2011 heralds the beginning of the new top-tier “Premier Series”, a five event series that boasts bigger money than the previous “Super Series” name. There is still seven Super Series events but the five Premier Series events are now stand out events on the 2011 calendar.
As well as the stand out events, there will be clear stand out players for 2011. 2010 was the year of Lee Chong Wei as he widened the gap between himself at the rest of the world. Only Lin Dan can claim any sort of argument what debating the best player in the world at the moment.
The Super Series starts off in Malaysia on January 18 before the opening Premier Series event in Korea taking centre stage at the end of January. The All-England provides another massive injection of money into the game as the second Premier Series event of the year and is followed the next week by the newest Super Series event in India.
The opening 3 months of 2011 offers the top players in the world four Super Series opportunities, two of which are Premier Series events.
Two players instantly shine out in these kinds of draws. 2010 was Lee Chong Wei’s year, with six Super Series titles, two GP gold titles and the Commonwealth Games gold medal. There is little to debate his place atop the world rankings, all except his Asian Games defeat to his long-term rival Lin Dan who is the only player on the circuit who is in the discussion with Lee Chong Wei when debating the best player on the men’s singles circuit.
The duo played three times in 2010, with Lin Dan winning two at the “major” events in the calendar at the Asian Games and at the Thomas Cup in May where he comfortably defeated the Malaysian in two games like his Olympic triumph in 2008, such was the margin of victory (21-17, 21-8).
These two are the absolute top of the game, however Lin Dan’s schedule has continually decreased since winning gold in Beijing three years ago. Winning just one Super Series last year in September at the China Masters and playing just 6 Super Series events total. Add in two withdrawals in China and Hong Kong, which takes the tally to just 4 events he could have potentially won. Losing one to Lee Chong Wei in Japan and his poor run in March that seen him lose to Bao Chunlai at the All England (Bao Chunlai’s first win over Lin Dan in over three years) and a two game loss to Peter Gade in the Swiss Super Series has only added to the speculation that he has either lost interest in the game or only peaks for major events.
The lure of the new Premier Series could bring the best out in Lin Dan once more, whilst Lee Chong Wei continues to perform at a level that the rest of the players cannot match.
Peter Gade, current European Champion and Europe’s #1 is never to be overlooked in this events. In a year shortened by a back injury, he rolled back the years at the All-England until meeting Lee Chong Wei in a one-sided semi final. He followed up the performance at the Swiss Super Series, beating Lin Dan before losing to Chen Long. He has played just three events since the World Championships in August, reaching the semi finals in Japan and then losing to Joachim Persson at the French Super Series after withdrawing from his home Super Series the week previously. Since then, question marks have surrounded his future especially in light of losing to Joachim Persson, a player tipped a few years ago to take over Gade’s mantle as Denmark’s number 1. His recent return of form at the Super Series Finals shows he still has the ability to win at this level, but only proved that the gap between himself and Lee Chong Wei was a large one.
Gade’s time is slowly fading, without a Super Series win since the Korean Open in 2009. However, the future is bright in Danish badminton with the emergence in recent years of Jan O Jorgensen this year, Jorgensen played 11 of the 12 Super Series events, the most of anyone (only Hu Yun played 11 also) but only featured in one semi final in Denmark, a title that he won but the early part of 2010 was marred with four defeating in the second round and a second round defeat to Rajiv Ouseph in the World Championships. There was little to promote Jorgensen’s chances of winning in Denmark after another set of defeats in Japan and Indonesia at the third round stage. He lost his seeding in Hong Kong in December last year and had to play Lin Dan in the opening round, a match he lost comfortably in two games.
Question marks loom over Taufik Hidayat’s future also but there is little doubt that he still has the ability at win at the highest level. He narrowly missed out in winning the Denmark Super Series, but bounced back to take the French Super Series the very next week. He is one of the few people to claim a victory over Lee Chong Wei in 2010, winning their quarter final matchup in the World Championships and going all the way to the final before losing to Chen Jin.
The Chinese contingent this year is as strong as ever, with as many as five potential winners entering every event this year. Current world champion Chen Jin will hope to reclaim his 2008 All England title, with his Swiss Open title he won last year no longer on the Super Series circuit. Chen Long goes into the opening event of the year as the highest ranked Chinese player in the world at the moment, ranked 4th. Bao Chunlai and Du Pengyu are also ranked inside of the top 15 in the world, with the pair battling it out for the China Open title in May last year.
Boonsak Ponsana has cemented his place as a top-10 player in the past year but still needs to have that landmark victory to push him into the world’s elite however early defeats in the later half of 2010 need to be resolved before he is considered a real contender every event.
The Ones To Watch:
Viktor Axelsen burst onto the scene in 2010, taking the junior world title and then the Cyprus International. His performances in qualifying for the French and Denmark Super Series has already established himself as capable of playing at the very highest level and his second round match to Jan O Jorgensen in the Denmark Open was much closer then anyone expected.
Joachim Persson has made an unlikely resurrection of a career almost forgotten by Jorgensen’s emergence. He has slipped to 20th in the world rankings but still managed to reach the French Super Series final after venturing back into the European circuit to regain the confidence lost in the past few months.
Kenichi Tago burst onto the world scene with his unlikely run to the All-England final last year and has continued to progress on from his experience in that final, reaching a world ranking of 17 but as yet no Super Series titles to show for his efforts.
The 2011 Calendar:
Malaysia – 18-23 January
Korea Premier – 25-30 January
All-England Premier – 8-13 March
India – 16-21 March
Singapore – 14-19 June
Indonesia Premier – 21-26 June
China Masters – 13-18 September
Japan – 20-25 September
Denmark Premier – 18-23 October
France – 25-30 October
Hong Kong – 15-20 November
China Open Premier – 22 – 27 November
Super Series Final – 14-18 December