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Japan’s TakaMatsu: Ayaka Takahashi & Misaki Matsutomo

The quest for badminton glory has come to an end for one of the greatest Japanese WD pairs ever.  When Ayaka Takahashi announced her retirement earlier this year she ended a partnership of 13 years.  The glittering bond between her and Misaki Matsutomo has been forged during a wonderful journey to the pinnacles of sporting success.

The Golden pair of Japanese badminton are loved by millions of fans worldwide.  Their story begins before the London Olympics.  They played together in High School; but as far as 2012 was concerned whilst their compatriots prepared for those Games they continued with their routine.  After 2012 they started moving up the rankings but as players, they were incomplete and still learning their trade. After a sequence of defeats, it was suggested that they could not withstand pressure but Matsutomo later reflected that it was the experience of losing that made her the competitor she turned into.

One of the characteristics I admire is their ability to evolve over the years: it is at the core of their success.  In this article I’ve tried to illustrate this whilst celebrating some of the highlights of their glorious career.

Uber Cup Final 2014

This was the beginning of the TakaMatsu legend.  It was obvious that they had made significant alterations to their patterns of play. The underpinning of any WD pair is reliable defence – naturally this was still in place – but they had transformed themselves into shuttle-hunters and their rivals could not equal their aggression and determination.  With Takahashi patrolling behind her partner, Matsutomo was released to create chances from the net that they both snapped up eagerly.  Incredibly, after winning the first 21-18 the Japanese pair were towelling down in the interval of the second 11-1 up.  Even as they dominated the second half the commentary team started to speculate whether a Chinese comeback was on the cards.  It wasn’t.  Match won 21-18, 21-9.

2016:  Annus Mirabilis

Seven titles were collected in 2016 including the Yonex All England.  It is difficult to pick just one game but the Rio Olympics was where they took their place amongst the immortals.  The final against Pedersen and Juhl was terrific: set one was scrappy but the Danes took their chances and closed it out 21-18.  In Set 2 the momentum began to shift because Takamatsu improved their attack strategy.  Matsutomo’s work at the net and mid-court was crucial: she exploited the weaknesses of the Danish left/right combination and started getting traction by executing some punchy, flat drives.  In combination with Takahashi’s hard work at the back they were able to create space in the opposition’s court where they could score points.  All square 21-9.

The start of final set gave us some long draining rallies alongside the ‘shuttlecock incident’ at 10-9.  Juhl’s frustration and annoyance at being denied a fresh shuttle boiled over when she brushed away Matsutomo’s racket.  I often wonder what went through Misaki’s mind at that point – I like to think that an imaginary switch was tipped in her brain – but on the surface she remained calm.  The points stayed balanced: 12-12, 14-14, 16-16 because neither pair could impose themselves.  Then suddenly the Danes were 19-16 up, 2 points from Gold.

In an extreme situation defiance is a better strategy than submission.  This was Matsumoto’s moment.  Born of utter confidence in her partner and her own ability she was decisive and swift.  Like all true greats she discovered another level within herself.  With brilliant vision and movement, she refused to lose; together they created five opportunities to score and she executed the chances.  GOLD.

WTF 2018 Final against LEE & SHIN

This is another milestone match.  It’s fascinating because it shows that their style is still progressing.  They have embraced the philosophy of creating attack from defence and this is what enables them to generate pressure from all over the court.

In this match Ayaka is still putting in huge amounts of physical work and it’s striking that her defensive lifts/clears are crucial but she has refined them since 2012.  Now they are mostly aimed for the corners, making space and opening the opponent’s court up so that they can implement attacking combinations.  This is synchronised with Misaki’s beautiful precise net play so they can both get chances to block and push the opponent’s shuttle back to the mid-court when they are under attack.  This resilience is hard to break.

In the second game LEE & SHIN have levelled at 20-20 and we’re starting to look at a third and deciding set.  It’s a classic Matsutomo moment.  Her resolve and focus drive the pair to resist Korean momentum, two points and job done, another title won.

TakaMatsu won Japan’s first badminton Gold at the Rio Olympics and Japanese women’s badminton has achieved staggering success in the years since.  With their endless achievements it’s impossible to do them justice in a short article.  We’ll miss them but they will not be disappearing from view. I’m excited at the idea of Matsutomo in mixed doubles and Takahashi was in the commentary box at the Danish Open…imagine Ayaka commentating on her old partner’s games next year. They have been inspirational athletes with a golden legacy.


Lots of people gave me ideas and contributed suggestions whilst I was writing this. I’d like to mention the badminton Twitter community including: Stefany Monica, Ulfa, Mongnoona2, MarieLgvl, Rakisdianrd, Kantaphon Wangcharoen, Lavern, Aakash Joshi and a big shoutout to @birdjapansuki, a great resource for anyone interested in Japanese Badminton. Sorry if I missed anyone – DM me and I’ll add you!


If you enjoyed this then take a look at this article about Japan’s Olympic hopes https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/11/01/japans-olympic-hopes/ or this one about Nozomi https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/05/15/nozomi-okuhara/

©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Japan’s Olympic Hopes

Writing from the depths of lockdown life – where many of us find it difficult to jettison our pyjamas much before midday – it’s incongruous to imagine the elite athletes who are sticking with their pre-covid routines and dreams.  But these are the times when we truly see players mettle.  Commitment to reaching the Olympic podium won’t be switched on or off according to whim: it’s a vow made in childhood and it has to be honoured.

Who can maintain an edge?

The genius at the centre of the Japanese badminton world is coach PARK Joo Bong. As a player he described himself as ‘greedy for Gold’. His XD Gold at the Seoul Olympics – when badminton was a demonstration event – plus his MD Gold in 1992 at the Barcelona Olympics confirm his place amongst the game’s greats. After retirement and some coaching roles in England, Malaysia and back home in Korea he became head coach of the Japanese team in 2004. In 2012 there was a WD silver for Japan in London then Rio 2016 saw TakaMatsu win WD Gold and Nozomi Okuhara clinch Bronze in WS. His masterplan is designed to reach a crescendo at the Tokyo Olympics.

Badminton stumbled back to life his October.  Whilst other sports have reactivated, we have been beset by delays and cancellations.  However, the Danish Open – a prestigious Super750 event – offered the chance to gauge which players had maintained their edge.  Disappointingly it suffered withdrawals, nevertheless ‘everyone’ from Japan appeared to be ready to travel.  Flights and hotels were booked but just before the start of the tournament Denmark experienced a spike in Covid cases and club owners asked their players to remain in Japan.  Although this was frustrating for fans waiting to see the re-emergence of Momota the women’s sector still sent most of the top athletes.

Women’s Doubles The final at the Denmark Open between NagaMatsu & FukuHiro – was seen by many as a possible rehearsal for the Olympic final. The starring role of deciding who may get Gold in Tokyo was taken by Yuki Fukushima.  She was a handful all through the match.  Her consistency, precision and variations were top quality and so she defused the more attack-minded rivals.  The 2020 All England champions Fukushima and Hirota are a team with plenty of experience. Their defence is rock solid and they are all-rounders with no real weakness except that sometimes they become a little predictable.  The 2018 and 2019 BWF World Champions – Mayu Matsumoto and Wakana Nagahara – are a very sparky duo; happy to take chances and be creative when they are hunting points.  Matsumoto is a tall hard-hitter who is spatially aware and great at the net.   I used to think they have the best chance of Gold but after the DO I’m not sure.   It wouldn’t be a shock if the final was an all Japanese duel.

Women’s Singles – Nozomi was in dazzling form at the Denmark Open. Her victory over Carolina Marin in the final meant we didn’t have to suffer with her on the podium as she added to her silver medal collection from 2019.  Clearly she has continued to train hard and her play was at a consistently high level.  Already an Olympic medallist she has unswervingly said that her target is Gold in front of her home crowd. Akane Yamaguchi did not travel to Europe but is another who has big expectations on her shoulders.  Briefly world number 1 last year, the end of 2019 was disrupted by injuries.  It’s likely that despite the disadvantages of this hiatus in play she may benefit from the break to address those niggles.  The conditions at the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza are likely to suit both players so with a good draw they will be challenging for top honours.

Men’s Doubles – in world badminton this sector produces the most insanely exciting games and two of the best pairs are from Japan.  The real speed kings reside here, with the emphasis on swift reflexes, shrewd tactics and power.   The current All England champions – Yuta Watanabe and Hiroyuki Endo – have all these characteristics along with resilience, determination and courage.  There is quite a big age gap between them (Yuta is only 22 and Hiroyuki 33) and so we would have to wonder if the partnership will continue after the Olympiad, but never mind, for now they burn bright.  Yuta’s brilliant net play balanced by Hiroyuki’s strength and power from the rear court is hard for rivals to counter. They have a remarkable record against the world Number 1s – Indonesia’s Sukamuljo & Gideon, and a final between these four exceptional athletes, a repeat of the final in Birmingham is one that would delight everyone.  The second duo from Japan consists of Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda: they live the phrase ‘the fast and the furious’.  Sonoda is always bouncing on his toes, his internal dynamo just never seems to rest.  These two can dazzle with their speed and athleticism and it’s likely they will be fighting compatriots for a medal at the knockout stages in Tokyo

Men’s Singles – Momota is world number 1 and favourite for the Gold.  His net skills, anticipation and reflexes mean that his games have a quality that makes victory seem inexorable.  His psychological power over his rivals – the aura that surrounds him on court – gives him an extra weapon to use.  His mental strength and emotional self-reliance are key characteristics that will help him survive yet another delay to his date with destiny.  Who has the ability to challenge him?  The Danish Open showcased the progress of Anders Antonsen who will try to upset him.  Viktor Axelsen along with Taiwan’s CHOU Tien Chen are credible challengers too, but, all fans crave a MomoGi final in every competition, and Indonesia’s Anthony Ginting definitely has the potential to earn a medal in Tokyo. The importance of stamina and focus can’t be overstated in the context of beating Momota.  I’m confused as to who the other Japanese competitor may be.  Kenta Nishimoto made the SF in Denmark or Kanta Tsuneyama – who did not travel – could be the second player.   

Mixed Doubles – the leading Japanese pair, Yuta Watanabe & Arisa Higashino, are the All England champions of 2018 and runners up from 2019.  Arisa is renowned as an aggressive hard-hitter if she is in the rear court, so when she and Yuta find their traditional positions reversed in a match, they do not suffer too much disadvantage.  Her partner has fine technical skills and is always searching for space to score points.  They are a formidable pair but there is a risk that Yuta may be spread too thinly.

There’s no doubt that once the XXXII Olympiad starts the Japanese competitors will be challenging for a podium spot in every sector.  The standout athlete for me is Yuta Watanabe; he is an extraordinary player who competes in Men’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles.  The big question is whether he can win two events; can he withstand the physical and emotional strain that getting to the knockout stages in both would bring?  A home Olympic medal guarantees immortality and to wait an extra year before walking out onto the court at the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza must be particularly frustrating for the Japanese team.  All of us – players and fans – are eager for the sport we love to restart properly.


If you enjoyed this take a look at BWF’s article about PARK Joo Bong here http://bwfmuseum.isida.pro/library/profiles/news-317-17/ and my review of the recent Denmark Open is here https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/10/19/danisa-denmark-open-review/


©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Danisa Denmark Open: Review

“Just to be back competing is the best feeling in the world!”

Marcus Ellis

After seven months away we have been treated to a superb tournament in Odense. The joy of this competition amongst the gloom has been brilliant. There were plenty of performances to savour from new discoveries and old favourites; here is my review of the finals.

Men’s Singles: Anders Antonsen v Rasmus Gemke

Like a fairytale taking shape in front of our eyes: two friends since boyhood in a head to head in their home final. Antonsen was the higher ranking of the two but Gemke has pulled off good results against strong opponents in the past. The stage was set.

Anders Antonsen artwork by Rachel Florencia

Perhaps the first thing you need to know about this match is that neither man was able to walk unaided from the field of play. It was a brutal encounter that drained every bit of stamina from both. Gemke took the first set, he was the more composed and clever shot placement forced his advantage 21-18. Near the end of the second set Antonsen was in serious danger. Gemke’s endless work and pressure was preventing him from getting any sort of rhythmn. It was 19-19 and Gemke was two points from glory but then two errors handed the favourite a lifeline which he clutched and built upon. Antonsen closed out the final set 21-12; Gemke had given everything and could not deal with Antonsen’s variations of pace when he was already running on empty.

Men’s Doubles: Ellis/Langridge v Ivanov/Sozonov

It’s often been said of the Englishmen that they don’t enjoy getting out of bed to compete for anything less than a Gold medal. That is slightly harsh but they are definitely a pair who raise their game as they progress through a competition.

The opening exchanges saw Ellis and Langridge with the upper hand and they led 9-4 until the Russians forced their way back into the game. They fed off power, and Ivanov’s savage smash combined with some great serves allowed them to take the first set 22-20. At the interval we heard the English coach – Anthony Clarke – urge bravery because holding and lifting was playing to their opponents strengths. The second set was won after they used his advice to take the fight to the net; as it neared the end mistake after mistake from both sides disrupted all momentum but Ellis and Langridge were able to battle a way through and triumph 21-17. All square. Decider!

Chris Langridge is a player who wears his heart on his sleeve and there were times in the final set when he appeared quite dismayed by his errors. Ivanov & Sozonov had learnt from their earlier mistakes and were benefitting from a nimble strategic response. Whilst Langridge chuntered on about the state of the shuttle – getting a yellow card in the process – the Russians started running away with the set: rapidly it was 7-2 and there seemed to be no way back. Suddenly though the English duo fought back. (Langridge later said a comment from a spectator had energised him). In a patchy passage of play they managed to snaffle points and got to the interval with a small advantage 11-10. Langridge at the net had the vision and reflexes to dig out points under extreme pressure, Ellis too showed courage and stamina as they eventually seized the last set and the title 21-18.

Women’s Singles: Carolina Marin v Nozomi Okuhara

A breath-taking, intense game from both players. The tempo of the match, the court coverage and the hunger to win was magnificent. Okuhara was simply wonderful; over lockdown she has raised her game. Her speed, tactical dominance and willingness to commit completely resulted in a deserved victory 21-19, 21-17. Carolina played well but it was just not her day. She was frustrated by Nozomi’s brilliance and this time she had to settle for Silver.

Follow this link for a more in depth look at the match https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/10/18/nozomi-v-carolina-at-the-danisa-denmark-open-finals/

Women’s Doubles & Mixed Doubles

The encounter between FukuHiro and NagaMatsu could be a trial run for the Olympic final match at Tokyo 2021. If so then Yuki Fukushima holds the destiny of the Gold. She was the MVP and the driving force behind FukuHiro’s victory. Her accuracy, power, reliable serves and her skill at mixing up the pace was just too much for her rivals to oppose. There were times when Nagahara and Matsumoto were the architects of their own downfall, often too passive, they could not get the initiative and press home their attack. It was a surprise that they were not able to hit top gear but although they won the second set, the final score was 21-10, 16-21, 21-18.

The Mixed Doubles provided the upset of the tournament with the German pair Mark Lamfuss and Isabel Herttrich seeing off the Adcocks over three sets. Chris Adcock commented post match that they could just not keep up their usual attacking pace through the whole game. Lamfuss and Herttrich certainly had a much tougher journey to the final and this may’ve given them a better approach to the encounter.

Final thoughts

This was a longed-for tournament that delivered on every front. The Danish badminton authorities offered us hope that the tour can resume safely. It exceeded all our expectations. My personal highlight – amongst many – was the virtuouso performance by Nozomi Okuhara but every athlete, official and member of support staff played their part in making this a memorable few days. Congratulations and thanks to everyone.


If you enjoyed this then take a look at my article about Viktor Axelsen https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/06/07/viktor-axelsen/


©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Nozomi v Carolina at the Danisa Denmark Open Finals

Wow – we were treated to a dazzling match for the WS title at the Denmark Open this evening.   

Screenshot from BWF TV

“I’m happy! Long time no see for a title! Compared to other opponents, Marin is faster and has a harder attack. I was focussed on defence and footwork, and my feet moved very well today. Overall the match went well for me.” – Nozomi Okuhara via BWF media service

This was set up to be a thriller right from the start: Carolina V Nozomi is Attack v Defence and Noise v Calm.  A nail-biting encounter was in prospect, a match to showcase all that is wonderful about this generation of Women players.  Both have been World #1, and both were Olympic medallists in Rio.  Outstanding quality that has been waiting months to get on a court.

In many ways this tournament has been an opportunity for both players to push the reset button.  Carolina successfully returned from her cruciate ligament injury but has suffered some personal tragedy over the past months.  Nozomi had a bittersweet 2019 where she gave consistently high-quality performances but was not able to close out championship matches; she ended up with too many silver medals.

Okuhara’s path to the final – consistent straight set wins in every round – suggested she was on a mission.  Marin’s progress was no less impressive: Bei Wen ZHANG took a set off her in their Quarter Final but the Spaniard has such high fitness that it would not have dented her energy levels.   

Set 1 Carolina Wins The Toss

Right from the start it was clear that these two competitors emphatically did not spend lockdown watching tv from their sofa.  Fabulous, high tempo badminton with both players giving everything for every point.  Okuhara was in great form.  The Japanese player was using her big defensive clears to put Marin under huge pressure.  Of course, her game was far more nuanced than this.  Her court coverage was superhuman, her snappy reflexes and great technique meant that although she wasn’t hitting outright winners her strategy was getting points on the board.  Marin was hitting good shots but was being frustrated over and over again.  Although she won the toss, and chose the ‘best’ end Carolina lost the first set 21-19.

Set 2 Silver or Gold?

Both players continued to push each other to play sparkling badminton.  The tension was growing.  Carolina had to get back into the game and she knew the pattern in 2019 from Nozomi was silver, silver, silver.  What could be done?  At 4-3 there was an exchange between the two of them which highlighted Okuhara’s hunger and desire.  An exchange over the next, superb anticipation and a venomous reply taking the score to 5-3.  The BWF commentary team pointed out that Marin was not her usual self between points, she was not hustling the pace along as normal.  Did she have a worry about her stamina after so many months away from the tour? Nozomi continued to screw down the pressure and Marin was becoming more exasperated.  Whatever she threw at her rival was coming back at her.  Her only options seemed to be to try and go for the margins but this high risk strategy gave rise to more lost points.  The title was moving out of her grasp until we came to 20-15 to Okuhara.  Match points.  Danger zone for both players.  16-20 one point saved with a savage smash; 17-20 another point saved after a long rally. Then Nozomi launched an attacked on Carolina’s backhand, moving her forward and back until it culminated in a title winning smash. Game!

