With six medals still on offer, the final day of Olympic badminton promised to be special. China were assured of two medals with the possibility of three as Lin Dan defended his Olympic title in another classic.
Lin Dan Claims Gold
The 2011 meeting in this arena between Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei was widely considered to the greatest match ever played. The 2012 meeting for Olympic gold will definitely be a contender to that title. An animated Lee Chong Wei took the opening game as a lackluster Lin Dan made several critical areas as the Malaysian dominated at the net. The second game was a role reversal, with the drift inside the arena playing it’s part over the first two games.
The third game had everything you could ever wish for, long pulsating rallies and two of the best players of this or any generation retrieving shots that nobody thought possible. Lin Dan turned 11-9 up, but the ascendancy changed throughout the second game, with Lee Chong Wei taking an 18-16 lead as Malaysia hoped for gold. Lin Dan replied with the play that won him Olympic gold in Beijing four years previously. The score became 19-19 after the Malaysia left a lift that landed on the line, with Lin Dan going on an all-out attack to claim the first gold medal point.
The rally drew comparisons with Lin Dan’s match point a year previously, pushing deep into Lee Chong Wei’s forehand rear before a tight net shot from Lin Dan forced a high lift from the Malaysian that Lin Dan watched out of the back of the court before sprinting off court in celebration with the Chinese coaches in his wake. Lee Chong Wei remained on court to be consoled by his coaches. Lin Dan claimed his second gold medal 15-21, 21-10, 21-19 in 79 minutes.
Chen Long claimed the bronze medal in a three game victory over Lee Hyun Il to ensure an 8th medal out of a possible 15.
Cai and Fu Win Gold
The men’s doubles final was between Cai and Fu of China against Boe and Mogensen of Denmark, who defeated the world number 1 pairing of Lee and Chung, won had already won the bronze medal in the morning session. The match was competitive, but there was only going to be one winner as the Danish pair had already played their final in the semi finals in beating Lee and Chung. The 21-15, 21-16 score was an accurate representation of the match as a whole, with the Chinese pairing just too strong for the Danes.
The win ensured a clean sweep of the medals for China, with four new gold medalists in Li Xuerui, Cai and Fu, Tian and Zhao Yunlei, who claimed two golds, one in the women’s doubles and another in the mixed with Zhang Nan.
The first medals were awarded as the mixed doubles reached it’s conclusion, with the current world champions claiming Olympic gold over their Chinese rivals and team mates.
Zhang and Zhao Claim Gold
The 2011 world champions became the 2012 Olympic champions, claim both titles inside Wembley Arena. Their opponents this time around were Xu and Ma, who were defeated in the semi finals 12 months previously. What many hoped would be a tightly fought contest were left disappointed, as Zhang and Zhao outclassed their Chinese team mates in a 21-11, 21-17 victory.
The bronze medal was won by Joachim Fischer Neilsen and Christinna Pedersen of Denmark, who defeated Ahmad and Natsir in another one-sided match to ensure at least one European medal, with the world number 4 pairing winning 21-12, 21-12.
All Chinese Finals In Women’s Singles
One space was guaranteed for the Chinese, as Wang Xin took on Li Xuerui in the second semi final. Wang Yihan ensured an all-Chinese final with an excellent two game victory over Saina Nehwal of India, with the world number 5 being the sole hope remaining to ensure there wouldn’t be a Chinese monopoly of the medals.
Li Xuerui continued her stunning form in 2012 with a two game victory over her higher ranked team mate Wang Xin in two tight games to book her place in the final against Wang Yihan. It will be their 8th meeting between the two, with Wang Yihan leading 4-3 but Li Xuerui has won the previous three occasions, with their last meeting being a two game victory in the Indonesian Super Series Premier.
Lee Against Lin
It will their 30th encounter between the top two players in the world in a repeat of the 2008 Olympic final as Lin Dan takes on Lee Chong Wei. Both players comfortably defeated their semi final opponents in two games, with Lee Chong Wei defeating Chen Long whilst Lin Dan defeated Lee Hyun Il.
It will be the first time in the sports history in the Olympics that the same two players will play for the gold medal in two consecutive Olympics in what could potentially be the final match of their historic rivalry.
In about a months time, the career of Peter Gade will end on the Olympic stage in London. Gone are the days of a spikey blonde haired man oozing with arrogance claiming the world number 1 spot at just 21, replaced with a 35-year old man with all the deceptive skills that the Dane claimed title after title with in the early parts of the 2000′s, but missing that explosion and a body slowly betraying him.
His legacy has shaped European badminton, an ambassador both on and off the court as well as a role model to countless players of this generation. His technique is idolized in his home nation, where he has claimed his national title on no less than 10 occasions. A European champion on five different occasions as well as an All-England Champion in 1999 but like Lee Chong Wei, there is a lack of a World or Olympic gold medal in his career, only a World Championship silver in 2001 in Seville.
2012 has seen a significant drop off in his results, something that Gade himself has admitted that he was struggling with an ankle injury and trying to find an extra 10-15% to push him back to the top of the game. He has played just 16 matches in the past few months, losing 7 of those 16. Losses to Shon Wan Ho, Du Pengyu, Lee Hyun Il and most noticeably Henri Hurskainen at the European Championships has fueled the belief that there is nothing left in the tank.
Is Gade Europe’s Best Chance?
Even with all of his recent losses, he is still Europe’s top ranked player. The likes of Jorgensen, Zwiebler and Ouseph simply don’t have the experience of a Gade at this level. Dispite his recent poor run of form, Gade is still competitive. His losses to Kuncoro and Lee Hyun Il were in three games and his loss in the All England was one of the most farcical moments in recent badminton history after being put on court at 1am due to a scheduling disaster.
Can He Beat Lin Dan or Lee Chong Wei?
Gade would have to roll back the years in order to consider beating Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei. His record against both is poor (Lin Dan leads 16-3, Lee Chong Wei leads 16-1) and has failed to post a victory against either in over two years. Gade’s “victory” over Lee Chong Wei at the Thomas Cup in May came after just 3 points in the opening game.
Can Gade Win A Medal?
It would be a fitting way to Gade’s career for him to claim a medal in London, his main threats will come from Chen Jin and Chen Long in his quest for a medal. Gade’s record against both of the Chinese players is also poor (Chen Jin leads 8-2 and Chen Long leads 3-2) and without a victory over Chen Jin in almost four years, any hint of injury or fatigue will make a medal of any colour very difficult for Gade in London. He could win a medal, but the Olympics have came probably one year too late for Gade to be considered a medal contender.
With less than two months to the opening match of the Olympics, the respective governing bodies have chosen their players to take part in the 2012 Games.
The men’s singles draw will consist of 40 players, with a group stage being introduced for the first time at the Olympics. The draw will consist of 16 groups, with the top 8 players getting a group of just 2 players whilst the 9-16 seeds will be in a group of 3.
1. Lee Chong Wei (Malaysia)
2. Lin Dan (China)
3. Chen Long (China)
4. Chen Jin (China)
5. Peter Gade (Denmark)
6. Sho Sasaki (Japan)
7. Lee Hyun Il (Korea)
8. Kenichi Tago (Japan)
Chen Jin only qualified for the Olympics a mere 4 days before the qualification period ended, with China taking 3 of the top 4 places. Lee Chong Wei’s injury to his ankle at the Thomas Cup puts his presence in the competition at risk, with the Malaysian team claiming that the world number 1 will be out for just a month being an optimistic timeframe for his return to action. If Lee Chong Wei should miss the Olympics or not be 100% then the undoubted favourite for the competition will be the defending champion Lin Dan.
Only the group winners will qualify, but the top 8 will only need to beat a player outside the top 20 in the world to ensure their place in the knockout stages of the event.
9. Simon Santoso (Indonesia)
10. Tien Minh Nguyen (Vietnam)
11. Taufik Hidayat (Indonesia)
12. Jan O Jorgensen (Denmark)
13. Shon Wan Ho (Korea)
14. Marc Zwiebler (Germany)
15. Rajiv Ouseph (Great Britain)
16. Wong Wing Ki (Hong Kong)
Jan O Jorgensen was selected ahead of both Hans-Kristian Vittinghus and Viktor Axelsen to ensure his place at this years Olympics whilst Shon Wan Ho left it to the last possible week to book his place in the qualification spots after jumping from 17 to 14 in the world to ensure a second Korean player in the draw. Taufik Hidayat has made the qualification criteria as he looks for a last flash of brillance to claim his second Olympic title after winning in Athens eight years previously. Rajiv Ouseph is the only British hope in the draw, with the world number 20 narrowly edging out Spain’s Pablo Abian to ensure four European seeds from the 16.
The 9-16 seeds will have a more precarious qualifying process, needing to win the group with three players in it instead of just two.
The remaining 24 players range from the world number 22 Pablo Abian to the two wildcards, Virgil Soeroredjo and Mohamed Ajfan Rasheed who are both ranked outside the top 200 in the world and will be seen as the players the seeded players will most likely want in their groups.
The live draw for the groups will be held in the Olympic Park Main Press Center on July 23 with the final confirmed list of players being released on July 20.
Special thanks to Jan Lin from the BWF for this information
China claimed both the Thomas and Uber Cup on home soil in Wuhan in a perfect build up to the Olympics in two months time.
A perfect record of 19 victories from 19 ensured China’s successful defence of the Thomas Cup, with a 3-0 victory over Korea in the final. Lin Dan defeated Lee Hyun Il, before Cai and Fu doubled the lead against Lee and Kim in a two tight games before Chen Long completed their rout of Korea with a two game victory over Shon Wan Ho. China dropped just 2 games from their 40 games this week.
China’s women reclaimed the Uber Cup against the holders Korea in another one-sided final. Wang Yihan dropped the opening game to Sung Ji Hyun before fighting back to save four match points and take the second game 22-20. The third game was more dominant from the world number 1, taking the decider 21-13. Wang and Yu had little trouble doubling the lead with a 21-15, 21-13 victory over Ha and Kim before Wang Xin clinched the match with a 21-10, 21-16 win over Bae Youn Joo.
The All England Champions Ahmad and Natsir continued their excellent recent run of form with a second week in as many weeks whilst Saina Nehwal shocked Wang Shixian to take the women’s singles title.
Two Titles For China
The world number 20 and 21 pairs faced off in the women’s doubles final, with Huan and Tang defeating their 6th seeded opponents Bao and Zhong in the all-Chinese final. Chen Jin edges every closer to reaching the Olympics and overtaking Peter Gade for the world number 4 spot with his victory in the men’s singles over Lee Hyun Il of Korea.
Three More Asian Titles
Kawamae and Sato claimed the men’s doubles title, after a 2 game victory over Fang and Lee of Chinese Taipei to claim their second victory over their opponents in the final in the space of 3 weeks. Ahmad and Natsir claimed the mixed doubles title with a straight forward 2 game victory over Prapakamol and Thoungthongkam of Thailand in just 23 minutes. Saina Nehwal claimed the women’s singles after defeating her second Chinese opponent of the week in Wang Shixian. The Indian 3rd seeded defeated Liu Xin in the quarter finals before defeating the 2nd seeded Wang Shixian in two games to claim the title.
Quarter final day was a day dominated by the Chinese and for Asia as just one European pair is left in the 5 events.
Hidayat And Mitani Surprise In Singles
Taufik Hidayat is through to the last 4 after a three game victory over Shon Wan Ho and takes on Chen Jin in the first semi final tomorrow. Hidayat defeated Chen Jin last week at the All Englands but the 5th seed still holds a 3-2 advantage in head to heads. Lee Hyun Il takes on Chen Long in the second of the semi finals with both players failing to drop a game to date. Chen Long holds a 3-1 advantage on their head to head.
Minatsu Mitani has been the surprise package this week, promoted from qualifying and benefitting from Wang Yihan’s withdrawal, her victory over Bae Youn Joo sets up a semi final with Saina Nehwal who won their only previous encounter last year in three games. Wang Shixian ended Juliane Schenk’s run to set up a semi final against Inthanon Ratchanok who beat the 2nd seed in their most recent encounter.
Adcock and Bankier playing for Europe
Seeds 5, 6, 7 and 8 are into the last 4 of the men’s doubles, with Chandra and Gunawan taking on Kawamae and Sato in a battle of the top highest seeds left in the draw. Fang and Lee take on Endo and Hayakawa. Whilst in the women’s doubles, a Chinese threat looms large as the top seeded Ha and Kim take on the 6th seeded Chinese pair of Bao and Zhong in the first semi final in their first meeting. Huan and Tang take on Chin and Wong on the second semi final in the battle of the unseeded pairs.
Adcock and Bankier take on the top seeded pair of Ahmad and Natsir after defeating Chan and Goh in three games and saving two match points. Bankier and Adcock progressed without much resistance to set up their second meeting between the two pairs with the British pair winning their world championship semi final in London. He and Bao are a new Chinese pairing with a lot of potential and have reached the last 4 taking on Prapakamol and Thoungthongkam in the second semi final.
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.