The big names in the men’s and women’s singles finally made their entrances to the Olympics on day 3, with a few scares and surprises along the way as the group stage entered the latter stages before Wednesday’s knockout rounds.
Session 1 – Tago Crashes Out
The top two seeds in the women’s singles both begun their campaigns in the opening sessions, as Wang Yihan and Wang Xin progressed safely into the last 16 with a pair of comprehensive victories. The biggest shock of the men’s singles so far took place this morning, as the 8th seeded Kenichi Tago crashed out at the hands of Sri Lanka’s Niluka Karunaratne, ranked 40 places higher than his Japanese opponent.
Tian and Zhao as well as Fischer Nielsen and Pedersen edged closer to qualification with victories in their second group matches whilst Kim and Jung secured their place in the last 16 in Group A of the women’s doubles, with a final group match against Wang and Yu to confirm first and second in the group.
Session 2 – Lin Dan Into Last 16
Lin Dan begun his campaign against Ireland’s Scott Evans in a one-sided match to book his place in the last 16 whilst Yip Pui Yin shocked the 8th seeded Sung Ji Hyun to top Group J and reach the last 16. Lee Yong Dae’s defence of the mixed doubles ended with a defeat to Laybourn and Rytter Juhl, which secured the Danes progression into the quarter finals.
The fate of Group B in the men’s doubles hung in the balance as Logosz and Cwalina were in a three-game battle with Jongjit and Issara of Thailand before an injury to Michal Logosz resulted in the end of the match and the end of the Olympics for the Polish pair. They have forfeited their final match against Ahsan and Septano which eliminates the 4th seeded Ko and Yoo from the Olympics.
Session 3 – Lee Chong Wei Survives Scare
The “state secret” over Lee Chong Wei’s ankle was revealed on court this evening, with a far from convincing three game victory over Finland’s Ville Lang which will ask more questions than it will answer with the Malaysian looking out of sorts on court. Peter Gade is safely into the last 16 with a two game victory over Portugal’s Pedro Martins.
Saina Nehwal, Juliane Schenk and Chen Jin all booked their places in the last 16 of their events – with all three players securing top spot in their groups with routine two game victories. Ko and Yoo became Korea’s third big name exit of the day with defeat to Ahsan and Septano to ensure the Indonesian’s place in the last 8.
Day 4 will end the group phase and potentially some careers of the likes of Taufik Hidayat could be in action for the last time whilst the long-awaited rematch between Zhang and Zhao taking on the British pairing of Bankier and Adcock is for nothing more than pride for the British pair.
Day 3 Results:
The dream of going one better for Adcock and Bankier inside Wembley Arena lasted a mere two days. For some players, it was the start of their campaign but for others the dream has already ended in London..
Session 1 – Adcock & Bankier Out
The home crowd hoped for a reversal from yesterday’s match, but instead it was the same story as their group opener. Adcock and Bankier claimed the opening game against Fuchs and Michels before losing in three games to render their final group match against Zhang and Zhao meaningless. For Li and Bruce, it was another brutal defeat in the women’s doubles – this time it was the Korean pair of Kim and Jung the inflicted their second defeat in Group A and ensured their elimination.
Sho Sasaki and Lee Hyun Il began their campaigns with identical victories – 21-12, 21-7 to book their places in the last 16. Ahmad and Natsir booked their place in the mixed doubles quarterfinals with a two game victory over Lee and Ha of Korea, who will need to win their next two matches to have any chance of progressing.
Session 2 – Jongjit & Issara Impressive
The Thai pairing of Jongjit and Issara came into the Olympics as the world number 19 pairing but have progressed in the last 8 of the men’s doubles with a victory over Ko and Yoo, their third victory against the Korean pair. Another pair safely into the last 8 is the Malaysian pair of Koo and Tan – whose victory over Bach and Gunawan eliminated the American pair.
Zhang and Zhao booked their place in the last 8 in the mixed doubles with a two game victory over Nikolaenko and Sorokina, whilst Laybourn and Rytter Juhl opened up their campaign in Group C of the mixed doubles with a victory over V and Gutta of India to end any chances of them qualifying for the last 8.
Saina Nehwal began her campaign in impressive fashion, defeating Sabrina Jaquet 21-9, 21-4 to join Lianne Tan at the top of Group E. Sayako Sato set up her winner-take-all match with Susan Egelstaff after the 12th seed defeated Maya Tvrdy in two tight games to join the Brit at the top of Group H
Session 3 – Boe & Mogensen Survive Scare
Wang and Yu made it two impressive victories in a row with their win over Vislova and Sorokina to top Group A. There were three more Chinese victories as Xu and Ma started their mixed doubles campaign with a win over Chan and Goh of Malaysia whilst her Spanish opponent Carolina Marin tested Li Xuerui before the 3rd seed eventually won in two games. Cai and Fu completed the Chinese success story with a two game victory over Kindervater and Scholettler but needed to save three game points in the first game.
Cai and Fu’s main rivals in the men’s doubles, Lee and Chung came through in two games against Sato and Kawamae of Japan. The lasting image of the match with being Naoki Kawamae’s smash in the first game that broke his racket with the force of the shot. Boe and Mogensen survived a real scare against the world number 18 pairing of Ivanov and Sozonov as they dropped the first game and were two points away from defeat. However, the Danes fought back to take the second game and were never in any danger in the third game and secured qualification into the last 8.
Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl resurrected their chances of reaching the last 8 of the women’s doubles with a three game battle over Poon and Tse of Hong Kong to set up a Tuesday morning clash with the world number 2 pairing of Tian and Zhao. Rajiv Ouseph was GB’s sole victory on the day he defeated Henri Hurkainen in three games in one of the last matches of the session. Ouseph takes on Guatemala’s Kevin Cordon for the top spot in Group M on Tuesday afternoon.
The group stages for the badminton were one of the first events to begin on Day 1 of the Olympics, with every player understanding that whilst the gold couldn’t be won today – any chance of winning it could be lost on the opening days play.
Session 1 – Heartbreak For GB & Denmark
Ahmad and Natsir began play on the opening day, with the 3rd seeds in the mixed doubles defeating V and Gutta of India in two games to start their campaign in the best possible way. Bae Yeon Ju survived an first game scare against Tee Jung Yi to win her match in three games whilst the current European champion pairing of Mateusiak and Zieba defeated Ikeda and Shiota for the first time to win their mixed doubles opener in Group B.
The second and third matches of the session brought the biggest surprises, with Maeda and Suetsuna defeating the Danish pair of Pedersen and Rytter Juhl to top Group D in the women’s doubles. The world silver medalists in the mixed doubles, Adcock and Bankier suffered a three game defeat to the Russian pair of Nikolaenko and Sorokina to make their qualification chances increasingly difficult, with a victory over Zhang and Zhao almost certainly needed to progress to the last 8.
Zhao Yunlei was on an adjacent court in her women’s doubles opener with Tian Qing, with the Chinese pair needing just two games to defeat the Hong Kong pair of Poon and Tse
Session 2 – No Problem For The Seeds
GB got their first victory of the day, with Susan Egelstaff defeating Maja Tvrdy in two games to make her match with Sayaka Sato all the more important. Cwalina and Logosz had the makings of a surprise against Ko and Yoo, before the Korean’s eventually found their form and won the match in three games.
Li Xuerui defeated Claudia Rivero easily to take top spot in Group L, whilst in the men’s singles Shon Wan Ho and Taufik Hidayat both won their opening group games, with Hidayat defeating Petr Koukal 21-8, 21-8 to signal his intend for the week ahead.
Ha and Kim won their Group C opener in the women’s doubles against the South African pair of Viljoen and Edwards whilst in Group D, Fujii and Kakiiwa defeated Gutta and Ponnappa to top Group B. The Group B mixed doubles has two Europeans in the qualfication spots, with Denmark’s Fischer Neilsen and Pedersen defeating Canada’s Ng and Gao to win their first match within the group.
Session 3 – Top Seeds Start Perfectly
Wang and Yu were never in any trouble in their Group A opener against Li and Bruce, winning in two games to top the group. Zhang and Zhao joined Nikolaenko and Sorokina at the top of Group A in the mixed doubles with an impressive two game victory over Fuchs and Michels.
The top three pairs in the men’s doubles, with Cai and Fu beginning their campaign and Smith and Warfe of Australia, headlined the session. The Chinese pair never looked in any danger as they defeated the world number 38 pairing in two games. The 2005 world champions – USA’s Bach and Gunawan, tested Lee and Chung in their Group D opener. The second seeded Korean’s progressed in two games to sit atop Group D with Koo and Tan.
Denmark recovered from their women’s doubles defeat with a pair of victories in the final session. Boe and Mogensen defeated the South African pair of James and Viljoen in two games to top Group C in the men’s doubles whilst in the men’s singles Jan O Jorgensen defeated Israel’s Misha Zilberman to top Group I, with a match with Derek Wong on Tuesday night to book his place in the last 16.
Day 1 Results:
Michael Jordan. Roger Federer. Muhammed Ali. Tiger Woods.
Lin Dan could join the echelons of sporting greats with a victory on August 5 in Wembley Arena. Regardless of badminton’s stigma as a minority sport – especially in Europe, Lin Dan’s achievements transcend his sport with the magnitude of his success. A superstar in his native China, he is already a 4-time world champion and reigning Olympic champion but he plays for something that no player before him can boast nor claim.
Retaining his Olympic title will make him an immortal of the sport and he will become the benchmark of what can be achieved within badminton. His victory in Beijing four years ago was shrouded in controversy before the Olympics began. A bust-up with his national coach; Ji Xinpeng had fans and media questioning his selection for the 2008 Olympics.
The bust-up was over practice matches and Lin Dan’s thirst for success, even in training. His attitude and outbursts divided fans of the sport, with some claiming he was simply spoiled in China, although he was revered as a sporting superstar for a population of over one and a half billion.
His “bad boy” status within the game has always received mixed appraisals but in Beijing four years ago, he produced one of the single greatest performances the sport had ever seen. He played with arrogance and with an aura of the best player in the world, in his home nation with almost a quarter of the world’s population hoping for a Chinese gold.
What he provided in the final was an absolute master class. All of his antics off the court forgotten for one night when he destroyed Lee Chong Wei 21-12, 21-8 in the most one-sided of their 29 matches. He could have gone into the second game interval 11-0 up if not for a careless cross net shot clipping the cord.
His salute upon victory to all four corners of the capacity stadium was a symbol of being a solider of his nation, China but also for the crowd to accept who he was – a player that thrives on success. He would do anything to succeed whether it was the right or wrong way to conduct himself.
Immortality would be assured with a gold medal in London but defeat would paint a different picture. It is known that anyone could beat any other person on any given day. Even the great Lin Dan is mortal and could be defeated. Defeat would open up the subject of who is the greatest player in the world. Rightly or wrongly, at this point, if the Malaysian Lee Chong Wei was to win gold in London, then he too would have to be considered.
Recent times have seen a change in Lin Dan. Instead of rackets or a punch being thrown, his shirt has been thrown into the crowd, for example at the Thomas Cup in May or at Beijing four years previously. The calming influence of his wife, Xie Xingfang has been credited with his change in temperament.
Lin Dan will make the trip to Shaoshan to pray for the legendary Chinese leader – Mao Zedong’s blessing. In 2004, before the Athens Olympics, he took this trip for granted, choosing to remain in the team bus playing cards. He then promptly lost in the opening round. Learning this valuable lesson, he is now one of the first Chinese Olympians to seek the blessing of Mao Zedong.
Some feel it is perhaps a blessing to have such a player in our lifetimes, whilst others claim he is a spoilt child blessed with a gift. He will arrive in London with countless nicknames, one half of the “Condor Couple” with Xie Xingfang, “Super Dan”, Lieutenant Colonel in the People’s Liberation Army, world number 1 and also favourite for the title in London.
His only wish is for one name, 2012 Olympic Champion.
Immortality will follow soon after.
The group stages have provided countless intriguing matches, from the opening session of play all the way to the final session of the group phase.
All Start Times Are Local Times
Saturday, July 28 – 8.30am
Lee / Ha (Korea) – Laybourn / Rytter Juhl (Denmark)
The toughest mixed doubles group of the four opens up play inside Wembley Arena, with the world number 8 and 9 pairs clashing to take one step closer to the quarter finals. They sole meeting came at the German GP in April and resulted in a one-sided victory for the Danes which they will hope for this weekend. There is also the question of endurance for Lee Yong Dae, as he will be back on court that night in the men’s doubles with Chung Jae Sung over 12 hours after playing his opening mixed doubles match. Saturday will be a long day for Lee Yong Dae.
Sunday, July 29 – 8.30am
Zhang / Zhao (China, Seeded 1) – Adcock / Bankier (Great Britain)
Wembley Arena has brought them together once more, with the playing field evened ever so slightly from little under a year ago. The Brits have claimed two famous victories since their defeat at the World Championships against this Chinese pair, both coming at Super Series Premier events. Zhang and Zhao claimed their most recent match in Indonesia last month, but the British pair have something they didn’t have a year ago, belief that they could beat the Chinese. There was hope last year that their run the final would continue on for one more day, but on Sunday morning there is a belief and a track record to support them – as well as a capacity crowd.
Sunday, July 29 – 1.40pm
Chen Long (China, Seeded 3) – Boonsak Ponsana (Thailand)
On paper, this should be a routine victory on route to the last 16 for the 3rd seed but their head to head suggests differently. The world number 22 has a 2-1 advantage over Chen Long from Ponsana’s time inside the world’s top ten. Their last match was over 18 months ago but this is far from an easy match for Chen Long.
Monday, July 30 – 9.05am
Wang Yihan (China, Seeded 1) – Michelle Li (Canada)
The Canadian has struggled with food poisoning in the build up this week, but there will be no excuses available to Wang Yihan should she fail to reach the last 16. It will be their first match against one another, with the world number 1 a massive favourite to go through. Michelle Li’s draw in the women’s doubles is just as tough as she will take on the world number 1 pairing of Wang and Yu the day before her opening singles match.
Monday, July 30 – 2.15pm
Lee Chong Wei (Malaysia, Seeded 1) – Ville Lang (Finland)
The national secret over the rehabilitation of Lee Chong Wei’s ankle will be revealed and tested on Monday afternoon, by the Finnish workhouse of Ville Lang. His 104-minute marathon against Christian Lind Thomsen in April has proven that is physically capable of withstanding a demanding match, he will lengthen rallies to tire opponents and he will test out Lee Chong Wei’s right ankle. Few are expecting a Lee Chong Wei defeat if he is anywhere near his best, but his rivals will watch this match intently for signs of discomfort and weakness.
Monday, July 30 – 7.44pm
Peter Gade (Denmark, Seeded 5) – Pedro Martins (Portugal)
And so the legend ends. Peter Gade’s final Olympics will begin on Monday night against Portugal’s Pedro Martins with the knowledge that a win will take him through to the last 16. It has been over two months since Gade’s last competitive victory, with a pair of losses to Lee Hyun Il and Sony Dwi Kuncoro adding more doubt to the legendary Gade’s chances of medalling in London. A strong performance will cast those doubts aside for at least a few days.
Monday, July 30 – 8.15pm
Lin Dan (China, Seeded 2) – Scott Evans (Ireland)
Lin Dan’s title defence starts against Scott Evans, a reserve for the event who know has the unthinkable task of ending the run of the defending champion. The pair have played three times previously with their most recent match taking place inside Wembley Arena at the 2011 Worlds, with Lin Dan winning comfortably. Scott Evans has never taken a game against Lin Dan, he’ll need two for the biggest shock of the Olympics.
Tuesday, July 31 – 2.19pm
Sayaka Sato (Japan, Seeded 12) – Susan Egelstaff (Great Britain)
Susan Egelstaff’s draw was considered favourable as she avoided the top 10 players in the world, but on further observation this could be the biggest shock of the group stages as well as one of the best moments inside Wembley Arena for the GB team. Egelstaff holds a 1-0 advantage in the head to heads, with a victory at the 2010 All England Championships but Sato also comes into the Olympics in a poor run of form – winning just 8 of her 22 matches this year.
Tuesday, July 31 – 3.20pm
Lee / Chung (Korea, Seeded 2) – Koo / Tan (Malaysia)
There will be something riding on this match in all likelihood for at least one of these pairs, whether it is for the group win or simply to qualify. Koo and Tan have failed to record a victory over the Korean pair since the 2010 Worlds in Paris and will probably need a victory to ensure their place in the last 8 with Boe and Mogensen or Chai and Guo waiting in the quarter finals for one if not both of the pairs.
The London Olympics are just days away, the realisation that four years have passed since Lin Dan’s masterclass in Beijing and that five champions will be crowned – before it all ends for another four years come August 5.
All the favourites are present this year, Lee Chong Wei has recovered from his ankle injury but to what extent remains unclear. His first match will be against Finland’s Ville Lang, a EBU tour veteran whose physical approach to the game will be a intriguing test for the Malaysian and his ankle. Lin Dan takes on Scott Evans, with the Irishman making it into the Olympics from second reserve to be the first hurdle in Lin Dan’s defence of the title. A last 16 clash with Taufik Hidayat potentially awaits, as the 2004 and 2008 Olympic champions face one another in 2012.
Peter Gade starts his campaign against Portugal’s Pedro Martins, but matches with Shon Wan Ho and Chen Long await on his path to the semi final stage and any chance of a medal. British hopes lie in the hands of Rajiv Ouseph, who takes on the European silver medalist Henri Hurskainen and world championship quarter finalist Kevin Cordon – with the group winner taking on Sho Sasaki unless one of the greatest upsets in the history of the Olympics and Virgil Soeroredjo sensationally defeats the 6th seeded Sasaki.
Michelle Li will be the top seeded Wang Yihan’s opening round match, with the Canadian meeting the top seed in both her events at the Olympics. Wang Xin takes on the USA’s Rena Wang whilst Li Xuerui has to take on both Carolina Marin and Claudia Rivero to ensure her place in the last 16. Saina Nehwal’s quarter of the draw is laden with Europeans, with no less than 14 of the 16 players coming from European – headlined by the 5th seeded Tine Baun, Saina Nehwal’s likely quarter final opponent. Susan Egelstaff couldn’t have hand picked a better group, with Britain’s sole entry taking on the 12th seeded Sayaka Sato and Slovenia’s Maja Tvrdy, both of which she has a superior head to head against.
Perhaps the toughest groups of the Olympics is in the men’s doubles, with Lee and Chung of Korea taking on the 2005 world championships Bach and Gunawan, as well as the Japanese pair of Sato and Kawamae then finally Koo and Tan of Malaysia. Another intriguing group features the 4th seeded Ko and Yoo, who take on Issara and Jongjit of Thailand, a pair they have never beaten, as well as Poland’s Cwalina and Logosz before the hardest of their group matches against Ahsan and Septano.
The women’s doubles groups have varying degrees of difficulty, with Ha and Kim as well as Jauhari and Polii receiving a fortunate group featuring the African and Oceania entries for the Olympics. Whilst Group D has three pairs inside of the top 10, with Tian and Zhao, Maeda and Suetsuna as well as Rytter Juhl and Pedersen all battling for one spot. Not to mention the Singapore pair of Tse and Poon who have excellent records against all the pairs except the Chinese 2nd seeds in their group.
As if the script wasn’t written for this, Zhang and Zhao will take on Adcock and Bankier inside Wembley Arena once more. Both were put into Group A with Fuchs and Michels of Germany and Nikolaenko and Sorokina of Russia with the Brits being favoured to claim at least one of the qualification spots on offer. Group C is without a doubt the “group of death” at this year’s Olympics. With three of the top 9 pairs in the world in the same group, with the 4th pair being ranked 13th. Ahsan and Natsir, Laybourn and Rytter Juhl as well as Lee and Ha will have to fight for two places, with the Indian pair of V and Gutta undoubtably going to have some say in the final standings of this group also.
The mixed doubles offers the best chance of a European medal at the Olympics, with even a gold medal being discussed for several European pairs inside the world’s top 16. There is also the undeniable Chinese threat from the top two pairs in the world, with countless Asian threats also looking to claim a medal in London.
The current world number 1 and world champions Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei will be the favourites in London – where they claimed the World Championship almost a year ago in the same arena as the one being used for the Olympics. However, there are question marks over their credentials going into the Olympics with two losses against the pair they defeated in the 2011 World Championship final, Chris Adcock and Imogen Bankier. Both defeats came at the Super Series Premier Events, where they also crashed out of the Indonesia Super Series Premier to Sudket Prapakamol and Saralee Thoungthongkam.
The current world number 2 pairing of Xu Chen and Ma Jin have had their own struggles this year also. Since their victory in Korea in early January, they have failed to win a title after defeats in the All England by Thomas Laybourn and Kamilla Rytter Juhl, followed up by defeat in Indonesia by Tantowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir – who are currently ranked 3rd in the world.
The European threat will be a trio of pairings looking to keep at least one gold medal in Europe, with the highest ranked pair of Joachim Fischer Neilsen and Christinna Pedersen being Europe’s best hope in the event. Currently ranked 4th in the world, their last title was the French Super Series title over 9 months ago and their records against the rest of the Olympic field is far from stellar. Only a 4-2 head to head over the current world number 1 pairing of Zhang and Zhao offers any kind of optimism, but even then the last two victories have been for the Chinese pair.
The 2009 World Champions, Laybourn and Rytter Juhl are the second Danish pair hoping to claim a medal next week but that will be unlikely with only the German GP Gold title to their name this year. With both Danish male players well into their 30′s, this will be both their final chance at Olympic success.
The bright new hope for European badminton is the British pairing of Adcock and Bankier, fueled by their silver medal in London in 2011 at the World Championships. Every single Super Series Premier this year has seen them take on the world number 1 pairing of Zhang and Zhao, winning the head to head 2-1 and only enhancing their belief of going one better in London this year. Their only title this year has came in Finland but their run of victories was good enough to earn qualification over Nathan Robertson and Jenny Wallwork as well as reaching the top 10 in the world rankings.
Who Are The Favourites?
There is no real favourite, which is why the event will be so competitive. Cheng and Chen of Chinese Taipei won the most recent Super Series event in Singapore, whilst Ahmad and Natsir took the prestigious All England title. There will be a threat from the 3 European pairs, whilst the Chinese pairs will both come expecting a medal. Under the radar however, is the Korean pair of Lee Yong Dae and Ha Jung Eun who are ranked 7th in the world. Lee Yong Dae is the current holder of the mixed doubles title from Beijing and whilst their run into the top 10 has been impressive, it has been without a single title being won.
Who Could Surprise?
The current European champions, Robert Mateusiak and Nadiezda Zieba were formerly world number 1′s and have claimed the Dutch and European title in the run up to the Olympics. Expect another strong showing from Adcock and Bankier also, regardless of their previous run of results. They had little to no expectations or form going into the 2011 World Championships and they are a pair that will thrive inside Wembley Arena with a partizan home crowd.
They are perhaps the only genuine contender to Wang and Yu in the women’s doubles, with a final between the two pairings already penciled in for August 4. The two 25-year olds claimed the 2010 Asian Championships over Wang and Yu at the start of their partnership but have been second best to their Chinese team-mates since.
They are undoubtedly the second force in the women’s game, with their head to heads against the rest of the field being almost all in favour of Tian and Zhao. Their most recent victory at the 2012 All England Championships was a double success, not only did they claim their first All England title but they also defeated Wang and Yu in the process.
For Zhao Yunlei, this is one of two chances at Olympic gold in London but for Tian Qing this is her only chance at Olympic success after dropping the mixed doubles discipline in 2011 to focus purely on the women’s doubles. There is striking comparisons between the two pairings, with both Tian Qing and Wang Xiaoli giving up mixed doubles to focus on the women’s doubles whilst for Yu and Zhao are the more complete players of the partnership, with Yu Yang managing to have two rankings inside the top 50 in the world in the mixed doubles last year with two separate partners.
Can Tian and Zhao Win Gold?
There is an expectancy that their 11th meeting with Wang and Yu will be for Olympic gold. They have won just two of their ten official meetings but with one coming at the All Englands in March, they will believe that they have a chance to win gold. 2012 has been a successful season for the pairing, winning the opening two Super Series Premier events before losing in Indonesia to Wang and Yu.
Can They Beat Wang and Yu?
There is one striking statistic that stands out in their matches, every single game that has gone to extra points has been won by Wang and Yu. In a run of four matches from September to November last year, all four matches needed extra points in the opening game which Wang and Yu won on all four occasions and only one of those matches went to three games. Tian and Zhao must win the first game to have any chance of defeating Wang and Yu and ideally must do it in two games, like their All England success in March. It will be dependent mostly on Zhao Yunlei, who must balance both her mixed doubles and women’s doubles in a week that will see her play at least six matches in the group stages alone.
The all-conquering partnership of Wang and Yu are one of the favourites for a Chinese medal in just over 2 weeks time but as dominant as their 2012 season has been, there have been someone unlikely results to give the rest of the field hope going into the Olympics.
Their partnership begun in 2010 after Wang Xiaoli, then partnered with Ma Jin and also playing mixed doubles with Tao Jiaming. Wang Xiaoli reached the World Championship Women’s Doubles final in Paris that year, only to be defeated by Du and Yu in a one-sided final. Yu Yang was already an Olympic champion in women’s doubles with Du Jing but after the 2010 World Championships, the decision was made to pair Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli together, with Wang Xiaoli also dropping the mixed doubles event to focus solely on women’s doubles.
For a 52-week period, Wang and Yu did not lose a match that they completed. Their retirement in the final of the China Masters to Huan and Tang was the only time they took to a court and were defeated. They dominated at the 2011 World Championships without the loss of a game but their 2012 season started with disaster in Korea with a shock defeat to Korea’s Ha and Kim, followed two months later with their second defeat in a Super Series Premier final to their perennial rivals, Tian and Zhao.
Their Chinese counterparts are the closest that the world number 1 pairing have to a rivalry at the moment, with nearly all of their 10 meetings coming in finals. Tian and Zhao are the only pair to have defeated Wang and Yu on two separate occasions and most noticeably the only pair that is a genuine threat to the gold medal hopes of the world number 1 pairing.
However in their most recent encounters, Wang and Yu gained revenge for their defeats earlier in the year to both the Korean pair of Ha and Kim as well as team-mates Tian and Zhao to enter the Olympics as the undoubted favourites for the gold medal.
Just How Good Are Wang and Yu?
The partnership has been together for 98 official matches, winning 93 of them. One of those five defeats is their retirement in China and another came very early into the partnership but was another retirement to Goh and Chin of Malaysia. They have been beaten just three times in around two years and by only two pairs, the world number 2 pair of Tian and Zhao have two victories whilst the world number 3 pair of Ha and Kim have claimed the only other victory.
Can These Two Pairs Beat Wang and Yu Again?
Both the head to head records would suggest otherwise, with Ha and Kim’s 1-7 record against the world number pairing and claiming just four games in those eight encounters and heir victory was in Korea in front of a partizan crowd. Tian and Zhao’s 2-8 record is somewhat deceiving, their two most recent encounters have resulted in a victory for Tian and Zhao and a tight three game victory for Wang and Yu. Four of their encounters have gone to extra points in the opening game that had Tian and Zhao won could have changed the complexity of the match completely.
Their list of accomplishments are exceptional but even more exceptional is their journey to this point and the only thing missing from their list is Olympic gold in London. They have been at the very top of the men’s doubles rankings for over 8 years and have won nearly every title on several occasions, with 4 World Championships, 2 Asian Games titles and countless Super Series victories.
Cai Yun career was put into serious doubt in 2001, when heart problems from the previous four years of training forced him into heart surgery and a change of discipline from singles to doubles. In 2003, Cai Yun teamed up with Fu Haifeng and won a World Championship bronze medal. In the last few years, their rivalry with Lee Yong Dae and Jung Jae Sung has been several of the greatest matches in the history of the men’s doubles. Their 2009 World Championship Final has been revered as the greatest men’s doubles match in history.
In their 21 matches, they trail their Korean rivals 11-10 but two of their victories have came in the World Championships.
Are Lee and Jung Their Only Threat?
The Danish pair of Boe and Mogensen are the current world number 3 pairing, but the two pairs haven’t played for almost 2 years. Cai and Fu hold a 6-2 head to head over the Danes and their head to head over the world ranked 4 pairing of Ko and Yoo is even better, leading 7-1. Their record against all of the top 10 pairs is impressive, with only the Malaysia pair of Koo and Tan claiming more than two victories over Cai and Fu.
Can They Win Gold?
Anything less than a gold will be considered a failure for the Chinese pair. A likely 22nd match against Lee and Jung is expected in the Olympic final, with Cai and Fu feeding off their success from their 2009 and 2011 victories over the Koreans at the World Championships. They have only lost one match this year, to Lee and Jung in the All England Final in March. They will go to the Olympics in form after an impressive Thomas Cup showing, with five victories without the loss of a game.