.

At the opposite end of the draw the second seeds Hendra Setiawan and Mohammad Ahsan will be aiming to face their compatriots in the final. There are not enough superlatives in my thesaurus to describe these two. Their touch and teamwork are outstanding, but their badminton intelligence is what sets them apart from many of their rivals. The traps they set are subtle, their anticipation is exceptional and their hearts are big.

The strength in depth of the Indonesian MDs is astonishing. There are 6 pairs travelling to Birmingham. Alfian/Ardianto (seeded 6) will play Carnando/Marthin in R1 but whoever prevails in this tie has a tough route to finals weekend. The Malaysian team has brough 5 pairs: the most dangerous are the beaten finalists from a few years ago Aaron CHIA & SOH Wooi Yik. They won Bronze at the Tokyo Olympics and have made no secret of their desire for Gold in Paris 2024. They are a well balanced combination of speedy reflexes, athleticism and desire; they could be podium bound. GOH Sze Fei & Nur IZZUDDIN will be buzzing after their victory at the German Open but as unseeded players they have hard games lined up.

There are plenty of other pairs who could flourish. China always challenges hard; their players are so well-drilled in fundamental badminton skills that new ‘unknown’ combinations alway have the potential to prosper. The main Danish challenge will spring from the seventh seeds Astrup/Rasmussen, France has sent the Popov brothers, and the home audience will be hoping that Lane/Vendy can make things awkward in the top half of the draw.

Men’s Singles

Viktor Axelsen’s band of brothers – the athletes who have worked with him in Dubai away from their national setups – have been dominating men’s singles results recently. The Olympic Champion has been in the form of his life since the bold move to warm-weather training. Viktor has so many strengths but his competitive advantage stems from his emotional maturity. He has understood that the time is now. So, the question is: who can stop him winning back the title?

Anders Antonsen is seeded 3 and has to be aiming for the podium. He has an intriguing R1 tie against current World Champion and member of the Dubai Gang LOH Kean Yew.  If he gets past this hurdle, he may have to face Lakshya Sen another player who has enjoyed an improvement since training in Dubai. Next up, Lee Zii Jia in the SF for a chance against the King of Dubai himself: Viktor Axelsen There have been stamina issues in the past and I often catch myself wondering if he has hip problems when I look at his gait.  Behind all the messing around with peripherals like blogging he must be wondering what be achievable if he too was to start training in the gulf.

Another Dubai participant is the defending champion LEE Zii Jia. His challenge in Muelheim for that title fizzled out in the SF against Kunlavut Vitidsarn. The recent row with BAM about his professional status cannot have helped his preparation for Europe but he has to bring a more zesty attack to Birmingham. Anything less than a semi-final appearance will be a shock.

Kento Momota is seeded 2 but this does not tell the whole story of his circumstances. The car accident in Malaysia shifted his internal axis somehow .He has not regained his surgical precision or his focus. His is still an exceptionally talented player but he is beatable. Vittinghus must be looking at this match with a gleam in his eye. Momota can expect to be asked the tough questions every step of the way in Birmingham.

Aside from these players we have to look at the unseeded Lakshya Sen who has refocused and matured since working with Axelsen. In January he beat LOH Kean Yew to win the S500 India Open then, at the German Open, he stunned VA to get to the final. He had looked dead and buried at 15-19 down in the last set but his grit and tenacity are great weapons when they are blended with his reliable defence and willingness to rally. Thailand’s Kunlavut Vitidsarn was the eventual winner in Germany. Both of these players could disrupt a senior seed’s progress.

It didn’t look as though Jonathan Christie would be able to participate owing to his positive test last week. But he has travelled to the UK so perhaps he will be OK. As far as Anthony Ginting is concerned – because he is Jojo’s roommate – we are waiting to see the official confirmation if he is cleared to play or not. It will be a pity if he misses the chance to make a mark at the All England. In the past it has never seemed as though he has been able to impose himself on the tournament. It’s been a while since we’ve enjoyed a good MomoGi.

Conclusions?

The influence of Viktor Axelsen and his Dubai training camps has tilted the balance of power in Men’s Singles since the Olympics. That group of athletes will probably supply the eventual winner in Birmingham and that will give other players and coaches a lot to consider. Men’s Doubles is harder to call, although this may be an occasion for Kevin and Marcus to reassert their dominance of the title. Unfortunately, the situation is quite volatile regarding the impact of Covid upon athletes participation; it’s hard to imagine that these championships will avoid positive tests so let’s enjoy matches when we can and hope that everyone stays healthy.


If you enjoyed this take a look at my most recent article about Kevin and Marcus https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2022/03/05/kevin-marcus-at-the-all-england/


©2022 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Kevin & Marcus at the All England

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

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

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

2017 Semi-Final v Conrad-Petersen/Kolding

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

2017 Final v v LI Junhui & LIU Yuchen

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

2018 Final v Mathias Boe/Carsten Mogensen

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

Conclusion

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

One of my favourite finals ever!

©2022 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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TAI Tzu Ying: 200 Breathtaking Weeks as World #1

TAI Tzu Ying’s sensational reign as World #1 has hit the 200-week milestone this month. She is the sport’s MVP, the athlete who bewitches neutrals and is the embodiment of badminton at its best.

TAI Tzu Ying by Abdul Razak Latif/Shutterstock

She is unique, spontaneity and deception are deep-rooted in her game’s DNA. Tzu Ying has rewritten the algebra of the shuttle’s flight, and this is core to her resilience at the sport’s heights. Her audacious style has never been squashed by the need to play percentages.

The finest players are always able to find a few beats of extra time when they are under pressure. TTY excels in this part of a game. Her unscripted approach and technical excellence gives her an advantage that most opponents fail to neutralize over the passage of a match – so long as she keeps her patience. An impulsive player’s shots are hard to anticipate, and this gives a crucial edge on court.

Women’s Singles overflows with talented players and it is fascinating to recognize that no single style prevails. But…sometimes I think that some shots have been invented for the use of one particular player. TAI Tzu Ying’s Reverse Slice Straight Drop is a beautiful thing that should live in the Badminton Hall of Fame. It’s a Get out of Jail shot: when she’s in a tight corner with no way out it can offer an escape route.

A reliable measure of greatness in any sport is longevity at #1. The challenge is to keep possession of the top spot once it is secured. It is an extraordinary accomplishment to dominate the top ten since December 2016. This is a similar level to Serena Williams or Roger Federer’s success in tennis. An uptick in pressure on the person at the top always happens because opponents have an extra incentive to triumph. Early rounds of tournaments against unseeded players can suddenly acquire a new tension.

Her kaleidoscopic talent for incredible shots is only part of the story. TTY’s resilience was forged early in her career – perhaps it was something that always existed within her anyway? She is part of an incredibly supportive family unit and she also has a wonderful coaching team around her. An elite athlete’s life is tough so it is impossible to overstate how important these people are to her success.

TAI Tzu Ying is a phenomenon whose imagination and vision have kept her at the peak of Badminton for a long time. I can’t wait to see her on court again soon.


If you enjoyed this then take a look at one of my most popular articles about TTY https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/02/25/team-tai-tzu-ying/


©2022 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Players of the Year 2021

It has been an extraordinary 12 months: alternating between feast and famine as the players enter bubbles for intense periods of competition and then exit to recover. These are my biased, sentimental, affectionate awards for 2021.

Screenshots courtesy BWF and Popor Instagram

Player of the Year: TAI Tzu Ying

In 2021 we have watched this impulsive free spirit confirm her reputation among the greats of the world game. Outstanding technical skills and creative genius often elevate her shots to works of art. A key target this year has been to step up her performance at the Olympics and World Championships so winning Silver at both is a significant improvement. She has stayed fresh and relatively injury free by focusing on only a few tournaments and she has been ever-present in the finals. The good news is that we can expect to see her on court in 2022 as the threat of retirement seems to have been put on hold for the time being.

Runners Up: CHEN Yufei for her error-free capture of Olympic Gold and Akane Yamaguchi who has been indefatigable and a worthy World Champion.

Best Competitor: Greysia Polii

The breathtaking Gold in Tokyo was a sensational, momentous achievement. Of course, Apriyani Rahayu had a significant role in the victory, but I want to highlight Greysia. Although retirement appeared to be on the horizon she was determined not to fade quietly into the background. A last Olympics, a last chance to get on the podium and boy did she grab it. Congratulations Greysia, always one of my favourite players

XD Player of the Year: HUANG Dongping & Sapsiree Taerattanachai

I cannot choose between these two brilliant players. HUANG Dong Ping’s Gold at the Olympics was magnificent; the final was a glorious tie between four gifted athletes. She is brave, has great reflexes and is adept at using the flat game to aggressive advantage. Popor has also enjoyed a stunning 12 months, winning eight titles, and – other than the Olympics – she and Bass have dominated the XD scene. Their physical resilience and mental strength are second to none. Interestingly both stand-out players compete successfully in WD as well.

Best Pair: Nami Matsuyama & Chiharu Shida

It’s been fascinating to watch their improvement recently; the leap from Super 100/300 up to the top levels has been harmonious and their upwards momentum got great rewards at the Indonesian Festival of Badminton. Maybe the Japanese ‘house style’ is evolving because they are more aggressive and more willing to try and seize the initiative than we expect. Both work hard, support each other and obviously enjoy their matches.

Runners Up: Greysia Polii & Apriyani Rahayu – seeing my two favourites get Gold at the Olympics is one of my best badminton moments ever.

Parabadminton player of the Year: Leani Ratri Oktila

Gold, Gold, Silver at the Tokyo Paralympic games – at Parabadminton’s debut the world #1 was totally dominant.

If He Was A Woman I’d Give Him An Award Too: Viktor Axelsen

A year packed full of achievements – bravo Viktor!

Conclusions

These are just some of the people I have loved to watch in 2021: it’s just my subjective opinion, I can’t pretend that I have spent any time evaluating the stats. The Olympics and the tournament bubbles have made this year unique. Some have thrived but injuries and withdrawals from tournaments have been common; let’s hope for less of a treadmill in 2022. There have been so many highlights (which I’ll cover in my Review of the Year) so I would like to thank all the players and everyone from the badminton community for making this such a memorable twelve months.


©2022 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Pearly Tan & Thinaah Muralitharan

2021 has been a breakout year for this young and exciting Malaysian pair. Their dynamism and tenacity have won them plenty of new fans over the past twelve months because they have been seriously challenging players ahead of them in the rankings

At the Indonesia Masters. Screengrab courtesy BWF

When they were at junior level, they were not WD partners unlike many of their current rivals. They have competitive familiarity across the sectors but the main factor significant to their current style of play is the influence of XD as the pair have both got experience in this discipline. Their bold approach to matches is refreshing and I sense that there is a shift happening away from the more traditional, old fashioned neutral play towards tactics that allow players to take the initiative in a match.

Their performance in the first round at the Toyota Thailand Open was an “aha moment” for fans and analysts.  It was an exhilarating contest packed full of drama.  After losing the first set they levelled then refused to concede the third.  It was simply gripping.  They were down 18-20, saved four match points and eventually won 27-25.  It was an 87 minute white knuckle ride where they kept their focus and eventually earned victory.   

As a pair they are keen to disrupt their rivals rhythms with intelligent use of angled shots.  Thinaah has a strong front court game and both can unleash some power. Naturally they are good defenders but it’s the intensity and pace of their attack that enables them to seize command with flat drives and effectively screw down on their opponents.

Their first world tour title win at the 2021 Swiss Open  was  confirmation that they are on the right track.  A straight set victory over the quintessence of defensive WD –  the Stoeva sisters –  felt like a  shot of adrenaline to the heart of the discipline.  It was proof that the partnership has raised their game over the past couple of years.

These two athletes are possible stars of the future and are part of the generational shift following Tokyo 2020.  They still have a lot of hard work to do if they want to move up to the consistent standards set in Women’s Doubles by the Japanese pairs.  It was revealing that in their recent Indonesian Master’s game against Matsuyama/Shida they were carried along by the momentum of the Japanese attack without really being able to derail it and they were beaten in two sets.  They must have more tactical options if Plan A is not successful.

“You’ll see us fail, I guarantee it.  But you will never see us quit”

Thinaah Muralitharan on her Instagram

It’s exciting to watch a pair with a fresh approach. They are ‘work in progress’ but they have the potential to keep moving up the rankings and can aim to be top 10 players. Their spirit and gritty resolve mean that they can frighten any opponent so they can regard the future with hope and optimism. I can’t wait to see how they meet the challenges of the next couple of years.


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