A magnificent encounter that highlighted everything to love about women’s singles.  Two brilliant players who went all-out for the title.  Congratulations to Nozomi and commiserations to Carolina. What a time to follow women’s badminton!


If you enjoyed this take a look at my recent article about Nozomi https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/05/15/nozomi-okuhara/

Thank you to all the players, officials and volunteers whose hard work has enabled this tournament to proceed.

©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Badminton’s Pandemic Failure

After releasing a packed calendar in May, only to be followed by over 20 cancellations we are left with only 1 event in Denmark for the rest of 2020.  The burning question is: Why has it been so difficult to restart badminton?

Initially the argument was that the more ‘domestic/regional’ nature of sports like EPL, Bundesliga, F1, NBA and UEFA lent itself to restarting first.  Moto GP and F1 – despite having previously raced worldwide – centralised themselves in Europe.  Tennis restarted followed by cycling, golf and cricket with the reasons then they were outdoor sports with lesser risk of aerosol containment and transmission of COVID-19.  But now indoor sports like squash and taekwondo have restarted.  It was then thought that with Asia being the badminton powerhouse  with many of its stars based there but the Asian hosts had closed their doors.  Tournaments in HK, Macau, Indonesia, Malaysia were all cancelled whilst we watch the IPL continuing in Abu Dhabi, the PSA tour travelling from Manchester to Egypt to HK and table tennis in Macau and China.  So, across continents, from outdoor and indoor everyone was restarting and badminton was running out of excuses.

It has become apparent that other sports have been putting in extensive amounts of time effort and money to introduce stringent protocols.  Hundreds of pages have been written and could be used to inform the creation of safe environments to enable players to return to their livelihoods.  It was reported that when BWF released their safety protocols it only left more doubts, questions and fears.  Trust and confidence in the BWF were clearly lacking.

For the last several months there have been heart wrenching stories of players with income and sponsorship woes causing some to end their careers early.  If the BWF couldn’t restart the calendar could they not have helped out the players and the member associations? 

Since April there has been a string of world governing bodies who have been providing pandemic relief. From FIFA, World Athletics, World Rugby and ATP right down to shooting and archery; federations of differing wealth have given funds. For instance, the Professional Squash Association Foundation raised $75,000 for their lower to mid-level players. Wimbledon – one of the few events with insurance – paid out their insurance claim to all competitors who would have played.

Yet the BWF – with a reported $39m in reserve in their 2019 financial statement – gave out nothing.  They have reported the purpose of this reserve was to ‘keep sufficient funds to operate and support the sport for a few years should any unexpected global event take place that affected our business’. If Covid-19 is not an unexpected global event then what is?

If the BWF wanted to protect their reserves they could have introduced some cost cutting measures.  The BWF President receives an Honorarium and expenses, the Sec Gen  and senior staff receive tax free salaries meanwhile many players have had zero income from their sport.  Presidents and senior executives in ITTF, FEI and World Sailing all took salary cuts to divert funds to their athletes and members.

Sport is a business and commercialisation is required for it to thrive. To apparently prioritise money and income – for the BWF and its officers – at the expense of the players and the entire ecosystem of the game is selfish and short sighted.  Badminton is crumbling.  Junior and lower level events have halted which means the next generation of athletes is missing out on a crucial part of their development.  Sponsors may pull out, coaches will lose income, players and fans will leave the sport. 

If the BWF couldn’t meaningfully find a way to restart the calendar then why bother releasing one.  They have created a situation that puts the whole badminton community ‘on hold’.  By taking up and controlling all the calendar slots – only to cancel 10-14 days before – leaves people hanging and unable to create their own alternative events.

Everyone was happy that badminton was going to restart albeit that some were surprised at the decision to begin with the Thomas & Uber Cups.  Before long cracks appeared, concerns around safety and health protocols surfaced that the BWF seemed unable to provide assurances for.  Withdrawals were quickfire: Russia first, followed by a string of Asian countries and eventually top seeds Indonesia.  It then became ugly with disappointment generating some unpleasant accusations between European and Asian colleagues.  Disappointingly the BWF allowed this to happen. 

If 5 out of 20 countries slated for participation withdrew one has to ask how much consultation and collaborative discussion happened?  Consent and buy-in from the top nations before announcing the calendar should be a top priority.  It would appear the BWFs leadership style is non-consultative.  Compare this to the NBA’s Commissioner Adam Silver who personally called the top teams and players to explain the conditions for restart before pressing the green button.

It has been reported – later denied by the BWF – that it was a sponsor requirement that the top three seeds participate in the TUC hence delay until 2021 to try to keep the money on the books. Badminton Denmark was reported to have been putting in 24/7 effort for months leading up to the TUC (not to mention it had already been postponed twice).  Apart from this time and effort imagine the real financial losses they will have incurred having cancelled a major tournament with only 14 days’ notice – but perhaps as it was not BWF’s loss to bear it was just collateral damage.

When the TUC was postponed the BWF also cancelled the Denmark Masters.  The event was part of a two tournament ‘European bubble’; the events are not linked so why was it dropped?    Presumably the risk of Asian players not wanting to travel for the Masters and therefore compromising revenue streams was not worth the potential losses to the BWF.  So Badminton Denmark was left to carry the weight of the Denmark Open on its shoulders.

At the end of August BWF declared that the European Bubble would be followed by an Asian one in November but no destination was announced. Then they revealed that it would be hosted by Thailand in January apparently because logistically there was not enough time to prepare. It has been speculated that perhaps the BWF had secured sponsorship from the Thai government who then requested a cooling period owing to political uncertainty. They used “complexity” as a reason for needing more time. But badminton is surely not more “complex” than tennis, swimming and track & field, all who have hundreds of athletes from multiple countries. Unfortunately, this means that there will be no continuity or stability stemming from the Denmark Open, just a 2-month hiatus.

The pandemic is not the time to go into a 6-month slumber.  Many industries have innovated.  Cycling has launched a virtual cycling series, F1 took to e-sports and started competitions with their fans, the LPGA conducted e-Golf competitions for their pro golfers that offered actual prize money.

