Japan’s Fukuhiro: Can They Win Tokyo Gold?

The Champions of Fuzhou and new world number 1s are enjoying a great run of form.

It’s Olympic qualification year and the focus of elite badminton players everywhere is turning to Tokyo. Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota are one of the best women’s doubles pairs in the world, have recently reclaimed their #1 ranking, and are expected to be on the podium at the end of the competition.

At the Yonex All England Final 2018. Credit: Tang Shi/Xinhua/Alamy Live News

“Our strength is about being patient…”

Fukuhiro is an alliance built on the classic doubles foundation of a rock solid defence. They will resist any bombardment and they are so skilful at rotating position that they can diffuse the pressure between themselves. Women’s Doubles is characterised by long rallies; tension builds shot on shot, so to win they have to be able to draw on their mental strength and self belief. Take a look at the highlights from the final of the Indonesian Open (below). The speed of their reactions, commitment to each other and toughness see them triumph, and defend their title.

Video by kind permission of BWF

The essence of a great Doubles pair is two people playing with a perfect understanding of each other. It becomes something magical (think Daddies) when the players can sense what their partner is about to do. Exceptional movement is critical; this and effective anticipation is from hours and hours spent together on the practise court along with a sacrifice of the self for something grander. The video clip below from American Vape shows them training – the obvious thing to point out is that they play 2 against 3. This means they improve their endurance, their shot accuracy and their ability to handle unpredictable replies.

Training video from American Vape.

It’s clear they like each other in real life, their giggling in interviews, teasing each other and general demeanour shows athletes in tune with their partner. Showing their human side to their fans – their emotional generosity – means they are two of the most loved players in the world.

Film from Badminton Denmark.

However there is a paradox at the core of this partnership and I think it may account for the three silver medals at the Badminton World Championships. These two do not seem to have any weaknesses; they are exceptional all-rounders. So when the chips are down what do they emphasize? To be so balanced is a blessing and a curse.

Embed from Getty Images

It’s not accurate to simply define them as defensive players. They are comfortable with counter-attack. Fukushima puts a lot of work in at the rear court especially, but her strategy is not only based on clears: she has a very good disguised drop shot in her armoury. Hirota will be aggressive at the net and can snaffle points with her lightening reactions. When they are up against rivals like CHEN/JIA (who tend to be powerful and aggressive) they can endure the storm. Basing a strategy around smashing is high risk against Fukuhiro because it uses up a lot of energy. Eventually their rivals lose their bite and they are dispatched. Its a bit like Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope trick in the Rumble in the Jungle.

“It’s all about qualifying for the Olympics for us…we haven’t been and we desperately want to go”

Fukuhiro are a great duo who are real contenders for gold at every competition they enter. Japanese players dominate the world rankings for WD but only two pairs can compete at the Tokyo Olympics. I would be astonished and devastated if they missed out. This is their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to cement their place in history with Olympic gold.

Embed from Getty Images

Here is a link to my look at Nozomi Okuhara https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/04/23/nozomi-okuhara-racket-ready-for-tokyo-glory/

You may also enjoy this piece about AN Se Young https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/07/08/an-se-young-koreas-sensational-17-year-old/

Or this one about the World #1 Kento Momota https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/12/27/kento-momota/

©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Lauren Smith: Doubles For Britain.

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

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

Pic from BWF TV

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

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

Video by kind permission of BWF

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

Pic from Badminton England twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

©2019 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved