Gade’s defeat to Kenichi Tago was a massive blow to the Danish squad but the heroics of Jan O Jorgensen in his three game victory over the World and Olympic champion Lin Dan stole the headlines on day 2.
Lee Chong Wei Takes On Taufik
The doubters over Taufik’s desire to continue to perform at the highest level have lessened of the past month, with a victory in India and his run this week to the last 8 after this victory over Tien Minh Nguyen. His opponent in the last 8 is the world number 1 Lee Chong Wei who defeat Kazushi Yamada in two games to reach the quarter finals.
The doubters have now focussed on Peter Gade. Two early exits in Korea and this week in Malaysia to Kenichi Tago have put question marks over Gade’s chances at the London Olympics. Jan O Jorgensen could well be a legitimate contender to take over the Danish number 1 spot ahead of the summer after a stunning three game victory over Lin Dan in one of the last matches of the day.
5 From 8 For The Chinese
Only Tine Baun stopped a full compliment of Chinese players entering the quarter finals, with the Dane defeating Liu Xin in two games to set up the only quarter final without Chinese interest against Saina Nehwal of India. Juliane Schenk doubles the European involvement in the latter stages, but takes on the 3rd seed Wang Shixian in her quarter final matchup. Two all-Chinese matchups make up the remaining quarter finals, with top seeded Wang Yihan taking on Li Xuerui in the first of the quarter finals whilst Wang Xin takes on Jiang Yanjiao in the more competitive of the two matches.
Seeds Topple Throughout The Doubles
Just two rounds in and the draws for all three doubles events have been decimated. Just three seeds remain in the men’s doubles, headlined by the 3rd seeded Chai and Guo who take on Kido and Setiawan to be the last remaining seed left in the top half of the draw. Hashimoto and Hirata are the last seeds left in the bottom half of the draw and they take on Kim and Kim of Korea in their quarter final match, with the Korean’s taking out the 4th seeded Koo and Tan to ensure their place in the last 8.
The women’s doubles is often the event where 8 seeds will make up the last 8 but not this week. Just five seeds remain with top seeded Fujii and Kakiiwa taking on the 7th seeded Rytter Juhl and Pedersen in the last 8. Hoo and Woon take on Zhong and Yixin in the only quarter final without a seed taking part and the only Chinese pair left in the draw. 2nd seeded Ha and Kim take on the final unseeded pair left in the draw, taking on Chin and Wong of Malaysia in their quarter final match.
Just three seeds remain in the mixed doubles also, with the Russian pair of Nikolaenko and Sorokina continuing their excellent form to start the year. Their reward for defeating the 2009 world champions Laybourn and Rytter Juhl is a quarter final against the current world champions, Zhang and Zhao of China. Xu and Ma take on Lee and Ha of Korea in the bottom half of the draw in a rematch of the Korean Open final, a match that the Chinese pair won in three games.
Lee Chong Wei’s final Super Series event in his home nation started with an all-Malaysian encounter with Daren Liew, wrapped up in just over a half hour to give his fanatical home support a brief glimpse of what he is capable of this week.
Every Seed Through
The week has started completely differently to Seoul just 7 days ago, every seed has progressed as well as Taufik Hidayat, who has propped himself back into the top 10 in the world with a win in India over the Christmas period. Jan O Jorgensen’s reward for his three game battle with Du Pengyu is a even bigger Chinese threat, world number 2 Lin Dan. The 2nd seed defeat Viktor Axelsen in two games to set up his second round match, with the Danish teenager getting a lot more experience at Super Series level with the pending retirement of Peter Gade. Gade progressed in two tight games over Wong Wing Ki to set up a second round match against Kenichi Tago. Taufik Hidayat defeated Chou Tien Chen in two games to book his place in the last 16 against Tien Minh Nguyen of Vietnam, seeded 7.
6 Through To Last 16
The all-conquering Chinese squad are here in numbers in the women’s singles, with the prospect of 6 players in the last 8 looming tomorrow. Top seeded Wang Yihan takes on Bae Youn Joo of Korea, a quarter finalist in Korea last week. 2nd seeded Wang Xin takes on Eriko Hirose of Japan in her second round match, with a likely quarter final match with Jiang Yanjiao should the 6th seeded defeat Pi Hongyan of France. The European threat as always comes from Tine Baun and Juliane Schenk, with both players progressing to the second round, with Baun having the toughest draw facing Liu Xin of China in her second round match.
Shocks and Withdrawals Open Door For New Winners
The men’s doubles is without the top two in the world this week, leaving Ko and Yoo as the clear favourites this week. Their run lasted just a single round as they were shocked in the 1st round by Endo and Hayakawa of Japan. The draw is wide open with the 3rd seed Chai and Guo being the top seeds left in the draw but needing three games to beat Ellis and Mills of England in their opening round matches. There were wins for the 4th seeded Koo and Tan as well as the 5th seeded Ahsan and Septano to ensure some seeds remained in the draw.
Without the top two Chinese pairs in the women’s doubles, the draw is an absolute lottery as there will be a non-Chinese winner of this event for the first time in almost a year. Fujii and Kakiiwa are the top seeds this week and started off strongly with a three game victory over the Chinese pair of Huan and Tang. Finalists last week, Ha and Kim are the second seeds this week and they also started strong with a two game victory over Wallwork and White of England. The biggest casualty of the opening round was the 3rd seeded Maeda and Suetsuna who crashed out to Malaysia’s Woon and Hoo in three games.
The mixed doubles has a full compliment of Chinese pairs, with four in the last 16. Zhao and Zhang are safely into round 2 with a two game victory over Lee and Chien whilst the bottom half sees an all-Chinese second round clash between Ma and Xu playing He and Yixin after both pairs won in two games. The Russian pair of Nikolaenko and Sorokina continue their excellent run of form, disposing of the 6th seeded Prapakamol and Thoungthongkam to reach the second round where they will take on the 2009 world champions Laybourn and Rytter Juhl.
With interest in three of the five finals, Korea looked to be a position with Lee Yong Dae and Ha Jung Eun to claim one if not more titles only to be denied by the Chinese juggernaut.
Lee Chong Wei Claims Title
The first meeting of 2012 between Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei went the way of the Malaysian in a three game, 75 minute encounter that bodes well for the world number 1 in an Olympic year. It is the 9th victory over Lin Dan in their 27 encounters and breaks a streak of three consecutive losses to the Olympic champion.
Four Titles For China
Wang Shixian claimed the women’s singles in a one-sided all-Chinese encounter against Jiang Yanjiao, taking the title 21-12, 21-17 in 38 minutes. Tian and Zhao claimed the first title of 2012 in the women’s doubles over Ha and Kim in a two game 50-minute encounter which will be a real confidence boost for the Chinese pair after several defeats at this stage in 2011. Lee and Ha were defeated in three games by Xu and Ma of China in the mixed doubles, losing out in a 72-minute match 21-12, 19-21, 21-10.
Cai and Fu levelled their rivalry with Lee and Jung at 10-10 with a victory in the first final of the day in the men’s doubles. Another tight three game match was decided in 78 minutes with the Chinese pairing taking the title 18-21, 21-17, 21-19 to ensure there was no Korean success on home soil in 2012.
The European interest ended on semi finals day, but that was not the biggest shock of the day. Wang and Yu’s stunning run came to an end at the hands of Ha and Kim in the women’s doubles as two Koreans have a chance of two titles in Seoul.
First Meeting Of 2012
The two best players in the world meet for the first time this year, with the momentum with Lin Dan with victories in their previous three matchups. Lee Chong Wei has reached the final with the loss of a single game on route. It is their 27th meeting and the perfect start to the Olympic year.
Jiang Yanjiao claimed a famous win over Wang Yihan to boost her Olympic aspirations, her opponent in the final will be Wang Shixian and a victory over the world number 3 would improve her chances of making the Chinese squad even more. The world number 6 also holds a 4-3 head to head record over her team-mate.
China Against Korea In Doubles
Three Chinese pairs will take on three Korean pairs in the doubles finals. Cai and Fu take on Lee and Jung in the men’s doubles final for their 20th meeting in their rivalry, with Lee Yong Dae hoping to claim a 6th Korean Open title. His second chance comes in the mixed doubles as he teams up with Ha Jung Eun to take on the Chinese pairing of Xu and Ma. Ha Jung Eun claimed the biggest upset of the week as her and partner Kim Min Jung stunned the world number pairing of Wang and Yu in the women’s doubles semi finals to set up a match against Tian and Zhao and become the first non-Chinese pair to beat the world number 1 pairing.
It was a day with German, Danish and Indian involvement hoping to overcome the odds to reach the last 4 against a fierce contingent of local players and the all-conquering Chinese. For the most part, the latter pair of nations took the spoils.
Lee and Lin Ever Closer To A Korean Rematch
Form might be temporary, but this week has seen the form players in the world reach the last 4 with the unlikely inclusion of Du Pengyu who announced his arrival this week with his opening round demolition of Peter Gade. The Chinese player now has his toughest match of the week against the world number 1 Lee Chong Wei, with the hope of setting up a potential all-Chinese final after the Malaysia defeating Kenichi Tago once more in their one-sided rivalry. Lin Dan would be the second part of the final, with a three game victory over Jan O Jorgensen setting up a semi final against Sho Sasaki who ended European chances in the event with his two game victory over Marc Zwiebler.
A Chinese Monopoly Broken
China hoped for an all-Chinese semi final line-up to cement their place at the top of the women’s singles game, however Bae Youn Joo did not read the script in her victory over Li Xuerui to break the Chinese monopoly of the last 4 places. The Korean takes on Wang Shixian in the semi final, with the 2nd seed failing to drop a game to this point. The other semi final is an all-Chinese clash between the world number 1 Wang Yihan and Jiang Yanjiao. The top seed ended European hopes with a two game victory over Germany’s Juliane Schenk whilst Jiang Yanjiao ended India’s hopes with her own two game victory over Saina Nehwal.
China And Korea Dominate Doubles
Of the 12 pairs remaining in the three doubles events, only two are not Korean or Chinese. The men’s doubles has a Korean majority of 3 to 1 over it’s Chinese rivals. With Cai and Fu the lone Chinese hope in the event. The top seeds take on Ko and Yoo of Korea for a place in Sunday’s final whilst Lee and Jung take on their countrymen Kim and Kim who ended Hong and Shen’s run this week to ensure a sole Chinese entry in the semi finals.
The women’s doubles has two China-Korea matches, with Wang and Yu taking on Ha and Kim in the first semi final in a meeting that has been monumentally one sided. The 6-0 advantage to the Chinese pair is a similar record to most of the other pairs in the world as the world number 1 pair look to extended their unbeaten run to a calendar year. The other semi final sees Tian and Zhao take on Jung and Kim, an unseeded pair who defeated the 7th seeded Matsuo and Naito to reach this stage.
European hopes lay in the mixed doubles, with interest in both semi finals. Fischer Neilsen and Pedersen will be the pair that people will easily recognise, they take on Xu and Ma in the second semi final between the top highest seeds left in the draw. The other semi final features Lee Yong Dae, looking for a historic double in his home country with partner Ha Jung Eun. The Korean pair take on the Russian pairing of Nikolaenko and Sorokina, who defeated He and Yixin in their quarter final in the biggest win of their careers to date.
After losing the top seed in the mixed doubles, the Chinese squad got back on track in Seoul today whilst the Danish contingent had little to celebrate in the second round.
Four Seeds Remain
The top two in the world progressed to the last 8 with both needing the full three games to ensure their place in the quarter finals. Lee Chong Wei was tested by Shon Wan Ho before eventually setting up his quarter final match with Kenichi Tago. Simon Santoso is the other seed remaining in the top half of the draw who will likely move up the rankings after this week after securing a quarter final match against Du Pengyu who continues his excellent run with a three game victory over Hu Yun.
A lot was expected of Marc Zwiebler after his double victory over Taufik Hidayat and he has finally delivered with a run to a Premier quarter final against Sho Sasaki. The Japanese 6th seed was impressive in his two game victory over Wang Zhengming to ensure his place in the last 8. Jan O Jorgensen claimed the biggest scalp of the day in his victory over Chen Jin in three games to set up a quarter final against Lin Dan, who had his own struggles in beating Lee Hyun Il before progressing in three games.
Chinese Presence In All Quarter Finals
All four of the quarter finals will have some Chinese presence as the three seeded players are joined in the last 8 by Li Xuerui. Juliane Schenk is the sole European in the draw but will have a tough test to still be in the draw after the end of play tomorrow as she takes on Wang Yihan, whilst Jiang Yanjiao or Saina Nehwal will face the winner depending on the result of their quarter final in the top half of the draw. Wang Shixian takes on Gu Juan for a place in the last 4 whilst the only non-seeded Chinese player Li Xuerui takes on Bae Youn Joo in the second quarter final in the bottom half of the draw.
Seeds Topple In Men’s Doubles
Only three seeds remain in the draw, with a Cai/Fu versus Lee/Jung final looming large. Boe and Mogensen crashed out to Hong and Shen of China who take on Korea’s Kim and Kim for a place in the semi final. Lee and Jung needed three games to ensure their place in the last 8 where they will take on the Chinese Taipei pair of Fang and Lee a place in the last 4. Cai and Fu saved a match point before booking their place in the quarter finals against the German pairing of Fuchs and Roth, the last remaining European pair in the draw. Ko and Yoo will hope to ensure an all-Korean final as they try to progress into the last 4 in their match against Endo and Hayakawa of Japan.
Chinese Powerhouses Cruise Into Last 8
Wang and Yu progressed into the last 8 in straight forward fashion, and were joined by their team-mates Tian and Zhao in equally impressive fashion. The prospect of a ninth meeting of the year in Sunday is almost a foregone conclusion, such is their gap at the top of the world’s elite. Xu and Ma are into the last 8 in the mixed doubles and take on the 2009 world champions Laybourn and Rytter Juhl in their quarter final matchup. Whilst in the top half, He and Yixin ensured a Chinese involvement after their victory over Adcock and Bankier in the second round.
Several seeds crashed out of the opening round in Seoul, but there were some big-name departures on the opening day also.
Gade & Taufik Crash Out
Whilst Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan both progressed into the second round, the two big surprises were the loss of the 3rd and 4th seeded players. Chen Long retired from his opening round match with Hsu Jen Hao trailing 20-15 in the first game whilst Peter Gade was comprehensively beaten by Du Pengyu of China, with the Dane losing 21-9, 21-12. Gade cited his busy schedule over the last 4 months as a factor in his defeat to the world number 11.
Kenichi Tago disposed of the 7th seeded Tien Minh Nugyen to take the number of seeds left in the event down to 5. The big match not containing a seed seen Taufik Hidayat crash out at the first round to England’s Rajiv Ouseph to further question the Indonesian’s ability to qualify for the London Olympics.
Seeds Topple In Women’s Singles
There was a similar story in the women’s singles, with 3rd seeded Wang Xin losing out to Bae Youn Joo in third games as well as Sung Ji Hyun crashing out to Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei in two games. Wang Yihan needed three games to defeat Jie Yao but there was no such trouble for Wang Shixian who progressed safely into the second round.
Denmark Lead European Charge
With the loss of Gade, the Danes will rely on their doubles partnerships to bring some success in Seoul. Boe and Mogensen needed three games to defeat the 2005 world champs Bach and Gunawan and are joined in the last 16 by Conrad-Petersen and Rasmussen who take on the 4th seeded Ko and Yoo in the second round. The top two seeds in the men’s doubles both progressed in straightforward fashion, winning their matches in 2 games.
Wang and Yu reminded everyone why they are the best pair in the world with a merciless 21-7, 21-5 victory over Wang and Wang of the USA. Tian and Zhao also progressed easily to set up their all Chinese second round against Yixin and Zhong. The lone Danish pair left is Rytter Juhl and Pedersen who take on the 7th seeded Japanese pairing of Matsuo and Naito who were impressive in their 21-7, 21-9 over Grether and Reid of Canada.
The biggest shock of the day came in the mixed doubles as top seeded Zhao and Zhang crashed out to the British pair of Adcock and Bankier in a rematch of the 2011 World Championship final. The British pair take on another Chinese pair in the second round, facing He and Yixin. Xu and Ma lead the Chinese charge and take on the Russian qualifiers Durkin and Vislova in their second round match. The Danes have two seeded pairs remaining, the 3rd seeded Fischer Neilsen and Pedersen faught back from a game down to reach the last 16 whilst the 8th seeded Laybourn and Rytter Juhl defeated the British pairing of Blair and White to reach the last 16.
With a new Super Series season starting the BWF is once again providing free live streaming in select countries. The first event of the year is the Victor Korea Open 2012.
The coverage begins at 4am GMT on Thursday January 5th.
Round of 16
The first event of 2012 takes the world’s elite to Seoul for the biggest prize money of the year in the opening Super Series Premier event.
Tough Start For Gade
Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan both avoided a potentially tough opener, with the world number 1 taking on Kashyap Parupalli of India whilst Lin Dan has a first round clash with Spain’s Pablo Abian. Chen Long takes on a qualifier whilst Peter Gade has the toughest draw of the top four seeds as he takes on Du Pengyu of China. The world number 4 and world number 11 clash in the biggest match of the opening day of play. Gade holds a 3-0 head to head advantage and won their most recent encounter in China in late November last year.
Tien Minh Nguyen will be tested in his opening round match against Keinchi Tago in another fantastic opening round match with countless intriguing encounters taking place out with the seeded players. Boonsak Ponsana and Wang Zhengming also clash in the opening round, as well as Lee Hyun Il taking on Wong Wing Ki. Taufik Hidayat starts with a potential banana skin against Rajiv Ouseph of England, with a loss almost ensure he will drop out of the top 16 in the world.
Chinese Presence Throughout
The top 3 seeds in the women’s singles are as expected, Chinese. With Wang Yihan claiming the top seed and an opening round match against Jie Yao of Holland, Wang Shixian is seeded 2 and takes on Fu Mingtian of Singapore. The 3rd seed Wang Xin takes on Bae Youn Joo of Korea in the toughest of the three encounters, taking on the world number 14. Saina Nehwal takes on Susan Egelstaff in a rematch of the 2010 Commonwealth Games semi final whilst the final Chinese seed, Jiang Yanjiao take on Bulgaria’s Linda Zechiri in the opening round.
European hopes lie with Tine Baun, seeded 5th this week the Dane takes on the Canadian Michelle Li in a potentially tough opener. Juliane Schenk is seeded 7 but faces Liu Xin of China in her opening match in the biggest match of the opening round in the women’s singles draw. Liu Xin is ranked 10 in the world and holds a 2-0 head to head advantage against her German opponent.
The 3rd Force In Men’s Doubles?
Boe and Mogensen come into 2012 as the form pair in the men’s doubles after success in the Super Series Finals before Christmas and come into this week seeded 3. Their opening round match is against the 2005 world champions, Bach and Gunawan of the USA with a potential rematch with Lee and Jung in the semi finals. The 2nd seeds are the defending champions and take on Kumar and Thomas of India in their opening round match.
Top seeds Cai and Fu crashed out of the Super Series Finals at the group stage and have a potentially tough opener against the Polish pair of Logosz and Cwalina whilst the 4th seeded Korean pair of Ko and Yoo take on the Chinese pairing of Liu and Qiu of China, who are ranked 15 in the world.
Wang And Yu Still The Pair To Beat
World number 1 since June and haven’t lost a match since January of last year, Wang and Yu are the super power of the women’s doubles and come into 2012 looking for an unthinkable run of a year without losing a match. They start 2012 with a opening round match against Wang and Wang of the USA and a likely matchup with the 2nd seeded Zhao and Tian in the final on Sunday. Zhao and Tian start their campaign against Agustin and Maheswari of Indonesia.
2011 World Championship Rematch
Zhang and Zhao take on Adcock and Bankier in a rematch of the 2011 World Championship final, this time in the opening round in Korea. It is a tough blow for the British pair hoping to grab valuable ranking points in a 3-way fight for an Olympic place with Robertson and Wallwork as well as White and Blair. The 8th seeds and 2009 world champions Laybourn and Rytter Juhl wait in the first round for White and Blair. The 2nd seeded Xu and Ma start with a tough opener of their own, taking on Widianto and Marissa of Indonesia with both previous meetings going to three games.
Lee and Eun of Korea are the wildcard of the draw, they take on a qualifier in their opening round before a likely second round match with Prapakamol and Thoungthongkam of Thailand.
The 2012 Olympics signals the end of four legendary careers, with the hope of a last great battle between Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan for the Olympic gold on August 5, 2012. August of this year provided with perhaps the greatest advertisement for the game that there has ever been as Lee Chong Wei took on Lin Dan for the 2011 World Championship.
Malaysia expected as Lee Chong Wei had two match points to claim his first world title, only for Lin Dan to break a nations heart with his refusal to be beaten. A nation distraught as China claimed a clean sweep in London as Lin Dan ripped off his top in celebration after his historic victory. It was the defining image of 2011, that the Chinese were still the nation to beat and that Lin Dan will still the man to beat.
As much as the Chinese tactics are questionable on how they get so many players to qualify, there is little doubting they are the nation to beat going into next years Olympics. Malaysia and Lee Chong Wei’s last chance waits in London once more, in the arena that robbed him of a world title 12 months previously.
From the stunning mistake by Lin Dan at 19-19 in the third game, to his net play and smashes that saved the two match points before his precise pushes into Lee Chong Wei’s forehand that forced the errors that led to the match point and the eventual winning point, it was an absolute master class on the greatest stage by both players. They simply are the best two players in the world and the only two men capable of winning gold in London.
Fighting For Gold
Lee Chong Wei was the overall best player of 2011; winning almost every event he entered and claimed his first All England title against Kenichi Tago in March. The last three months have seen him lose to China’s Chen Long no less than three times which is the only real worry for the Malaysian going into 2012. He will undoubtedly play a full schedule going into the Olympics, with the chance of a second All England title looming large.
Lin Dan goes into 2012 in top form, winning his last three events including the Super Series Finals earlier in December. He won the opening Super Series Premier in Korea in January and followed it up with Asian Games gold, an event that Lee Chong Wei did not play. The top two in the world played each other 5 times in ranking events, with Lin Dan winning four of the five meetings with Lin Dan holding a 18-8 advantage in their 26 meetings to date.
Gade’s Last Chance
Peter Gade celebrated his 35th birthday this month but there was little to celebrate on the court for the Dane as he failed to claim a single title in 2011 as Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei proved too strong throughout the year in a recurring theme for Europe’s number 1. In his 12 meetings with the top two players, he won just three games and failed to win a single match.
His record against the top two is 32-4, with his last victory over Lin Dan over 18 months ago and almost three years since his last win over Lee Chong Wei. His chances of a stunning upset and a Danish gold in London look grim whilst in the Super Series events he will be a perennial contender and will reach the latter stages of most of the events he participates in, but his chances of gold in London are slim.
Taufik’s Fall From Grace
The decline of Taufik started in May of this year when his #2 ranking slipped to 3 and then came the double defeat to Marc Zwiebler in the US and Canada Open. The foundation of his ranking came from his Denmark and France Super Series victories in 2010. His defeat in the second round to Viktor Axelsen in Denmark followed by his opening round loss to Wang Zhengming in France ensured Hidayat’s decline out of the top 10 of the world rankings for the first time in recent memory.
He ended the year with a whimper, losing all three games in the Super Series Finals and taking just a single game against Kenichi Tago. He will start 2012 with a world ranking of 12, still inside the qualifcation zone for the Olympics but he is currently the #2 ranked player from Indonesia with Simon Santoso ranked 7 in the world and Tommy Sugiarto a threat to Hidayat’s qualification also, ranked 17th in the world.
The Chinese Threat
The 2009 world champion Chen Jin as well as the new star of Chinese badminton, Chen Long are just the tip of a massive Chinese threat going into any major tournament in 2012. With 5 Chinese players inside the top 16, there is a massive internal battle within the Chinese squad to claim one of a potential three spots in the Olympics, should China manage to get three players inside the top 4 in the world.
Chen Long is clearly the new star of Chinese badminton, the 22-year old begun this year well outside of the top 10 and his stunning loss to Kevin Cordon in the opening round of the world championships could have derailed his promising career. However, he returned to form later in the year with a trio of titles including a Super Series Premier title in China before his milestone victory over Lee Chong Wei in Japan the next week. This became a recurring theme, with another victory over Lee Chong Wei in Denmark and then finally in their most recent matchup in the Super Series Finals. He is the main threat to the top two in the world going into 2012.
Chen Jin claimed just a single title this year, in the Singapore Super Series after a Lin Dan walkover in the final and without Lee Chong Wei even in the draw. His two runner-up medals were defeats to Lin Dan and Chen Long to firmly establish himself as the third force of Chinese badminton now.
Du Pengyu and Wang Zhengming are the two wild cards of Chinese badminton. They have all but been eliminated from being able to qualify for the 2012 games but will be vital in ensuring a massive Chinese presence at the London Olympics. Ranked #10 and #14 in the world will put them in a position of being seeds in some events but potentially facing one of the seeds in the Premier events of 2011, like Wang Zhengming taking on Taufik Hidayat in the French Super Series in October. They will also play a role in ensuring Chinese success at these events, with the Chinese squad allowing walkovers to occur in all-Chinese matchups, meaning more rest for the higher ranked Chinese players in their big events.
The Breakout Stars of 2011
2011 seen the emergence of Sho Sasaki, Lee Hyun Il, Simon Santoso and Marc Zwiebler into the top 16 players in the world. 29-year old Sho Sasaki has been grinding away a career that seen him ranked as low as 40 in June of this year after a string of opening round losses to start 2011. He then reached the semi finals in the Indonesian Super Series Premier and followed that with a win in the US Open in July. An excellent run to the last 8 of the world championships boosted his ranking into the top 10 and finishes the year with his highest ever world ranking of 7. A lot is expected of Sasaki in 2012 with impressive victories over Lin Dan and Du Pengyu in 2011 but has to ensure no opening round upsets that marred his 2011 season.
Lee Hyun Il ended his career after the Beijing Olympics, only to be talked back into playing competitively just 20 months ago. Ranked 196th in May of 2010, he has returned to the world’s top 10 going into 2012, winning his last two events of 2011. A former world number 1 in 2004, his return to the top 10 is nothing short of stunning with victories over Chen Jin, Wang Zhengming , Du Pengyu and Simon Santoso confirming his top 10 status. He will benefit in 2012 with being seeded for most of the early Super Series events of the year to bolster his place in the top 10.
Simon Santoso was touted to overtake Taufik Hidayat as Indonesia’s number 1 in the summer after Hidayat’s poor run in the US and Canada Open. He entered the world championships ranked 19th but his run to the semi finals in China and Macau, that featured a victory over Peter Gade seen Santoso become the top ranked Indonesian player and ensured his place in the top 10 in December. His victory over Hidayat in the China Masters saw the passing of the guard to the 26-year old.
Marc Zwiebler has cemented his place as Europe’s number 2 behind Peter Gade, but his double victory over Taufik Hidayat has pushed him into the spotlight. Ranked as high as 11 earlier in the year, he has levelled out within the 15-17 ranking in the later half of the year following his Canada Open success. Big things are expected of Zwiebler in 2012 as he is set to take on the mantle of Europe’s #1 after the Olympics.
The New Breed
Denmark’s future lies with Viktor Axelsen, the 2010 junior world champion and current European junior champion carefully scheduled his 2011 calender, with a victory in Spain before his greatest moment of his career in the Denmark Open as he defeated Taufik Hidayat in his hometown to reach the last 8 of a Super Series for the first time. He took a game off Peter Gade in his quarterfinal before losing out in three games but that propelled him onto the world stage. He played the Hong Kong and China Masters in the latter half of 2011 and will likely take on a full schedule in 2012 as he looks to improve on his ranking of 36.
Wong Wing Ki’s victory over Lin Dan in Denmark was the 21-year old’s first breakthrough victory of his career and a series of promising results to end 2011 has him just outside the top 20 in the world going into 2012. He has been competitive against the world’s elite throughout the last year with only his standout victory against Lin Dan to show for it, he will hope to have several more impressive wins in 2012.
The European Hopefuls
Pablo Abian, Rajiv Ouseph have been the powerhouses of the EBU circuit, whilst Jan O Jorgensen has been reaching the latter stages of the Super Series towards the end of 2011 after a health scare during the week of the Denmark Open.
Pablo Abian started 2011 just inside the top 50 in the world before taking four titles in the first half of the year, including a victory over Viktor Axelsen in Sweden in January to claim his first title. Opening round defeats in the Denmark and France Open will have to be improved on in 2012 to break into the world’s elite.
Rajiv Ouseph will go to the London Olympics as GB’s only chance of a medal in this event but his success in 2011 has came in Europe, with victories in Ireland and Scotland, choosing to play the European events instead of the Super Series Premier event in China. He goes into 2012 in need of a notable run in a Super Series to boost his confidence ahead of the pressure of performing on home soil after a poor attempt this year in a 21-8, 21-18 defeat to Peter Gade in the opening round of the 2011 world championships.
Jan O Jorgensen is a former top 10 player whose health scare in Denmark forced him into a layoff of 4 weeks that seen him dip to 19 in the rankings. Three quarter final appearances in Super Series events in 2011 will be the very minimum he will need to ensure his place at the Olympics ahead of Viktor Axelsen, as the two battle it out to be Denmark’s number 1 after Gade’s retirement.
However, Hans-Kristian Vittinghus is also a contender in the debate. Ranked outside the top 30 at the start of 2011, the Dane took the Dutch Open title in April to push him into the top 25 and another victory in the Bitburger Open sees him inside the top 20 and finished the year with a close match with Chen Long of China. The performance in the China Open will be one that Vittinghus hopes to emulate throughout 2011 to ensure his name is in the discussion over Denmark’s top men’s singles player.
The Asian Contingent
The rarely spoken about Tien Minh Nguyen has been inside the top 10 in the world for almost two years without any major runs in the Super Series, the Vietnamese player earns his ranking points from the GP Gold series of events but did put have a good run at the world championships, eventually losing out to Peter Gade in three games at the quarter final stage. Defeats to Sho Sasaki and Jan O Jorgensen in the latter part of 2011 still raise question marks over Nguyen’s true ability and significance within the rankings.
Park Sung Hwan’s year was cut short with an injury after the world championships. After surgery on his knee in September there was further complications after it was revealed that the Korean had circulation problems in his shoulder but is expected to return to action in the opening months of 2012. He was ranked inside the top 10 before his lay off due to injury.
Boonsak Ponsana is another player in the Tien Minh Nguyen mould in that he was almost discounted as a threat in the opening half of 2011 when he was ranked 6th in the world, mostly due to ranking points gained through the GP Gold series. His quarter final defeat to Lee Chong Wei is the highlight of a poor year for the Thai player that has seen him crash out of the top 10 but surgery has sidelined Ponsana for most of the second half of 2011, with 2012 seeing the Thai player hopefully return to the court.
The End Of An Era
Regardless of the results in London, Lee Chong Wei and Peter Gade have confirmed their intentions to retire after the Olympics. Lin Dan and Taufik Hidayat likely to follow suit, especially should Lin Dan claim his second Olympic title. Hidayat’s dip in form will likely be a contributing factor especially with his place in London far from guaranteed.
2012 will provide us with the end of an era and the chance to crown a new world number 1 after the Olympics. Whether that is Lee Chong Wei winning gold for Malaysia, Lin Dan retaining his Olympic title or the dream finale to Peter Gade’s stunning career, the countdown has begun. There is no more putting off talking about the likely retirement of these four players, for it is now a matter of months, not years now.
The 2012 season starts in just a few weeks, with the Korean Open Super Series Premier being moved 3 weeks to the first week in January, with the Malaysian Open Super Series the next week to ensure an exciting start to the year. The doubleheader of the Indonesia Premier and Singapore Super Series will be the final event before the run-in to the Olympics in late July.
Then, another 6 week break before the China Masters and the first opportunity to survey the aftermath of the 2012 Olympics. The year ends with the China Open Premier and the Hong Kong Super Series in late November to conclude what is likely to be a historic year of badminton.