 What about non-financial support to badminton players?  Perhaps programmes to deal with mental health, modules to help athletes understand the business of sport and how they can commercialise themselves, or up-skilling courses to prepare for life after retirement.  How did the BWF reach out to their athletes?

The BWF may argue they are dealing with eroding sponsorship and media income which affects their ability to stage events.  This is not unique in the sporting world and it cannot be a reason to stand still.  A few countries, for example Taiwan, Indonesia, and Malaysia have staged local competitions but it is not clear what actions the BWF have taken to support this, Surely, they could have engaged their global sponsors to redirect support towards well-crafted regional events and digital activations?  Other sports have varying degrees of revenue streams which proves helpful in times like this.  Esports and games.  Subscription-based apps.  Licensing and merchandising.  Foundation programmes with CSR sponsors.  Some even have venues.  Looking at the BWF’s financial statement will tell you that the entire revenue stream – sponsorship, TV, sanction fees is dependent on events.  Oh, and funding from the Olympics, also and event.  The BWF is a one-trick pony.

Does badminton have the right leadership to get through this predicament and beyond? It’s easy to lead in good times. The real test is in tough times. Where is BWF’s relevance and impact in badminton in this crisis?


Opinion by Leena Singarajah.

You can read the full version of this article by following this link https://www.gosports.com.my/opinion/misfiring-from-the-start-badmintons-pandemic-failure/


Danisa Denmark Open Preview Pt2: The Men

Badminton is BACK!!!

I’m so thrilled that we all have this tournament in Odense to enjoy. It’s been too long.

Men’s Singles

I’m relishing this part of the competition. My anticipation levels are rising because of the quality of the players who have travelled to Denmark – and of course the players who are from Denmark. We all know that the Danish badminton community produces world beaters again and again; the talent that is generated from such a small nation is breath-taking.

My pick of the first round matches is the one between Christo Popov and Lakshya Sen. The left-handed Popov has been consistently successful through his junior years and in January 2020 became World Junior #1. His family are all involved in the sport in various roles: notably his father who has coached and played for the Bulgarian team plus his MD partner and brother Toma. Sen has also been catching the eye as he progresses through the worldwide junior ranks. Another player whose family are immersed in badminton, he is part of a new generation of Indian shuttlers. It’s well-known that he benefitted from Morten Frost’s expertise in 2019 when the Danish star coached for a while at the Prakash Padukone academy. This game will showcase two of the brightest stars that are progressing into the senior game. It’s hard to predict how far the winner can advance but I suspect that stamina may become an issue as the week progresses: maintaining a high level of play day after day will be tough, especially after 7 months away.

Picture from CTC Instagram – no picture credit.

CHOU Tien Chen is the de facto top seed in the absence of Momota but he is going to have to battle hard if he wants this title. He was comprehensively dismantled by Axelsen in the final of the YAE back in March but he has had plenty of time since to absorb the lessons of that day. I watched that game live and I felt that he seemed unfocused through a lot of the match, his range was off and so he was never really able to get any sort of competitive momentum. He is an impressive athlete, with good powerful smashes and plenty of stamina: I’d like to see him take the initiative and drive the pace of his matches forward more. Prediction: Final. I’ve seen some reports that suggest Srikanth Kidambi has been working well in training in Hyderabad. The former World #1 and previous winner of this tournament has endured a slump in form; if he progresses from the opening rounds he is seeded to meet CTC in the quarter finals so that will be a useful measure as to whether he is back to winning ways.

The last time we saw Anders Antonsen play was in his Semi-Final against CTC at the All England. The last eighteen months have seen him move up the world rankings to the extent that he is challenging Axelsen for the title of Denmark’s top player. His improvements and his ability to attack to get the upper hand will be under scrutiny here. Potentially he will meet CHOU in the semi-final: the h2h figures strongly favour the man from Taiwan. Antonsen’s ankle injury, which prematurely ended their game in Birmingham when he had to retire in the first set was a heartbreaking end to his campaign. There had been a serious possibility of an all-Danish final in that tournament. There is a chance of it happening here if he can overcome CHOU because his friend Rasmus Gemke is seeded 7 in the top half of the draw…arguably the weaker half. Gemke is a bit behind AA in the strength of his game but he still gets sweet results against top players: remember his shock victory against Ginting in March?

Aside from these there are a couple of unseeded players I’d like to mention. Hans-Kristian Vittinghus – another home player – should be eyeing the draw with a certain amount of relish. Again he is in the top half and will play the winner of Popov v Sen. In an innocence versus experience scenario I would see him getting on top. I am also a fan of Brice Leverdez after watching him play in the Indian PBL this year: lovely racket skills and nerves of steel. Moreover he too is in the top half of the draw.

Mixed Doubles

This tournament offers a huge opportunity for the English duo Lauren Smith & Marcus Ellis to bag a Super 750 title. The last time we saw them play was in their Semi Final at the All England against the eventual winners Jordan/Oktavianti. Ellis is a great competitor, an excellent partner to have on court, he never gives in and fights right to the end. The partnership with Smith is getting better and better – she’s fast, aggressive and brave. Throughout lockdown we have seen them practising at home and trying to stay focused until they could get back on court. They should be able to take to the court with a lot of confidence.

So who can put a stop to their ambition? The Adcocks are in the top half of the draw so if they can find some form they may be able to engineer an all English final. The German pair of Lamsfuss/Herttrich, or the home pair Christiansen/Boje are seeded to do well. The competition does not look likely to be controlled by any team so the athletes who can grasp every opportunity that passes could finish the week as champions.

Men’s Doubles

Unfortunately this is the sector of the competition that has been hit the hardest by the lack of Asian participation. In spite of this I think this could still be a lively contest. Olympic Bronze medalists Marcus Ellis & Chris Langridge head up a large contingent of English players in this category. The Danes Kim Astrup & Anders Rasmussen must be eyeing the title. With Astrup describing himself as a ‘caged lion’ I think there will be a load of pent-up emotion that he needs to turn to his advantage.

This has been described as a milestone week for badminton. It certainly is about time the sport returned at the highest level. I wish everyone involved a safe and successful few days. Bring it on!


If you enjoyed this take a look at my preview for the women’s sector https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/10/10/danisa-denmark-open-womens-preview/

I’ve recently been enjoying the podcasts A Year On Tour With Vittinghus – you should be able to listen to these on Spotify or other platforms.


©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Danisa Denmark Open: Women’s Preview

Badminton is BACK!!!!!

Finally, some good news – after the obliteration of the badminton year I am so eager to see this tournament.  The week promises plenty of excitement with old favourites up against some new faces at the Danisa Denmark Open.  I especially want to see who has managed their fitness and performance levels successfully during the break so that they can seize games from ring-rusty opponents.  This could be the perfect time for some of the lesser known athletes to make an impression.

Women’s Singles

This is a very strong field and my gaze is drawn to Nozomi, Carolina and Michelle Li. One of the key features of lockdown has been loneliness. Many players seem to have been isolated from their usual support groups but these three are all familiar with a training regime that – for one reason or another – tends towards solitary. Of course, any singles player, once they are standing on court needs to be mentally self-sufficient with a tough temperament.

Michelle Li is the best Canadian in world badminton; she is a top 10 player in the world rankings and has achieved this with an obstinate focus on her goals of getting on the podium at the Olympics and driving the profile of the sport in her home country. This is a tournament where she must dominate her rivals; it seems like a wonderful opportunity to progress to a final of a S750 competition. I hope she arrives in Odense in top form ready to capitalise on the absence of others.

Carolina Marin will be ready to explode onto the court like a human hand grenade. The Olympic Champion is coming to Denmark to capture a title that has always eluded her. It’s hard for challengers to defuse her aggression. She calls up a competitive energy that rivals have to disrupt to get any sort of foothold in the match. The desire to win is her essence.

Nozomi Okuhara will arrive in Denmark with a strong possibility of winning Gold. She has had a frustrating run of silver medals over the past year, so the hiatus from covid could have been a good opportunity to reset her strategies. She is such a brilliant player with a wide range of skills to draw on in any situtation; her snappy reflexes and speed across the court mean she can absorb any pressure from a rival. The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics must have been an acutely painful experience for a player whose focus was to be the champion in front of her home crowd. I think we would all relish the chance to see Nozomi enjoy success in Odense.

The homeplayers were the Gold medalists at the European Team Championships back in February and if they are on form I think either Line Kjaersfeldt or Mia Blichfeldt could have a good run. It wouldn’t be a shock to see one of them still fighting for a medal at the weekend. Beiwen Zhang is another seed who should anticipate at least a SF spot.

Women’s Doubles

This sector is stacked with superb pairs and I am anticipating some epic battles.

No problems with social distancing at this airport! Pic borrowed from Sayaka’s Twitter feed but no photographer credited.

The top three seeds are three pairs from Japan: Fukuhiro, Matsumoto/Nagahara, and Matsuyama/Shida so the problem of friendly fire could become a live issue. The key question is who will stop the final being Japan v Japan?

Maiken Fruergaard and Sara Thygesen won a lot of friends in the course of January’s Indonesian Masters. In the end they succumbed in a blockbuster of a final to the home pair, Greyap. They sustained high levels of play and a great attitude; it was probably Greysia Polii’s depth of experience that overcame them finally because during the last few points the four players were operating on muscle memory. Therefore what can we expect of the Danes in Denmark? The bottom half of the draw looks quite tricky. It’s likely they could meet Matsumoto and Nagahara in the Quarter Final so this will be the game that defines their performance.

The Stoeva Sisters‘ threat is quite hard to quantify. For sure they have high fitness levels and can outlast their opposition but there is more to winning a badminton match than this. Long rallies are no surprise in women’s doubles but they need to bring a bit more to the party if they want to be on the podium on Sunday. They can be vulnerable to aggressive attack so I would like to see them bring more of an edge to their own strategy. A quick twitter poll that I conducted in the course of writing this preview very firmly concluded that getting to the Semi Final was the best they could achieve. Boring opponents into submission is not a risk free path to gold!

A WD final that pits Fukuhiro against Matsumoto/Nagahara could be a foretaste of the Tokyo Olympic final. If this happens then despite being seeded 1, Fukuhiro could lose. When we weigh up the styles of play then Mayu and Wakana have more aggression in their makeup but no less stamina. If it all boils down to a brawl for the last few points in a three set match they should get them.

Conclusions

Competitive life at the highest level is limited for any athlete. We have seen players and their national associations cope with this intermission in different ways. It remains to be seen whether training at home alone, frequent holidays or self-quarantine at a training centre are the best ways to approach this unwanted break. I’ve been astonished at the apparent lack of guidance available to people. Nevertheless intuitively I believe that the competitors who have continued their usual training routines with focus and dedication should reap rewards. I am concerned that an abrupt return to competition after only light training risks injury.

This is the time for players to set down a marker. It’s unfortunate that this is one tournament in isolation followed by another long wait until we go to Thailand but the athletes who have the mental strength to cope with this disruption can use Denmark as a real life measure of how effective their lockdown training has been. Any lack of success at the Open can be a catalyst for review and improvement.

What a momentous day the 13th October will be – finally badminton returns.


I’d like to dedicate this piece to the Danish badminton authorities, fans and volunteers. Since the postponement of the original Thomas & Uber Cups there have been months of uncertainty and I can only begin to imagine the hours and money that have been expended getting to this point. Thank you!


If you enjoyed this then Part 2 – my men’s preview is here https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/10/11/danisa-denmark-open-preview-pt2-the-men/

©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

We Miss TAI Tzu Ying

 The bombshell word ‘retirement’ was spoken by TAI tzu Ying about a year ago and a shudder passed through her millions of fans.  Seven months into lockdown with no big tournament since YAE I’m beginning to understand what the badminton landscape will look like without this extraordinary player and I don’t like it.  Jaw dropping visionary play blended with virtuoso racket skills is a mix made in badminton heaven so a tournament without the chance to witness a reverse slice straight backhand drop executed by the Queen suddenly loses a little glitter.

Screenshot from BWF TV

In her most recent interview on Badminton Unlimited TTY offers some reassurance to her supporters.  She is certain that she will continue to compete until next season ends and then she will mull over her options.  This means that we can enjoy the anticipation of watching her participate in her third Olympics.  I would love to see her on that podium in Japan, alongside some of my other favourites like Ratchanok, Nozomi or Akane.  Imagine a Gold medal match between May and Tzu Ying; this would be a version of paradise for me and lots of other fans.

Coach Lai has been smart in keeping training fresh.  TTY has mentioned before that she doesn’t go out ‘much’.  Pictures on Instagram frequently show her enjoying being outdoors and I’ve often joked that she should work for the Taiwan tourist board when she retires. The beautiful scenery around her gives a spectacular backdrop to a bike ride or hike with her training partners. Without the intensity of a jam-packed tournament calendar she should be able to address any niggling injuries, and enjoy a fitness programme with an altered aim.  I think that the focus will have been adjusted because she will not have to be on a (literal and metaphorical) treadmill to get prepared for next week’s match.  This is why we have seen her enjoying cross training and sports like beach football and boxing. The emphasis on agility and flexibility remains but there will be interesting cross-fertilisation from other sports.  It’s a good time to review technique and strategies but most of all this is a chance to emotionally refresh and rest intelligently.

The playing career of an elite player is really quite short.  Movement has to be explosive with instant changes in direction and this can trigger severe pressure on knees and arms.  Press conferences after finals are often conducted with the winners pressing ice-packs to their shoulders.  The emotional cost of competition can be challenging too; stepping onto court with the hopes of your nation upon your shoulders is not easy; especially when supporters don’t see the hours of sweat in training.  Added to this are the constant demands of the tournament schedule: international travel may seem glamourous but an endless landscape of airports and hotels can quickly dull the excitement.

We have three tournaments planned for Thailand in January 2021 with exacting covid protocols insisted upon by the Thai authorities.  Quarantines, regular swab tests and temperature checks blended with stringent hygiene requirements and social bubbles should give reassurance to many but perception of risk is diverse.  It’s impossible to predict where we will be in the trajectory of this pandemic by then.

Covid has annihilated the tournament schedule and it has given many athletes time to pause and reflect on their career path.  The motivation to train without a reason is hard to maintain so it is reassuring to see that Tai Tzu Ying can still get up early in the morning, leave her house at 7am and start training at 8.30.  This is the mark of a true champion. The players who can keep their enthusiasm and focus amidst the crisis will be the ones who return stronger. I long to watch her next game.


If you enjoyed this here is a link to my review of TTY’s performance at Taiwan’s Mock Olympics https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/08/03/tai-tzu-ying-and-taiwans-mock-tokyo-olympics/ and this one about her recent acquisition of patience https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/06/19/tai-tzu-ying-the-greatest/


©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Featured

Badminton – What Happens Now?

I miss international badminton, I miss the joy and stress of watching Anthony on court, I miss writing previews for this blog, I miss chatting about matches on Twitter and of course I miss TAI Tzu Ying.

A gathering storm: Wuhan in January then Italy in February led us to a covid-denying Britain in March.  The All England went ahead after huge efforts by everyone at Badminton England to provide a safe environment for everyone involved.  Thank God that work was largely successful albeit that there were reports that a young member of the Taiwan team had tested positive for the disease.

Walking away from the arena in Birmingham after watching TAI Tzu Ying nail her third Yonex All England title I never would have predicted that it was the last tournament I’d enjoy of any note for six months.  Six months!

So, the stakeholders in the badminton community have found themselves in some sort of limbo.  It seems to a large proportion of badminton fans that there has been no overarching strategy to protect the sport from the effects of this long layoff. Indoor sports have uniquely tricky circumstances to address but we have all seen top quality tournaments staged nationally in many countries so they do seem to be able to overcome these problems to the satisfaction of players and staff.

 No one in power has shared any sort of vision for the short-term and so we have wildly different approaches from different nations.  Of course, none of us has had to run a global sport during a pandemic before however I see some of the national associations striving to give their athletes and fans a temporary way forward.  In Asia we’ve enjoyed a series of home tournaments, notably in Indonesia, Korea & Malaysia.  The Chinese domestic league has given it’s superstars some seriously testing games and in Europe there have been demanding ‘home tests’ in Denmark.  The Taiwan Sports Authority staged a Mock Olympics in order to keep their athletes on their toes and the sports-loving public entertained.

Badminton’s reactivation was supposed to happen in October with the Thomas & Uber Cups in Aarhus plus a Danish Masters and a Danish Open in Odense.  Cracks appeared in this plan once key nations started to withdraw: Taiwan, Korea and then mighty Indonesia all citing safety concerns.  The BWF decided to trim its ambitions and has abandoned everything bar the Open. Social media channels have erupted with disappointment and criticism directed mainly at the governing body; our community is desperate to get tournaments back on the agenda but not at any price.  As an observer it is just not clear what the BWF has been doing to reassure competitors that its safety protocols are the strictest possible.

We just seem to ricochet between disappointments at the moment.  At time of writing the Open is still going ahead but with Malaysia, China, Thailand & Indonesia missing.  My thoughts go out to the Danish organisers who have been blown in the wind by events and decisions they have no hope of influencing.

So here we stand.  A weakened Open in prospect followed by 3 back-to-back tournaments in Thailand in January and then a crammed calendar in the run-up to the Olympics.  Only the sunniest optimist could see this going ahead without a hitch – the situation is so volatile.

What bothers me most about the place we find ourselves in is the apparent disconnect between the BWF and the badminton community AND the clear lack of lessons learned from other sports. We have seen others successfully implement bubble systems, tough testing regimes and hygiene protocols so why not badminton?  Players cannot be expected to stay motivated and focused indefinitely with no reassurance about their future.  Some fans may be satisfied with reruns of old matches but the majority will want new contests and so the danger is they will turn their attention to other sports which have restarted successfully like the Premier League, IPL and Motor Racing. Now is the time to have a clear vision for the short and long-term well-being of the game otherwise we risk losing a generation. Who will step up?


If you enjoyed reading this here is my acount of TAI Tzu Ying’s appearance in Taiwan’s Mock Olympics https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/08/03/tai-tzu-ying-and-taiwans-mock-tokyo-olympics/ or this one which is a fictional account of the Women’s Doubles final at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/08/27/2020-imagined-olympic-finals-womens-doubles/


©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

2020 Imagined Olympic Finals: Women’s Doubles

Four women, one Gold medal and a pair who were the home favourites. The Musashino Forest Sportsplaza was packed with Japanese fans who dared to dream of double Olympic success. I also saw a Korean contingent all sitting together. So many flags, so much noise, so much hope.

TakaMatsu from BWF TV

The last day of the badminton tournament and the air was popping with tension. The 2016 Rio Olympic Champions – Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo – announced that this would be their last game together at a press conference. The 13 year bond ended here “together until the very end”. The Korean challengers KIM So Yeong and KIM Hee Yong were not the expected opponents but they are a very dangerous pair.

Both teams had tough runs to the final: long strenuous clashes against difficult rivals. The effect that these draining encounters had on energy levels and niggling injuries was clear. One would have to have a heart of stone not to feel compassion for FukuHiro when they fell to their compatriots after 135minutes of attritional play in the semi final. Polii and Rahayu gave KIM/KONG a similarly arduous game in their semi. The capricious conditions in the arena don’t favour one pair over the other but as we shall see, the players who held their nerve and seized the moment gained the edge and went home with Gold.

Set 1

The battle for Gold started ferociously. Both pairs were intent on getting an advantage, and both battered each other’s rock-solid defence. The lead veered back and forth. No-one was in control, it was as if the four athletes had stepped onto a roller coaster until the score reached 16-16. Set one was defined by the next rally conisting 67 mesmerizing shots. Suddenly TakaMatsu snapped out of power mode. An unspoken understanding between them led to a switch of emphasis. They just kept the shuttle in play, used some fast flat exchanges and turned KIM/KONG’s power against them. Lightening fast direction changes kept screwing down the pressure; her determination to return every shot left Ayaka sprawled on the florr, but she got up and kept fighting. Suddenly a weak return and Takahashi smashed the shuttle down the Korean’s backhand trams. It came back but she had followed up and caressed it gently over the net. 17-16. The next 4 points went to the Japanese pair and they wrapped up the set 21-16.

Set 2: Nothing Worth Winning Is Easy

Throughout the break the camera focuses on the Korean coaches. BWF’s 2019 Most Improved Players know that Gold is slipping away but they also know that they have beaten the Olympic champions before.

Takahashi serves – terrible – too high. KIM smacked back a venomous reply just hitting her racket shoulder. She raised a hand in apology as Misaki checked her partner was ok. Serve changed sides and the advantage started to swing.  With KIM at the net and KONG behind, the attack is ruthless.  They take it in turns to pepper Matsutomo and she struggles to respond effectively.  Takahashi has to do something to protect her partner and eventually at 8-4 she challenges a line call and Hawkeye steps in to break the momentum of the Korean assault.  The Japanese pair towel down as they await the verdict.  Misaki looks concerned but Ayaka gives a big sister smile and just blows on her racket fingers.  The call was good.  Back to court and the tussles around the net between Takahashi and KIM are dazzling.  Both are struggling for control of the match but the Korean’s have the edge.  TakaMatsu’s game has gone flat. Into the break 11-9.

It’s become a strategic log jam as both sides try and unlock the game but there’s no doubt that the Japanese pair are wilting under pressure.  The second half of the set is full of disjointed passages of play as TakaMatsu try and disrupt the Koreans rhythm without really gaining anything much themselves.  KK don’t seem able to burn off the Japanese but they look so tired they must just be running on muscle memory.  The crowd is trying to lift their favourites but the set is gone 21-14.

Set 3: Right Here, Right Now

These are the moments when legends are written.  The spotlight is trained on the show court and the world watches.  Ayaka smiles at her partner; she knows that this is it now, her last time with Misaki. 

KONG’s muscular hitting linked with KIM’s net skills has been the key to success so far; both have deep reserves of stamina and can resist attacks with aplomb.  The pair look composed as they prepare to serve: opening point goes to them and the next and the next and suddenly the Koreans have opened up a 5 point lead.  Takamatsu crumbles in front of us; was this one tournament too many for old bones?  And then, an intriguing passage of play.

KONG serves and Matsumoto engages ultra defensive mode.  A flat fast clear to the rear of the backhand court.  KIM is pushed right back and struggles to retrieve the shuttle but manages a loose straight drop.  It gets sent right back a second time, this time the response is a xc drop.  Takahashi and Matsutomo stand side by side – rock solid – backwards and forwards the shuttle flies, no-one is trying to vary the pace.  40 shots, 50, 60, 70, 80 this could go on all day but suddenly KONG tries to escape the spider’s web.  She loses patience, smashes and it just brushes the outside of the line.  Gill and Morten cry ‘in’ and it’s 6-0. No!  Takahashi raises her hand, challenge.  Matsutomo says something to her partner as they hydrate and wait; both smile.  Challenge successful.

Now suddenly something is happening.  They have summoned up some last reserves of strength.  Perhaps the long rally actually gave them a bit of breathing space.  Matsumoto is starting to force the pace.  In a last deperate effort they are gambling that the Koreans are going to run out of gas before they do.. There is a Marinesque bustle to the Japanese players.  Matsumoto’s agility and technical skill is beginning to turn the tide in their favour as she hunts points, Takahashi varies the pace of her shots as she works to support her partner.  They put together a 8 point run before a clash of rackets hands the advantage to their rivals and they eventually go into the interval ahead 11-10.

Into the Red Zone.Time slows.  One last effort.  The match has distilled down to the inner game now.  Focus, self confidence and resilience to get to the top of the podium.  The intensity of the Japanese attitude is driving the contest forward.  It’s a ‘death or glory’ approach and it’s hard for the Korean pair to get any sort of foothold on the scoreboard.  Takahashi is covering every bit of the court; like all great players she’s found another gear. Her aggression is giving Matsutomo confidence to attack.  KIM & KONG try everything but they are noticeably drained – the demands of a punishing week have finally hit their legs.  They keep nibbling away but they can’t build any meaningful sequences of attack.  TakaMatsu are dominating the exchanges and suddenly they have 3 match points, Takahasi to serve

“Win or lose, together to the end”


If you enjoyed this then follow the link to my factual article about FukuHiro https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/06/japans-fukuhiro-can-they-win-tokyo-gold/

This never happened, it’s just for fun. Feel free to write your own so your favourites win.


©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved