Featured

Yonex French Open 2021 Review

Hot on the heels of Odense the action moved to Paris. It quickly became obvious that some athletes were running on empty; the challenges of a schedule that includes an Olympics, a Sudirman Cup, a Thomas, or Uber Cup and the Denmark Open over the space of 12 weeks following lockdowns, quarantines and illness was a lot to embrace, physically and mentally. Which brings me to Akane, Momota and The Unseeded.

Screengrab courtesy BWF

Akane – Winner Women’s Singles

Whilst some have struggled with the relentless pressure of tournaments since the Tokyo Olympics, Akane has thrived. She arrived in Paris as the Denmark Open champion and continued her hot streak right through to victory in the final again. These back-to-back wins suggest she has rediscovered the form that made her world#1 back in July 2019. It was her defensive excellence, swift court coverage and faultless anticipation which neutralised Takahashi’s challenge today. Akane is the standout Women’s Singles player in the world at the moment.

The Unseeded win Men’s Singles and Doubles: Tsuneyama, and KO/SHIN

It’s always magical to watch an unseeded player battle through to a final and win. Both of the men’s titles in this tournament went to players who were expected to lose earlier on. Kanta Tsuneyama triumphed over the more experienced CHOU Tien Chen in three tough sets; his perseverance and precision shots were the foundation of success and his delight in victory was irresistible.

In Men’s Doubles KO Sung Hyun and SHIN Baek Cheol faced Gideon and Sukamuljo. The Koreans are the former world champions who have been enduring a very lean period over the past couple of years. The Minions are working their way though their own existential crisis at the moment so it was hard to know what to expect from this contest. The Korean’s victory was quite brisk, no long rallies but a relentless drive for the title that stopped the Indonesian pair from getting any sort of toehold in the match. It was a long way from a classic, but KO and SHIN deserved the win. I hope Kevin and Marcus can take some encouragement from getting to the final.

Momota

“….the body is worn out but the heart is fine so it’s OK”

Kento Momota IG story (rough translation)

Sometimes sport is more than victory. Over the past few weeks Momota has consistently refused easy options. His resilience and character has driven him on to compete. When it seems as though his body is aching for a rest he has stepped back on court to play again. As the beaten finalist in Denmark he could have – maybe should have – withdrawn from this tournament; instead his desire for badminton carried him on to the Semi-Final where he eventually had to concede the match because of injury. It’s clear that he is still getting back to his best form but every time he plays he progresses. I’m looking forward to Bali and I reckon it’s not going to be long to wait before his next title. (WTF?)

Yuta and Arisa

Yuta Watanabe continues to impress on the XD stage. I love his spatial awareness: his ability to find gaps on his opponents side of the court is second to none. His support for Arisa – on and off court – is exemplary and so this is the basis of a partnership that will keep developing and keep winning. After today’s win they can go to Bali feeling confident about their ability to be in the mix at the end of a tournament.

Conclusions

Apart from top seeds LEE/SHIN winning the WD competition, the story of this Yonex Paris Open is of athletes triumphing over low expectations, injuries and fatigue. Kanta Tsuneyama’s, road to the MS title as an unseeded player was tough but it’s always extra special to watch ‘upset’ wins like these. Sayaka Takahashi reached the WS final despite a career threatening back injury last year. Kevin and Marcus got to their first final since AE2020 and although they lost out to unseeded KO/SHIN they must find some positives in that to fuel recovery from their slump.


If you enjoyed this, take a look at my recent article about Jonatan Christie https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/10/16/thomas-cup-semi-final-mvp-jonatan-christie/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

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

Featured

Yonex All England 2021: Doubles Preview

The arena in Birmingham awaits. The stage is set for badminton royalty to remind fans why they dominate world badminton. A Super 1000 tournament is the ultimate test and a Super 1000 title is the sign of sporting magnificence.

Men’s Doubles

Will anyone be able to stop the Minion’s progress to the title?  Indonesian men’s doubles is the finest in the world but that doesn’t mean the path to the podium is painless.

Kevin Sukamuljo & Marcus Gideon – were last year’s beaten finalists and are top seeds.  The key question is whether or not they can overcome the sort of strategies Yuta & Endo used against them in the final last year – have they been able to add those couple of extra percentage points to their performance to grab the gold?  It is vital that they are focused from the minute they step on court in R1 because there are some outstanding rivals ready to eliminate them.  If they get to the QF it’s possible they may meet the talented Indian pair Rankireddy/Shetty or the recent Swiss Open champions Astrup/Rasmussen.  Both of these can defend a barrage of flat, aggressive shots so a crucial asset for the Minions is going to be patience, and to be confident in the breadth of their attack. Prediction: Final – they will rock the All England together!

Takeshi Kamura & Keigo Sonoda are Japan’s highest seeds at 3. Kamura has great vision and anticipation with shuttle hunting at the core of his game.  Sonoda is the steadfast partner who backs him up and feeds off what he creates. They are the epitome of “fast and furious” with rowdy shouting and a brawny, dynamic approach. They never run out of energy but their head-to-head record against the Minions is quite weak so if they face each other over the net on the Saturday all the stats point to an Indonesian win.  Prediction: Semi Final

Hiroyuki Endo/Yuta Watanabe: I adore Yuta’s swashbuckling style and he is nicely balanced by Endo’s steadier approach.  It’s a rare player who can match Kevin Sukamuljo’s net play but Yuta is not intimidated by the Indonesian’s blistering reactions and can hold his own. Last year’s champions have every chance of defending their title but as they are ‘only’ seeded 4 they are not going to get an easy passage to the final.  It seems extraordinary to me that Yuta has a realistic chance of winning XD as well; surely there must come a point where his stamina is diluted?

Hendra Setiawan & Mohammad Ahsan: these two badminton heroes keep playing at the highest level and digging out results in taxing games.  Hendra’s skills belong to a different dimension when he is at the net, and he brings such control and determination to his matches.  They did play well in Thailand but were not able to stop Lee/Wang’s hat-trick of titles; in the final of the WTF they were simply overwhelmed by the Taiwanese players high speed muscular approach. They are seeded 2 and I never ever write them off.  Prediction SF.

Fajar Alfian & Muhammad Rian Ardianto.  I’m not sure what to expect from the fifth seeds.  I didn’t feel that they hit their stride in Thailand but when these two are at their best the combination of Ardianto’s crisp smashes and Alfian’s control of the net is exhilarating. It’s crucial that they find their competitive groove quickly, their rhythm in Thailand was too stuttery and they used a lot of energy chasing points rather than dictating games. Its feasible that they could meet the Dads at the QF stage and they will not be the favourites to win that game.

Mixed Doubles

There are exciting athletes in XD at the moment.  I’m intrigued to watch the new unseeded pairing of Olympic Gold Medallist Misaki Matsutomo with Yuki Kaneko.  When TakaMatsu broke up last year, Misaki switched disciplines from WD to XD in a bid to get a spot at the Tokyo games.  I don’t think they can expect to get beyond a Quarter Final but she is a competitor from the top draw and her fans would love to enjoy watching a good run in this tournament.  It feels as though this is a competition ready to be won by someone unexpected, especially as Bass/Popor have decided not to compete. I can’t lie, I would adore it if they over-achieved.

Praveen Jordan & Melati Daeva Oktavianti. Seeded 1 and the defending champions – PraMel are sharp-witted and shrewd players. Jordan always looks so strong and menacing; no one has a smash as hard as him.  If he is in the right frame of mind he can ride the momentum of a game and annihilate opponents.  Melati needs him to be focused and fit so she can concentrate on her own role. He has had an injury but is reportedly back to full training so the mission to retain their title is feasible.

Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino: Yuta is not necessarily the most powerful player but he makes up for that with his anticipation and creativity.  It’s incredible that he has the stamina to compete at the highest level in two disciplines.  I like the partnership with Arisa because of her strength, when they find their positions reversed Yuta can rely on her to defend the back as he rules the front. This brings an extra dimension to their attack and can really turn the tide in their favour in a game. They are seeded 2 and I can’t really see who can stop their progress to a medal.

CHAN Peng Soon & GOH LIU Ying are the Rio silver medallists and should be looking at this competition as a good opportunity to win a title.  I think they must start brightly to try and build self-confidence before the possibility of a QF against Thom and Delphine.  They can get to the semi-final so long as they don’t get overwhelmed by the ebullient French pair.

Thom & Delphine: These two are being touted as the future of European XD and possible gold medallists at the Paris Olympics.  For now, they are just at the start of their journey but they are a confident duo who like to dominate and dictate the momentum of a match.  They are a stylish pair to watch, creative, zesty and always looking for gaps, especially out wide.  The intensity and quality of the competition they will face here is a step up from the Swiss Open but it is intriguing to measure them against some of the best in the world.  Prediction QF

Women’s Doubles

FukuHiro are top seeds and defending champions – they seem to have added a sprinkle of something extra to their game over the past year.  I think they have given themselves permission to be more than good.  In Denmark back in October Yuki Fukushima’s energy and desire propelled them on to the title.  Hirota’s swiftness of body and mind, her precision and anticipation screw down the pressure on opponents. If they bring the same aggression and accuracy to Birmingham the pair will be unstoppable. Prediction: Final

Embed from Getty Images

Nagahara & Matsumoto are often regarded as the Japanese pair with the most creative spark and aggression.  Matsumoto can unleash some brutal smashes and together they are a partnership that routinely wins big events.  Their rivalry with their compatriots will be an extra motivation especially after their defeat in the final at October’s Danish Open.  They failed to neutralise the influence of Fukushima and that was the decisive difference between them.  Prediction: Final

Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu: So, this looks like the last time Greysia will play at the All England and I’m sorry I can’t be there in person to cheer for one of my favourite players.  GreyAp competed fearlessly in January’s matches in Thailand and their triumph at the Yonex Thailand Open was a well-deserved, emotional victory.  I would love to see them on the podium here but I think the top seeds may just have a little bit extra over them.  Prediction:  My heart says final but my head says Quarter Final.  Good luck girls!

Jongkolphan Kititharakul & Rawinda Prajonjai can be a quick aggressive pair and are capable of despatching lower seeds without too much fuss but their head-to-head stats against the established Japanese players suggest that they are going to struggle to progress much further than a QF.  Their R1 game against Tan & Thinaah could be an awkward encounter.

Pearly TAN & THINAAH Muralitharan have a really tough draw because they are unseeded, but since playing in Thailand they have impressed everyone.  They possess winnability and seem to be able to squeak a result even when they are up against more experienced opposition. Their victory in the final of the Swiss Open against the Stoeva sisters was a good illustration of their desire; they played to win, not just to defend and they reaped the reward.  These two young Malaysians could be some stars in the making.

The doubles competitions in Birmingham are fascinating this year because so many of the top seeds have been absent from the international tour for a year or so.  Their challenge is to adapt to quarantine protocols quickly so they can compete at the levels of intensity and focus we expect.  There’s no doubt that the people who get to grips with the new procedures will be at an advantage. The saying goes that ‘when the sun comes out it dulls the other stars’, I’m very curious to see what the overall standard of play is. Will the athletes who have been missing now blaze a trail to the trophies despite their lack of match practice? or will they discover that while they’ve been away their European rivals have upped their levels?


If you enjoyed this read my review of last year’s tournament https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/03/21/yonex-all-england-2020-review/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

2020 Imagined Olympic Finals: Men’s Doubles

There’s a saying that there are only two stories in the world. The first is about a person who goes on a journey and the second is when a stranger rides into town. Well, I’ve got the third story, it’s cool because it combines the original two plots. It’s about a duo who go on a journey, arrive in a strange town, AND WIN A GOLD MEDAL.

Super Saturday in Tokyo and the hugely anticipated Men’s Doubles final was contested by the World #1 Kevin Sukamuljo/Marcus Gideon and LIU Yuchen/LI Junhui. These pairs have met before at the Musashino Forest Sportsplaza, the dilemma for both was how to use the slow conditions to their best advantage. Throughout the tournament opinion had differed regarding tactics, and in fact no particular strategy seemed consistently successful other than perhaps the need for stamina.

Each pair had very different routes to the ultimate match. The Minions had to dive deep into their mental reserves during the SF against Endo/Watanabe. A three set thriller beset by nerves, unforced errors and inspired net play by Kevin. Watanabe was Superman but he just could not find a way past the Indonesian players; he’ll have another attempt at Gold later in XD. Although Chinese athletes have struggled to make an impression on the badminton tournament here, LI/LIU enjoyed a quite serene progress to the final. The two set SF against Rankireddy/Shetty was a clinical dissection of a duo whose time will come.

Set 1: 21-14 LI/LIU

It was a brutal first set. The Chinese duo seemed determined to play their own game; the barrage of steep smashes that rained down onto Sukamuljo and Gideon was awesome. The twin towers disasterous tactics from the 2018 Japan Open were firmly forgotten and they stayed on the attack permanently. At the interval the score was 11-8 but they pulled away and sealed the game quite emphatically.

Set 2: 19-21 Gideon & Sukamuljo Fightback

The cameras were focused on the Indonesians at the interval. Their demeanour was relaxed and calm, Gideon rolling his neck just listening to the coach. The Indonesian fans behind the back tramlines were uncharacteristically quiet, maybe not worried yet but definitely thoughtful – some of those spectators I recognised from earlier matches of the Olympic tournament and it was clear they were hardcore badminton lovers. Gill Clark and Morten started to speculate about a two set final.

Liu to serve and instantly he was put under pressure by a flat aggressive return. The rally was more than 60 shots old when Gideon executed a delicate drop that died at LI’s feet. The points rolled by, & into the interval at 10-11 the Chinese pair just with their noses in front but we all sensed that the balance of power was shifting. The second half of the second set was Kevin Sukamuljo’s stage. He seized the initiative at the net, and despite LIU’s long reach he was passed repeatedly. The Chinese men were desperately trying to vary the tempo of shots to jolt the Minions off momentum but they failed again and again. Kevin was liberated by to be King of the Forecourt by Marcus’s pugnacity and energy. The key to the swing in the balance of power was the inability of the Chinese players to score points from the long rallies; Marcus and Kevin had figured it out that if they were able to stay in their favoured positions and keep the shuttle in play then the chances would come. Its a simple strategy but exhausting. Their counter-attacking expertise with their solid defending got the Minions back in the fight – one set each.

Set 3: Gold!

LI/LIU resumed their positions on court but there was a pause while Sukamuljo fiddled with his shoelace. Years of training, planning and sweat were focused on the next twenty minutes. LIU taps his partners hand and smiles. Kevin to serve, a flick, not good enough and so it’s smashed right back at him. Typical outrageous Sukamuljo returns it with a behind the back shot that tips the net cord, and expires as LI dives forward despairingly. Lucky. Then a run of 3 more points in a row until disaster. Gideon smashes, breaks a string and cannot defend effectively enough. The momentum swings back to the Chinese and they go into the interval 11-8 ahead. Ten points from Gold.

However ten points from Gold is a lot of shots with a lot of running, jumping and stretching. The Chinese players are in constant movement but Kevin is picking up points with precision and verve. He is a man who adores the big stage and where better to showcase his sublime ability than the last moments of an Olympic final? The speed of the rallies was supersonic, the four athletes perfectly focused on the shuttle whilst the crowd screamed.

Point by point the Indonesians got in front. Their play was brave and exhilerating. Exchanges of hard flat drives keep the Chinese at a slight disadvantage. Kevin constantly taunting the twin towers with shots just slightly out of reach or just in reach but forcing a weak response for Gideon to kill. 20-19 match point.

20-19 match point. Kevin to serve, nothing is certain.


This never happened, it’s all fiction. Feel free to write your own so that your favourites win.


If you enjoyed this then take a look at my piece about Kevin and Marcus https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/29/the-minions-indonesian-superheroes/ or this one by Daniel DM about Chinese Men’s Doubles https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/01/02/chinese-mens-doubles/

I’ve written an imagined MomoGi final as well https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/08/05/2020-imagined-olympic-finals-mens-singles-momogi/

©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved