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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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
Matches played at electric pace with breathtaking skills – welcome to the World Tour Finals 2020! Plunge into the end of season event that showcases the best of badminton.
Women’s Singles is the most compelling sector in elite badminton. The variety of styles and intensity of competition adds up to a breathtaking spectacle.
The WTF begins with a round robin format. Once complete the top two athletes from each group embark on the knock-out phase: semi finals then final. The draw can have quite an influence as the woman who negotiates this phase whilst conserving energy is at an advantage later on. Tiredness is going to play a decisive role: these players have competed in two high level tournaments on the bounce, so those with speedy physical and mental recovery will progress.
Group A: Marin, AN, LI, and Kosetskaya
The irrepressible, extraordinary Carolina Marin is in a group she will want to rule! Her loud hustly-bustly manner is only part of the story; this clever, committed player drives herself on to overcome challenge after challenge. Carolina is an attacker who operates at pace; her vulnerability is revealed if her onslaught is faced and countered. Once she gets the opportunity to dominate the front court and use her spinning net shot her momentum is hard to resist so the key will be to see who can pin her back and be patient enough to frustrate her.
She was unstoppable in January: 2 tournaments played and 2 tournaments won. So, who can halt her progress to this podium? Prediction: Silver
AN Se Young is the menace to the status quo who lurks just over the horizon. She has been regarded as the player who could dominate the women’s game for years however, she hasn’t achieved that status yet. Like Chochuwong she can earn great results but I think she still struggles to maintain consistent levels of excellence day after day at a tournament. At the Toyota Thailand Open she couldn’t handle Marin’s pace and didn’t have a workable strategy to counter it. She is still an incredibly talented competitor who may progress to the SF. Can she handle Marin this time?
Michelle Li is a nicely balanced player with great racket skills, the ability to play precision shots and read the game. She has been the gold medallist at the Pan Am Games three times and yet I’ve heard it said that she performs better as the underdog. I think sometimes her own inner voice sabotages her confidence and that can weaken her resilience. She is very capable of getting to the semi finals so long as she takes advantage of every chance. That includes beating AN Se Young.
Evgeniya Kosetskaya is the first Russian singles to qualify for the WTF. She’s not as well-known as some of the top seeds but she has honed her game in the Danish professional league so we can expect to watch a player who is hard to beat and tactically smart. She could spring a surprise or two but it’s not likely that she will be able to build on an upset.
Group B: TAI, Intanon, Chochuwong and Sindhu
TAI Tzu Ying got to both finals in January but on each occasion she could not slow Marin down. It feels wrong to complain about inconsistency but while her performances have been good enough to get on the podium she just has not been at her top level. If she is going to disrupt the Carolina Marin show at the WTF she has to use everything at her disposal including the patience she used to win the All England. Prediction: Semi final at least but I’m concerned about her tiredness.
Ratchanok Intanon: as she got more court time in January, May’s play improved. She was knocked out of the Yonex Thailand Open at the QF stages by An Se Young and at the Toyota Thailand Open she reached the SF. Her campaign at the TTO showed off so many of her strengths and reminded us all what a dazzling player she is. I think her quarter final against a resurgent SUNG Ji Hyun was superb: her gritty fightback after losing the first set was awesome. Her semi-final battle with TAI Tzu Ying was dazzling with both players showing their creative power. Prediction: Too close to call, but I’d love to see her in the final.
Pornpawee Chochuwong is a young player who has taken some impressive scalps most noticeably her victory last year over Marin at the final of the Barcelona Spain Masters. It’s unfortunate the disrupted 12 months has robbed her of the chance to build upon this; her assured net play and stout defence mean she could be capable of getting to the SF if she is ruthless in dispatching her rivals.
PV Sindhu – her game has been very up and down since she was crowned World Champion and it would seem that she is seeking to reset her approach. I’m a big fan of the Rio silver medallist and I would love to see her cast her cares away and play without limits. At core she is an exciting, intimidating player who can annihilate opponents without mercy. Once she starts using her attacking clears and screwing down the pressure on rivals, she is so hard to resist. Given her below par performances this month it’s difficult to predict glory in this tournament but I hope she can start to rebuild her game and use this as part of the process.
Any of these players can triumph in a one off match against the other but fatigue will blunt some challenges. Possessing the drive and resilience to go toe-to-toe with her peers day after day and dig out relentless wins is the crucial factor. January’s nonstop demands on our favourites are building to a crescendo. The athlete at the top of the podium on Sunday will be a worthy champion.
If you enjoyed this then take a look at my recent post about TAI Tzu Ying https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/10/03/we-miss-tai-tzu-ying/ or this one about Kento Momota https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/12/27/momota-the-return-of-the-king/
©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved
Apriyani Rahayu propelled GreyAp into the final of the Yonex Thailand Open with a sparky display backed up by her stalwart partner Greysia Polii.
This match had all the makings of a doubles war of attrition but a complicating factor was the effect of drift in the Impact Arena and ultimately this was exploited more intelligently by the Indonesian pair. Set 1 was taken by LEE/SHIN 21-15; they started smartly and executed some brilliant net interceptions. Polii pulled back (a little) into uber defence.
The second set started better. Apri was quick and powerful: her aggression plus the slight advantage of the drift began to tell in the scoreline. The commentator Podcast Tepak Bulu likened her performance to that of Keigo Sonoda and I think that’s a very clever observation. Her energy and bravery were exceptional throughout. It was a must-win set and they nailed it 21-15. Game On!
Apri’s combatitiveness and Greysia’s composure really paid off. They went into the interval just ahead at 11-9: there had been one sequence in the early exchanges when the commentary team spotted that Polii had played 12 drops in a row, all beautifully accomplished, all diffusing the pressure that the Korean team were trying to exert. The grit and determination of the Indonesian duo broke the Korean’s resolve. The score continued to tick up in favour of GreyAp; both LEE and SHIN had shoelace fiddling episodes in an attempt to disrupt the momentum of their rivals. They tried to prolong the rallies as well but mistakes began to creep into their play.
Match point was brought up by sharp work at the net by Greysia. In an ironic twist – given Polii’s iffy serve all through the game – Apri planted a low accurate serve over the net. It was left by the Koreans but proved in by Hawkeye. Victory. Well done both, ice packs on and lots of luck for a good game in the final.
If you enjoyed this then take a look at my indepth article about GreyAp https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/01/19/greysap-redux-polii-rahayu-are-back/
©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved
First, a confession – I didn’t watch the match today between Saina and Selvaduray Kisona. However, I want to award my ‘Player of the Day’ accolade to the Indian player because the last 24 hours must really have tested her resolve to get out on court and compete, let alone win.
The shocking news yesterday that two Indian players had tested positive for Covid made headlines worldwide. Her millions of fans were dismayed at the news that one of them was Saina and that her opponent had been awarded a walkover.
What a difference 24 hours has made. Gossip started leaking out that she had been retested and was now confirmed ‘negative’. Would she be allowed to reenter the competition? Was she OK?
She is a player who has a steely core; we’ve seen this throughout her career. Late yesterday when we got the news that she’d been reinstated it was also revealed that she had been stuck at the hospital for 10 hours. Today, in the last game of the session, having been shifted onto Ct 3 at short notice she won in two sets 21-15, 21-15.
I can’t report that her fitness is back to its best, or that niggling injuries are healed. But I’m thrilled to tell you that there can be no questions about the mental resilience and grit of this athlete. Congratulations Saina!
Honourable mentions today go to Daren LIEW who shocked Anders Antonsen by dumping him out of the tournament in two sets and Ratchanok Intanon who looked sharp and fit in her victory over YEO.
if you enjoyed this then take a look at my indepth article about Saina here https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/10/08/indias-saina-nehwal-trailblazer-legend/ or my preview of this competition here https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/01/07/badminton-reloaded-yonex-thailand-open-singles-preview/
©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved
FajRi were asked some tough questions by the Thai pair Phuangphuapet & Viriyangkura this morning and were on the brink of crashing out of the competition in Round 1.
It was Alfian who clawed them out of a hole when it was starting to look like they might suffer a shock exit. Typically they are a dazzling attacking duo but the slow hall conditions blunted their pacey style and the Thais were resolute in their challenge. Ardianto had a so-so game: his range was a bit off which meant some of his shots did not land. Fajar stepped up and dragged his partner to the finish line with brilliant attacking variations and a positive attitude. At the crunch, match point down Ardianto held his nerve to execute a superb cross-court shot that set up Fajar‘s net kill. He followed this up with 3 flick serves in a row to settle the final game 22-20.
“It was a tough match because our opponents played well. We haven’t faced them before, this is a new combination. We have played Nipitphon but we’ve not played Tanupat, and he played very well today, so we took time to get used to the style”Muhammad Rian Ardianto quote courtesy BWF Press Office
An honourable mention also goes to Dane Mia Blichfeldt who – in the shock of the day – dispatched P V Sindhu over 3 sets and also Ashwini Ponnappa whose leadership in her XD pairing with Rankireddy took the duo to a deserved victory over the sixth seeds Faizal/Widjaja.
If you enjoyed this then take a look at my previews for the Yonex Thailand Open https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/01/07/badminton-reloaded-pt-2-yonex-thailand-open-doubles-preview/ and https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/01/07/badminton-reloaded-yonex-thailand-open-singles-preview/
©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved