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Kevin, Marcus and Tokyo Gold

The qualifications are over, the invites are sent;  we can see athletes standing on the brink of greatness. Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon are world #1 and two players who have the talent and ambition to win Gold.

W5CWG0 Tokyo, Japan. 28th July, 2019. Marcus Fernaldi Gideon & Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo (INA) Badminton : Daihatsu Yonex Japan Open 2019 Men’s doubles Final at Musashino Forest Sport Plaza in Tokyo, Japan . Credit: Yohei Osada/AFLO SPORT/Alamy Live News

The Men’s Doubles contest will be edge-of-the-seat stuff for fans as the Minions style naturally amplifies the intensity of matches. Sukamuljo plays without restraint; his split-second analysis and retaliation raises the pulse of the spectators and the game.  He is the architect of a controlled mayhem within the boundaries of the court– his high tempo style is so unpredictable yet it never seems to wrong-foot his partner.  Kevin is an entertainer who loves to show what he can do.  He is an extraordinary competitor who has been set free to express his talent because of his wonderful relationship on court with Marcus.

Marcus Gideon is the anchor of the partnership.  Behind the mercurial Kevin his work rate at the back of the court is huge.  Kevin’s random creativity fits well with Marcus and their chemistry together is magic.  I adore the way their energy sparks drama around the net.  If opponents are not broken by the fast flat game extra pressure rests on Gideon.  Clever rivals neutralise them with shots that are designed to disarm their aggression and it’s obvious that this tests their patience.

Nothing is certain in the Olympic arena except that the path to the podium will be unforgiving.  The competition begins with 16 pairs made into four groups each headed by one of the top 4 qualifiers. It’s vital that they bring a single-minded focus to the court because only the top four are kept apart at this stage.  This means that a group could contain Astrup/Rasmussen, Kamura/Sonoda, and LEE/WANG.  We’ll find out more about this when the draw is held prior to the start of the competition but the possibility exists for some brutal opening matches.

I think their main challenge is finding a way to beat pairs like Endo/Watanabe who can withstand the flat fast game.  Yuta can engage with Kevin at the net and the Japanese understand that by taking the pace off the shuttle they can exert sustained pressure to frustrate the Indonesian pair.  Lifting high to the back of the court is a strategy we see used to blunt Sukamuljo’s attack. There’s no doubt that Kevin’s ambitious vision is the key to victory so long as his partner can keep the shuttle in play.  His perception of space, and his anticipation of it opening up, could be what sets them on the road to glory.  His agile badminton intellect fused with a ‘quiet eye’ and the physical ability to execute the shot will make the difference.  The phenomenon of ‘quiet eye’ is well-known in sport psychology – it’s that tracking gaze fixed on a target just before a decisive movement.  It’s analytical observation that knows what is important and when it’s important.

What does the Olympic tournament hold for the Minions?  There is a huge weight of expectation that rests on their shoulders and their coaches and fans have to protect them – as far as possible – from unnecessary pressure that could dilute their focus.  They have to be able to compete with a quiet mind.  I don’t mean that we should expect the Olympics to be a picnic for them but I want stress to be fuel for great performances.   There is no inevitability to progress. Can they take on Japan’s finest and defuse the threat?  Taiwan and China will be tough opponents and of course, if things go well the seeding could unwind as far as an all-Indonesian final. 

The Indonesian system routinely delivers standout players who have incomparable technical skills fused with great defence and they compete with flair and spirit. Fans all over the world are longing to see the top seeds at the top of the podium but it’s likely that this will be an event that demands more from them than any other. Men’s Doubles is going to be a fierce contest between equals so the players who adapt quickly to the conditions in the hall and the odd empty atmoshere will be at an advantage. Kevin and Marcus won at the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza back in 2019 and this will be their opportunity to cement their legendary staus in badminton. Good luck, play well, have fun & no injuries!


“Partner Andalan”


If you enjoyed this then take a look at this article from my archives about the Minions https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/29/the-minions-indonesian-superheroes/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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My Perfect Player: Part 2

I miss seeing my favourites on court so, as a response to the gloomy news about the postponement of the Malaysia Open, I have worked out the essence of a perfect player by taking the best bits from some of the finest athletes in the men’s game.

Vivacity: Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo

We delight in Kevin as an unstoppable force of nature.  His zesty intelligent play on court is exhilarating for spectators and often overwhelming for opponents.  His expertise at reading the game gives him stellar anticipation and fused with his technical ability, it’s not hard to see why he and Marcus Gideon have been World #1 for so long.  I love his high-speed reactions, his ambition and his imaginative vision.

Embed from Getty Images

Bullet Proof: Kento Momota

Momota’s will to win, his unflappable demeanour and apparently unlimited stamina have all driven him on to the top of many podiums.  On court he is economic with his emotions and strategy but his relentless return of the shuttle breaks his rivals resolve and often exposes their lack of ideas. Over the years he has overcome so many hurdles that his invincible aura just becomes brighter and brighter. He is an awesome athlete who plays with speed and accuracy and deserves his World #1 status.

Photo by Abdul Razak Latif/Shutterstock

Speed: Anthony or Yuta?

Intuitively I’d always choose Anthony Ginting in this category – his effortless, flowing movement is so classy and quick.  His fleet-footed style dovetails nicely with his silky racket skills too…however I ran a Twitter poll a few weeks ago and some fan’s answers made me reconsider a little especially Mia Wenas who suggested Yuta Watanabe.  Comparing singles and doubles players is tricky but Yuta’s court coverage and agile movement is hard to equal. I always think he wears a shirt that looks too big and this disguises his movement somewhat. He is one of the few players who can face Kevin over a net as an equal and so because of that he has to be recognised here.

100% Legend: Hendra Setiawan

Nobody wins all the major titles in their sport by chance: Hendra is an icon of the game.  His calm demeanour under pressure, his quick-witted strategic assessments on court and his extravagant skills at the net make him a truly wonderful player.  His humble response to compliments and victories are the mark of a real gentleman.  A badminton role model worldwide.

Street Fighting Man: Anders Antonsen

Antonsen has stepped up a level in the past couple of years; like all elite badminton players his technical skills are superb but what I really like about him is that he is a resourceful scrapper.  Many were shocked by his somewhat controversial tactics when winning against Viktor Axelsen at the World Tour Finals back in January.  His energy conserving strategy of conceding the second set was daring and ultimately successful; it took a ton of confidence to risk everything for the title but his gamble worked.

Firepower: Praveen Jordan or Viktor Axelsen

Probably the two hardest-hitters in the game but that does not do either man’s game justice. I’m fascinated to see what these two competitors can achieve at the Tokyo Olympics – they have a realistic chance of Gold but power alone does not win badminton matches.

I’ve really enjoyed trying to nail down the charactersitics of a Gold Medal player but this was just for fun. I’m sure that on another day I may’ve found room for Jonathan Christie, CHOU Tien Chen or SHI Yuqi. It’s hardly fair to single out players without mentioning their partners if they are from the doubles sector so don’t take this too seriously. Comments are welcome.


If you enjoyed this then take a look at Part 1 where I looked at the women’s game https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/04/30/my-perfect-badminton-player/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Featured

My Perfect Badminton Player

Inspired by the recent BWF series I started thinking…

Vision: TAI Tzu Ying

Pic from Shutterstock/ Abdul Razak Latif

TTY’s creative genius is Box Office Gold. Everyone wants to see that backhand reverse slice straight drop, especially when they least expect it. Her bedrock is superb technical skills blended with fitness.  The cocktail of flair, bravery and total self-belief is irresistable.  Because her shots are so unpredictable she stops rivals from anticipating her moves and this give her a tremendous competitive edge.  Any player who nurtures aspirations to get to the very top has to be inspired by TAI’s style.

Explosive Power: Carolina Marin

Marin’s superb athleticism blended with her attacking style makes her a formidable opponent.  She smashes, lunges and kills with venomous force.  She blazes on court; once she seizes the momentum of the game 6 or 7 points are in her pocket in the blink of an eye.  She is a rowdy, disruptive, noisy adversary who has harnassed her passion to carry her to the top of the sport.

Win-Ability: Misaki Matsutomo

There’s just something about Misaki Matsutomo – she seems able to force a victory, to break opponent’s will to win even when they are in a commanding position.  Of course the best example of this was the WD Rio Olympic final in 2016.  On the surface she looks mild but underneath she has an iron will.  Her instinctive response to danger is defiance; at 19-16 behind in the Gold medal match something was unleashed from deep inside her.  Her clever movement, trust in her partner and dominance at the net saw her at the top of the podium.  I’d love her to reach these heights in her XD career.

Accuracy: Ratchanok Intanon

May has a lot in common with TTY in terms of the technical quality of her strokes and she can execute some of the most breathtaking shots one would see on a court.  However, sometimes having the ability to land a shuttle on the line is a blessing and a curse.  Under pressure, and losing patience Ratchanok will often adopt a ‘death or glory’ approach.  Instead of playing percentage badminton and simply keeping the rally going she will push up a level and try for the point.  When it works it is majestic and a joy to watch.

Stamina: Nozomi Okuhara

Her style of play has long rallies at its core so her endurance is second-to-none.  However, this is a too simplistic view of this brilliant player.  She is fleet-footed and agile around the court with excellent flexibility.  She is clever and has superb technical skills although sometimes I think she delays finishing off a rally for too long – the opposite of Ratchanok.  I really respect her strength of focus in her pursuit of Tokyo Gold at a very tough time for the sport.  On a personal level, she is adorable.  When BirdJapan play team competitions she can be spotted on the sidelines leading the cheering for compatriots, and her all-round grace under pressure make her a very special person.

Potential: AN Se Young

In a couple of years time ASY could dominate the world scene. For now, shes a tournament random variable: often able to vanquish more illustrious opponents but not yet able to consistently reach finals weekend. I’d like her to work on the ability to shock. For now she has great anticipation and good all-round skill but she is quite reactive – to get to the next level I want to see effective shots that I don’t expect and better stamina over the duration of a competition.

It’s been amusing to try and build my Women’s Gold medal player, but there’s no doubt that some skills will outweigh others in tournament conditions in a drifty stadium. I didn’t include some of my favourite players: Saina’s intelligence and will to win, Sindhu’s power, Yuki’s consistency and Greysia’s defence but in the end this was just for fun. I’m sure you can suggest people I should have included – feel free to use the comments option.


If you enjoyed this then take a look at my article about the team behind TAI tzu Ying’s success https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/02/25/team-tai-tzu-ying/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Featured

The Covid Adjusted All England.

If NASA can land a rover on Mars why did it prove so difficult to get some elite athletes together in Birmingham for the Yonex All England 2021?

Pic from Shutterstock

No one has given a coherant explanation for decisions that were made. I wasn’t there, I’m not employed by any badminton organisation or the British authorities so this is just a speculative opinion piece from a fan.

“…this has been an extraordinarily painful and disappointing event for all of us…”

Badminton Indonesia – translated into English

There are some things that must be stated explicitly.  There is never any excuse for the harassment of players, officials or the wider community.  The winners of the titles are legitimate champions – none of these victories would be a surprise in ‘normal’ circumstances.  The people at the ‘coal face’ worked incredibly hard to stage the tournament.

January in Thailand saw a quarantine bubble with three successful tournaments, facilitated by cash from the Thai government. Contrast this with the situation in England. In September 2020 the Chief Executive of Badminton England said that the Championships were under threat unless the British Govt gave £1M to support it; this was followed up by an announcement on 19.11 of £2M funding and then a government press release that confirmed £1.3M to cover “essential costs to ensure the survival of these organisations”. Given the significant reserves held by the BWF it’s disappointing that these funds were needed.

Perhaps lack of cash was the reason that no pre-tournament quarantine bubble was enforced for this competition. Players were travelling long distances by air to a nation that had suffered over 125,000 dead in the pandemic, the general population were enduring their third lockdown plus the UK Test and Trace system is widely regarded as a national scandal. What could possibly go wrong?

Even before the bombshell of the Indonesian team’s withdrawal there were remarkable events earlier in the week.

  • Scottish players who travelled on a flight from Zurich after competing at the Swiss Open had to withdraw owing to a positive test on their flight.
  • Mathias Boe questioned the authenticity of the tests after members of the Indian team returned positive results despite isolation in Zurich for the Swiss Open and 5 negatives in 14 days. (Of course this ignores the risks of infection on a flight to the UK.)
  • One of the Danish team support staff tested positive and there was the real possibility of the whole team missing the tournament.

In fact, during the testing in Birmingham there had been 7 positives from players of 3 different nations and numerous ‘inconclusives’. In my opinion a sensible decision was made to retest but I am not clear why so many worrying results were produced. Were the samples collected and processed correctly and in a timely manner? ‘Inconclusive’ suggests contamination so is this the reason that retests were allowed?

Other peripherals also seemed odd. In the official preview it was a surprise to see Marcus Gideon and Kevin Sukamuljo described as ‘the Daddies’ whilst Praveen Jordan was called a former YAE MD champion (he is XD). Earlier pieces had called the Stoeva Sisters Belarussian (they are Bulgarian) and suggested that Marin was the beaten finalist in 2020 (she was knocked out in the SF).

It was remarkable that BWF had provided so few officials. How could it happen that in the R1 match between the Indonesian pair of Ahsan/Setiawan and Englishmen Lane/Vendy the service judge appeared to be from England too? Most sports do not allow compatriots to officiate over competitors – for obvious reasons.

I don’t think anyone – apart from the directors at Badminton England – has a clear timeline as to when the decision was made to require the Indonesian team and Neslihan Yigit to withdraw.  Choosing this option rather than simply suspend play for the evening to give time for careful consideration meant that irreversible decisions with far-reaching consequences were put in motion.  Presumably BWF had already discussed English covid protocols and worse case scenarios with all the team managers and yet the requirement for 10 days isolation came as a shock.

It is not easy to understand why the NHS ‘Test to Release’ scheme was not appropriate in this instance. It allows foreign travellers arriving in England to take a covid test on day 5 of their quarantine; a negative triggers a discharge. Reportedly there were impassioned attempts by BE to explore options to continue the players participation but they were unsuccessful. It was refered all the way up the line to Ambassador level but nothing could be done. The ‘covid positive’ on the Istanbul flight trumped any possible solutions.

Confirmation from the UK Govt NHS site that Test & Trace requirements override everything.

It’s a painful fact that it’s irrelevant to UK Covid law that the entire Indonesian team had consistently returned negative swabs and had been vaccinated before departure from Jakarta. There is a strong sense of injustice.  The instances of positive results were not treated in the same way.  Because no-one has explained what the differences are, there have been ridiculous accusations of foul play and unacceptable behaviour from people who are not fans and supporters of badminton. I think it has been naive of the badminton authorities to try to move the narrative swiftly away. This has been a opportunity for strong leadership and a willingness to learn but instead we are mired in a swirl of speculation and disappointment. I’m aghast at the insensitive tone of some social media posts; allowing poisonous comments to be appended to them is completely irresponsible as it inflames a difficult situation.

I feel sad because this has overshadowed one of the best tournaments in the world and it was so avoidable. It seems to me that the players are the ultimate victims but they have no strong unified voice to call for change. Why encourage athletes to travel halfway across the world without providing a pre-competition quarantine bubble? If the Court of Arbitration in Sport can unpick the facts from this who has to take ultimate responsibility?


This is the apology letter from the BWF https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/03/22/apology-from-bwf/ it was posted on the Kemenpora publicly available Instagram page and I copied it from there.

This is a piece about the same events by a fellow blogger and fan at Shuttle Smash https://shuttlesmash.com/all-england-2021-what-happened/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Featured

Yonex All England 2021: Singles Preview

The whole tournament is dominated by the most eagerly awaited comeback in modern badminton history.  The return of Momota. The spotlight will be on him from the second he steps back on court.

Artwork by Nekokite

Men’s Singles

Kento Momota is like a ravenous lion circling a water hole and preparing to pounce on unsuspecting antelope; here is a lion who hasn’t tasted red meat in a looong time.

It’s impossible to guess his level of fitness after such a lengthy absence but his superior mental strength will have driven him on to train and stay focused.  He has all the weapons to regain his title after missing the AE last year and he can often expose highly seeded opponents as one-dimensional.  He has an aura of a returning king although he must feel some nerves about the standards he can reach at the beginning of his campaign.  Viktor Axelsen has set a high benchmark over the past three months so Momota must be on guard.    Prediction: Final

Viktor Axelsen – the defending champion – had a brilliant January in Thailand so he will be arriving in Birmingham with high hopes of keeping his title.  He has been awesome at grabbing opportunities to win over the past 3 months: a living embodiment of Carpe Diem. However, that loss at the WTF keeps niggling away at me.  His power, fitness and will to win are second to none but he was unsettled by Antonsen’s cunning tactics.  Falling prey to a version of the rope-a-dope trick must have been incredibly frustrating and I wonder what the effect of that will be long-term.  Axelsen has introduced us to his ‘mental coach’ recently, who is an ex special forces soldier so he clearly wishes to explore how his psychology can give him an edge.  In the final of the Swiss Open he was unstoppable as he bulldozed his way to the trophy. It’s worth noting that his opponent – Vitidsarn – did start the encounter well and his tactics reminded me of Momota’s ‘waiting game’ approach, but he made too many errors and ran out of steam.   Momota has plenty of stamina and he knows not to give VA power to feed off, so if they meet in the final Viktor should be pushed harder.  Prediction Runner up

Anders Antonsen – the WTF Champion – is never a person to fade into the background and the past six months have been full on drama.  Starting in October, his epic battle against Gemke in the final of the Denmark Open left both unable to walk unaided from the arena, in November he contracted Covid, January saw patchy performances in the first two tournaments in Bangkok then he roared back to form in the WTF to snatch victory away from Axelsen; this all adds layers of experience to an intelligent player who needs to be on court.  Viktor has better fitness and stamina but Antonsen has better strategies.  Last year’s YAE saw him retire hurt from his semi-Final against CHOU Tien Chen which was a huge disappointment as he had every chance of making the final at that point. He is seeded 3 so it may be that we see an all-Danish semi final with the liklihood of a fired-up Viktor looking for revenge.

Anthony Ginting spearheads the Indonesia challenge in this sector.  When he is consistently at his best, he is unstoppable and we saw flashes of this brilliance in Thailand but he didn’t have enough for a podium finish.  On the whole, after such a long break, his performance gave some cause for optimism, or at least no cause for alarm.  In the SF of the Yonex Thailand Open he came up against a resolute VA in the third set but overall, he lost that tie 53-55 which puts a revealing slant on his defeat.  His levels dropped off in the next two tournaments and this is exasperating as he is such a glorious player. I saw lockdown as a useful opportunity for some players to improve areas of their game and instinctively I would point to his ‘third set’ strategies. There are not really gaps in his technique but something is missing in this area that his coaches need to address. I would love to see him come to Birmingham and gift us fans a MomoGI in the semi final. And then I want a final.

Kunlavut Vitidsarn was the World Junior Champion for three years running (2017/18/19) and is one of badminton’s rising stars.  Axelsen demolished him in the second set of the final of the Swiss Open but his fluency around the court and technical skill is exciting.  As he builds on his experience and puts more hours in at the gym we will see an improvement in stamina and pace.  The fact that he stayed with Viktor in the first set whilst playing patiently should worry Jonatan Christie who plays him in the first round.

Jonatan Christie is seeded 5 and has a brutal draw: possibly meeting Axelsen at the QF stage.  If so then he could struggle to progress as their h2h coupled with the Danes form doesn’t indicate any easy points.  It would be wonderful to see him get to the weekend but it would be a bit of a jaw-dropper if he can subdue the Dane. Last year LEE Zii Jia who is seeded 6, had a thrilling run to the SF before losing in a closely fought match with VA.  He is very mobile, with good technical skills, a great player for a neutral to support.  He looked a bit lethargic at the Swiss Open so perhaps he is an athlete who needs to compete consistently to maintain his focus and pace. A possible Quarter Final with Momota is on the horizon and to have any dream of progress he must improve on his recent form.

Women’s Singles

Owing to Marin’s late withdrawal from the tournament the top half of the draw is suddenly looking less intimidating for the other players. Akane, Pornpawee, and Pursala would have had to beat her to get to the final; now there is one less obstacle on the road.

Akane Yamaguchi is seeded 3 but still, this will be the first time we have seen her in an international tournament for a year and I honestly don’t know what we can expect.  She was the beaten finalist (in three sets) against Nozomi at the All-Japan National Championships in December. Before the pandemic her brief period at World #1 was followed by some inconsistency. At her best, she is a contender for the title, so the puzzle is about the level she is at when she hits the courts on the 17th March. She is known as a retriever but there have been occasions when she has used a fiercer style; combining more aggression with her great court coverage will give her more options when she is under pressure. The prospect of a QF against Pornpawee is intriguing. Mew nearly beat Marin in the Semi Final of the Swiss Open; she seemed down and out but hauled herself back into contention. Peppery unpredictability with unlimited stamina could be a good strategy.

Nozomi Okuhara‘s victory in the final of the Denmark Open over Marin came after a dazzling two sets; she would not let the Spaniard get a foothold in the game. The strategy of frustrating and denying her the chance to build a competitive rhythm disrupted her momentum and was a key element in Nozomi’s success.  In the context of 2019 where she consistently reached finals only to lose this was a big breakthrough. The court coverage, stamina and sheer stubbornness of Nozomi are hard to break. She last won in 2016 but with the Tokyo Olympics in mind she will be aiming to become a hard player to beat at the end of a tournament so this is the perfect place to set a marker. The hall conditions should suit her but she must get the right balance between attack and defence.

Ratchanok Intanon – the #4 seed – is coming to the All England for another shot at winning the title. She was close in 2017 but was relegated to Silver by TAI Tzu Ying. We often criticise TTY for lack of patience but I think that May suffers with this too – her sublime technical skills sometimes mean that she doesn’t play the percentages.  May could potentially be looking at a semi-final against Nozomi which would be a dream for fans. Rather like Anthony in the MS I wish she was more solid in the third set. It’s harder than it looks to behave with restraint in that section of a match but it is within her capabilities; we have all watched epic games where she fights with incredible grit and courage. In her 2020 win at the Indonesia Masters she overcame Marin in three sets so she can be inspired by this.

Pornpawee CHOCHUWONG’s progress since her victory over Carolina Marin at the Spain Masters in 2020 has been dislocated because of the effect of Covid cancellations on the badminton tour.  Nevertheless, she had victories over TAI Tzu Ying and Ratchanok in Bangkok which shows that she has the ability to compete with the best.  Her recent SF match against Carolina Marin at the Swiss Open was a defeat but she pushed all the way with a gritty and skilful display. Seeded 6 she has every reason to be optimistic if she can cut some of her errors. It would be an upset if she won the title but she has a chance – especially in the absence of Marin – and the mental stamina to push all the way to the end of a third set. Her obstinate outlook is a big advantage and it could be the foundation of tremendous achievements.

I would love to see Pursala V Sindhu rampage through the early rounds of this competition in the sort of form that won her the title at the World Championships in 2019.  She’s a great athlete, but it just seems that sometimes she cannot dig herself out of a hole when the game tilts away from her.  The final at the Swiss Open showed her difficulties; she struggled on her lunges to the front court to reach wide shots and wasn’t using any creativity to stop Marins anticipatory game. On the positive side she did get to the final and in the first set she seemed to have a bit more speed around the court. I hope that her coaching environment becomes more settled so that she can continue to develop her range.

So we have a men’s competition where we have to measure athletes against Viktor’s tough standards but Momota has returned to complicate things and a women’s competition that is missing TTY and Carolina but still features players with a realistic chance of the Gold medal later on in the year in Tokyo. All England success this year will go to the competitor who can come to the court with intensity and desire after twelve months of disruption and boredom. Can Viktor prove that he is the new King of the courts?


If you enjoyed this then take a look at my preview for the doubles sector https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/03/08/yonex-all-england-2021-doubles-preview/ or read my review of last year’s competition https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/03/21/yonex-all-england-2020-review/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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Team TAI Tzu Ying

TAI Tzu Ying is celebrated as a dazzling player: the best of her generation.  She is a sensational athlete who combines breath-taking technical skill with daring and panache.  She is applauded by millions of fans worldwide whenever she appears. However, when she wins a title her celebratory snapshot on Instagram always contains at least four more people.  This is her acknowledgement of the huge team effort behind her victories.  In this article I want to look at some of the people who help light TTY’s path to glory.

“The Team!”
Picture from TAI Tzu Ying’s Instagram post.

Coach LAI – Head Coach

“…all we can do is be better than before.”

Coach LAI in conversation with BWF TV

The badminton Gods were smiling on the day LAI Chien Cheng was assigned to work at TTY’s high school for his Substitute Military Service.  Over the years this chance meeting sparked a collaboration that has been a blessing for both. LAI had a good badminton background but made the decision to finish his sporting career when he was 21 preferring instead to put his energy into his post grad studies.  After connecting through her school badminton programme, at first, he was TTY’s sparring partner but his importance to her meant that his contribution expanded and in Feb 2015 he became her official coach.  By the end of 2016 she was world #1

LAI’s strength is that he understands what style to use to inspire TAI.  He is in a position of respect but he is on TTYs wavelength, so his emotional literacy enables him to get the most from his player.  She has commented in the past that other coaches have attempted to change her style but she ‘can’t’ play like that.  He recognises that there will be no reward in altering her game.

TTY’s impulsiveness and freedom to express badminton joy on court means that she uses shots that rivals can’t imagine.  LAI has said that he tries to focus on areas to improve and look for incremental gains.  At elite level small advances can make a huge difference and revitalise a player’s armoury.  LAI remarked recently that his biggest challenge has been to innovate in training – he was reluctant to copy other people’s methods because it would lead to stagnation. I have heard a similar observation from Fernando Rivas when he has spoken about his work with Carolina Marin. Both men understand that to achieve the extraordinary they have to be pioneers.

Crucially LAI says that he will often find more than one solution to a problem.  He has a genuine relationship with TTY that has a foundation in trust and honesty so the communication between them allows a focus on the process of training and this builds a winning attitude.

It was no big surprise in February 2019 to hear that LAI had been asked to become the head coach for the Taiwan badminton team for the Olympics – he was widely regarded as one of the brightest young coaches in the world at that point.  In the following six months TTY’s titles dried up.  He resigned from his role in October 2019 so that he could concentrate his attention back to her.

However, the relationship did not resume exactly as before.  The support team had been reinforced in Jan 2019 and this meant there were three more people to help fuel the search for excellence:

WAN Chia Hsin – Coach

We often see Coach WAN talking to TTY and holding the ice pack to her neck in the intervals in matches.  He competed internationally for Taiwan up to 2014 and now works in her team.  His responsiblity is to implement Coach Lai’s plans.  This is a vital part of the framework around TAI Tzu Ying.  He will provide precise assessments on areas for attention, and feedback to LAI to influence strategies. A second coach means that ideas and tactics can be analysed from new viewpoints.

Wang Shih-Ting – Physiotherapist

A large part of WANG’s role is to address aches and pains; I doubt that any elite athlete can avoid these niggles so the challenge is to manage discomfort effectively.  Like TTY’s physical trainer – FAN Zan-Yu – she is a graduate of Kaohsiung Medical University.  Her responsibility covers post-practice and post-match recovery.  Physios tend to use manual therapies like massage to manipulate the body.  This helps blood flow and relieves stiffness and we often see photos of this on Instagram as TAI Tzu Ying lies on a treatment table.  She will note injury patterns, plan rest and use this information to help fine tune training routines.

FAN Zan-Yu

FAN has been a great all-round athlete across many disciplines from swimming to frisbee but she’s mainly known as a basketball player.  Her duties are centred around maintaining fitness and running the pre-match warm up.  She works closely with the physio and ultimately her contribution will give TTY confidence that she has the stamina and agility to beat her rivals.  I think that there is an intriguing synergy between basketball and badminton.  Both need explosive power, high speed directional changes and 3D vision and both make huge demands on an athlete’s body.

Her Family

TTY has a loving and supportive family who are united in support of her.  When they were children, her parents took her and her sister along when they played badminton.  As she got older her father used to enter her in ‘open’ tournaments when she would compete against seniors – and lose!  She now credits this as a formative experience, one that taught her to accept defeat.  Her father is responsible for the idiosyncratic stringing pattern we see on her racket.  It’s revealing that she was treated with understanding by them when she wanted to give up training so she could have fun with her friends but they also supported her when she restarted. Her happy relationship with her Grandma is famous on Instagram. 

And PS…

Some fans have suggested that I add a little more about TTY’s father here. As well as being a caring and supportive dad he was pivotal in picking Coach LAI as a sparring partner in the first place so it was his shrewd judgement that initiated this fruitful alliance. Throughout her career he has been her manager; overseeing arrangements and ensuring she continues her journey in badminton in the best way possible.

Coach Lai and the team have worked in partnership to inspire and motivate her but they are only part of the story. She is adored by fans and has often commentated that she wants to win for them. Win or lose they offer unconditional support. It’s fascinating to consider how many people have walked along the path to excellence with TAI Tzu Ying.


If you enjoyed this take a look at another article of mine about The Queen https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/02/02/tai-tzu-ying-genius/


I’d like to thank everyone who helped with information for this piece including DeeTree (@tty4ever and taitzuyingfans.wordpress.com), Shodo0702 (@Sandrali13), eeye24 (@eeye24), Jenny Day, TTY’s Facebook admin and of course BWF TV.


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Featured

Michelle Li

by Michelle The

Michelle Li is the finest player in the Pan Am region ever; she sits in the top 10 world ranking with 4 Pan Am Games gold medals, 4 Pan Am Championships gold medals, and a Commonwealth Games gold medal in her pocket. However, that success didn’t come instantly. She has had her own struggles around lack of funding and solo travel while coping with injuries and playing with pain.  Badminton glory is something she has pursued since she was a little kid, even after disapproval from her closest people. There was one thing she knew for sure; she is very passionate about badminton and she wouldn’t give it up. She chose to follow her dream.

Embed from Getty Images

In her best days, Michelle Li is a pure delight to watch. Her beautiful shots and powerful smashes, paired with her tenacity, make for a great badminton match for spectators.  It’s obvious that she loves to play and enjoys being part of the sport.

Born in Hong Kong, Michelle Li moved to Canada at the age of six with her family. She picked up her first racket at age 11, playing with her mom at a local community center. Not long after, she started training at her current club, Lee’s Badminton. Even in the early days, her coach, Jennifer Lee saw her mental toughness and believed she could succeed.

In Canada, badminton does not get a lot of attention so she has to constantly deal with the lack of financial support. Even though she is a top 10 athlete, it is still a struggle for her to get sponsors. Badminton Canada tries their best to help but they just don’t have enough funding to fully support their athletes.

““Because badminton is such a small sport in Canada, sponsors aren’t interested in badminton. And if I go to Asia, they wouldn’t sponsor someone from Canada. They’d sponsor someone from their own country. So, it has always been a struggle financially to figure out how I’m gonna fund my next tournament,”

Michelle Li

In the past, she often had to travel on her own without a team in her corner.  Once in a while her coach could come along, but not always. Incredibly they would sometimes have to talk through WhatsApp to discuss tactics. Definitely not the ideal situation for an athlete mid-tournament.  More recently though, she has started working with a personal coach and a therapist from Taiwan who have been able to accompany her to competitions and that has helped her a lot. Covid has restricted this to some degree but she is usually with the Team Canada coaches and fellow players.

Like most elite athletes Michelle has had to overcome injuries. Leading up to the 2016 Olympics, she discovered that she had a tear in her patella tendon, right knee, and hip, along with a broken bone in her right foot. After Rio, she went through surgery and was forced to take significant time off from competing.  She underwent grueling hours of rehab just to make her whole right leg felt like hers again. She had to relearn the basics and crawl up the ranking board anew. It was a year that she described as being “really really tough”.

After the rehab things started to look bright again.  With strong determination Michelle Li trained hard and has kept improving ever since. She has won 2 Macau Open titles, and made it to the semifinals of some big tournaments beating tough opponents like Tai Tzu Ying and Nozomi Okuhara along the way. Her ‘A’ game is creative and hard-hitting.  So long as her focus isn’t diluted by worries about money or pain, she can go toe-to-toe with the world’s best and come away with a result.

With the Tokyo Olympics coming up, Michelle Li has a dream to stand on the podium.  Her motivation is to change the sport on her side of the world for the better. She believes a medal would really raise the profile of badminton in Canada and help her make that happen.  

Her story will encourage other aspiring juniors to defy odds, pursue their dreams, believe in what they can do, and become champions. She always felt that she wasted a lot of time just trying to figure things out alone, and she hopes her experience can help others speed up their own process. She wants to promote the sport and help people have a better chance of succeeding. Let’s wish her all the very best for the coming Olympics and for the rest of her career! Keep fighting, Michelle!


For more coverage of Michelle Li follow @michellethe22 on Twitter


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Featured

January 2021 Review: A Month In Thailand

Shock withdrawals, shock exits and shock reinstatements; January’s tournaments were never dull.  Unless of course, you happen to be a player quarantined in the Bangkok Novotel for 20 hours a day with chicken for dinner again.  Indomie products were suddenly currency and some athletes were  incentivised by the prospect of a year’s supply of the world’s best instant snack.

This is my look at the three Thailand tournaments.  I’m not pretending that I’m unbiased, or that I can cover everything but I hope my highlights remind you what a cracking few weeks fans have just enjoyed. 

HK Vittinghus’ January was epic.  Initially on the reserve list he had the ambition to gamble and start the long trip to Thailand from Denmark with no guarantee of a game.  Events moved in his favour when the Japanese team turned back at Tokyo airport following Momota’s positive test.  His story stuttered at the Yonex Thailand Open when he lost to compatriot Gemke in R1 but the following week saw him excel and become the focus of fierce support from fans in Indonesia who had realised that the further he progressed the more likely Anthony Ginting was to qualify for the World Tour Finals.  Some wild incentives involving Indomie noodles were offered.  Through very intense games he found a route to to the final and a match against Axelsen.  Along the way, his results meant that Anthony Ginting did qualify. Axelsen powered through the encounter but HK can be proud of his month’s work.

Astonishingly there were triple champions in MD and XD and double champions in MS and WS which suggests that finding the winning formula fast in the impact arena offered big rewards.  I think that people with good underlying fitness combined with the resilience and drive to make the most of opportunities were at an advantage. Fatigue – mental and physical – was a factor for some as there was little breathing space between each tournament.

Men’s Singles

The Danish men controlled the courts all month – I’ve already mentioned Vittinghus but the fluctuations in the balance of power between Axelsen and Andersen is fascinating and I’m really looking forward to see who has the upper hand in March.  Andersen prevented his fellow Dane from a clean sweep of titles by some tactics at the World Tour Finals that some found controversial.  Not me.  I felt he was strategically very smart.  It’s unfair to reduce his astute strategy to his ‘easy’ concession of the second set.  Throughout the match he refused to give Viktor pace from smashes to feed off and this was a key element in his win.

There were times when we saw sublime standards from Anthony Ginting and I was disappointed that he didn’t get to a final.  His challenge is to stay with a game at the death. CHOU Tien Chen consistently made the semi-final of all three tournaments but somehow just lacked the resources to finish a match off.

Women’s Singles

Tai Tzu Ying by Abdul Razak Latif/Shutterstock

Carolina Marin – like Viktor – completely dominated her sector in the first two tournaments; bulldozing TAI Tzu Ying aside as she triumphed in both of their finals .  At the season’s finale she was prevented from making it a hat trick by a tactically astute performance by TTY who finally managed to eliminate errors when it came to the crucial stage of the game.  This link will take you to my article that discusses TTY’s win in more detail https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/02/02/tai-tzu-ying-genius/

I’m often dazzled by Ratchanok Intanon to the extent that I don’t give enough attention to the other athletes in the Thai team.  Pornpawee Chochuwong can look back over her matches with a lot of satisfaction.  We saw her potential twelve months ago when she beat Marin in the final of the Spain Masters and it turns out that that was not a fluke. At the end of a hard month she was a semi-finalist at the World Tour Finals and posed a threat to every player.  AN Se Young also caught my eye: she got to three semi finals but couldn’t quite push through to a podium finish.

Mixed Doubles

A deserved hat-trick of titles for the home pair Dechapol Puavaranukroh & Sapsiree Taerattanachai (Bass/Popor).  They have been on the brink of good results for a while and this month they competed with gutsy resilience and strong self-belief.  They are a wonderful team with excellent mobility, stamina and racket skills. 

“This is my reward for nine months of hard work and dedication”

Sapsiree Taerattanachai courtesy BWF Media press office

This success could see them start to dominate their sector.

Women’s Doubles

I’ve always been a big fan of GreyAp and so I was beyond thrilled to watch their emotional win in the YTO.  Soon their journey together will end.  I’m delighted that they have used these tournaments to showcase their best style: Greysia smiling and Apri roaring on to victory. Well played girls!

Men’s Doubles

The Taiwanese duo – LEE Yang and WANG Chi-Lin – really enhanced their reputations throughout January.  Not only did they win all three competitions but their humble self-deprecating comments endeared them to watching fans.  Playing to their strengths they used power and muscle non-stop to overcome rivals.  They were too fast and furious even for Ahsan and Setiawan to tame and no-one beats the Dads by accident.  On the subject of the Dads; once again these two gnarly warriors battled through adversity and showed why they are admired worldwide. Here is my look at Ahsan’s gritty fight to stay in the game when he was struggling with an injury https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/01/20/mohammad-ahsan-player-of-the-day-total-legend/

Finally…Coach Kim, Happiness and Hope

The effervescent Coach Kim popped up in Thailand with the Korean team. Her energetic style radiates confidence and is irresistible. During the interval she seems able to outline any observations to her team in about ten frenetic cheerful seconds then she calmly sits down whilst the opposition coach remains standing.

It was an uplifting few weeks. Back to back tournaments undoubtedly stretched athletes but they still delivered some breathtaking matches full of skill. I think they gave supporters hope that there is a return to regular badminton just around the corner.


Here’s my recent article about Momota https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/12/27/momota-the-return-of-the-king/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Featured

TAI Tzu Ying: Genius

Badminton’s Most Valuable Player

TAI Tzu Ying is the benchmark for all that is captivating about badminton.  Her triumph at this year’s World Tour Finals was a radiant festival of skill fused with courage.

Fans suffered through an intense game.  The score see-sawed as neither player was able to subdue the other.  Marin had dominated January’s tournaments in Bangkok: played 2 won 2.  At 15-10 up in the last set of this final she was starting to look unstoppable; she had the hat-trick within her grasp.

I hate matches like this.  I love matches like this. 

All through the battle TTY had a potent strategy: keep Carolina from dominating the forecourt and net area, keep her pinned back and persist with the difficult questions of her rear-court backhand.  It was the unforced errors that were jeopardising her challenge.  Marin’s noisy, boisterous approach, constant towel-downs and delays brought friction to the encounter.  I have never seen TAI Tzu Ying refuse an opponent’s request for a new shuttle before and she seemed irritated by some of her opponent’s attempts at psychological warfare.

When she stepped on court TTY knew that she had to stay patient and eliminate mistakes.  Once a rival hands the initiative to Marin she will lock in on victory, her velocity increases and she bulldozes her way to Gold.  Trailing 17-19 in the final set TAI roused herself for a final effort.  She pulled and pushed Marin around the court’s four corners and to draw level she produced an exquisite drop that was unplayable.  19-19.  She brought up match point with another dazzling drop.  Two points in a row and no errors.  The title was sealed by a shot that forced Marin to turn and retreat to the back line. Slightly off-balance she misjudged its trajectory and it fell in.  It was all over.  Victory to TAI Tzu Ying.

An arena with no spectators erupted with applause.  All around the world, fans who had been watching through their fingers could celebrate.

“Finally, I won. When I can remain calm and patient, I can win the game. In the end it was a tight game…before this match today I kept telling myself that I had to play patiently. In the previous matches, all my mistakes were caused my own impatience…I made some mistakes and that cost me against Marin because she is fast. I need to put a lot more effort to keep up with Marin’s pace.”

TAI Tzu Ying courtesy BWF Press Office

This win confirms her rise to legendary status.  Like Michael Jordan and Lionel Messi, she is an athlete whose skills transcend her sport.  Flair blended with ambition is a rare joy to witness and we are privileged to enjoy the genius of TAI Tzu Ying.


If you enjoyed this take a look at this article about TTY https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/10/03/we-miss-tai-tzu-ying/ or this one about the Taiwan mock Olympics https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/08/03/tai-tzu-ying-and-taiwans-mock-tokyo-olympics/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved