The opening Premier event of 2011 ushers in a new era for badminton, with added prize funds now over $1,000,000 there is suddenly a massive incentive to play in these “Premier” events that will ultimately attract the best players in the world. The opening round in Korea has provided the strongest field since the World Championships in August, perhaps even stronger than that due the depth of certain nations that allows them to field more than 4 players from their nation.
The clear favourite going into this week is Lee Chong Wei, dominant in Malaysia in his home event and looking to be in similar form to his impressive 2010 campaign. He will need to be at his very best for his opening round match when he takes on the world number 9 Jan O Jorgensen in his opening round match, such is the depth of talent in this event. Potentially all of his opponents this week will be ranked inside the top 25 in the world, nothing that could ever be boasted before this week. The question marks over Lin Dan’s withdrawals over the last couple of months should end here, with no Chinese players in his half of the draw for him to conveniently withdraw before player, the chance of seeing the dream final against Lee Chong Wei is a strong possibility. However, he must overcome a qualifier in Round 1 and the potential of playing his long-time rivals Taufik Hidayat and Peter Gade in the later rounds is going to test the 6th seed to the very limit.
There are other high-caliber matches in the opening round in the singles, world number 4 and 4th seeded Chen Long takes on the world number 7 Tien Minh Nguyen who did not receive a seed for this week’s event and the on-form Simon Santoso takes on Boonsak Ponsana who will be looking to play better than last week in Malaysia.
The women’s singles will undoubtably be a mainly Chinese affair, with 4 of the 6 top seeds coming from China. Only Saina Nehwal (seeded 4) and Tine Baun (seeded 5) potentially posing any sort of challenge before the all-Chinese matches later in the week than has been the story of much of the later half of 2010. Top seed Wang Xin could have an all-Chinese match as early as the second round with Liu Xin a potential opponent, there is also Lu Lan and Li Xuerui in the draw to boost the potential for a Chinese monopoly this week. Wang Shixian takes on the world number 16 Salakjit Ponsana in her opening round match whilst the world number 5 Tine Baun’s campaign begins against Li Xuerui, seeded just six places lower than her in the current rankings. Saina Nehwal’s campaign will not run into a Chinese opponent at least until the semi final, but will potentially have a meeting with Germany’s Juliane Schenk to reach the last 4.
Local favourites Lee and Jung are hoping to retain their title from last year where they triumphed as the top seeds, 12 months later and they are the 6th seeds and begin with a match against the 2005 world champions Bach and Gunawan with Kido and Setiawan as well as Koo and Tan in their half of the draw. There is also potential banana skins in the draw with the unseeded Chinese pairings throughout the draw, Zhang and Xu are also in the bottom half of the draw whilst the likes of last weeks winners Chai and Guo who were seeded last week in Malaysia and play their opponents from that final in Conrad-Petersen and Rasmussen in the opening round this week, with a potential matchup against Cai and Fu waiting in round 2. The top seeded Danish pair of Boe and Mogensen could almost boast to have an “easy” draw until the last 8, taking on the world #16 pairing of Gan and Tan of Malaysia in their opening round match.
The women’s doubles is one of the events this week where seedings simply don’t matter, this about how is on form that week, especially with the Chinese ladies playing at such a high level over the past few months. The two “favourites” for this week are the 6th seeded Wang/Xu and 7th seeds Cheng/Ma from China who are both in the top half of the draw whilst another Chinese pair is expected to come out of the bottom half for the expected all-Chinese final on Sunday. The other four seeds simply have to stop that happening, with top seeded pair Chien and Cheng taking on the Danish pair of Pedersen and Rytter Juhl and the 2nd seeds from Japan, Maeda and Suetsuna having to play into some sort of form before the expected matchup with the 5th seeded Chinese pair of Du and Pan.
Ma Jin’s excellent run with He Hanbin seemed to be a temporary one, as Yu Yang has returned as He Hanbin’s partner this week in what must be an increasingly annoying situation for one half of the current mixed doubles world champion. However her partner this week is the excellent Xu Chen but they begin their campaign against the 3rd seeded Polish pair of Mateusiak and Zieba. The main news from the mixed doubles draw is the withdrawal of the top seeded pair of Laybourn and Rytter Juhl, with Thomas Laybourn not recovering from an injury that cut his SuperSeries finals appearance short earlier in the month. The top half of the draw has been opened up for a Chinese monopoly with 4 pairings in the top half of the draw. 8th seeded He and Yu and 5th seeded Zhang and Zhao will look to capitalise on the opportunity. The bottom half is not without some excellent pairings also, with last week’s runners up Tian and Jaiming seeded 6. Ko and Ha are the big local hope, seeded 4th and taking on the German pairing of Fuchs and Michels in their opening round match.