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.
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.
The crowd in Jakarta were treated to fifteen games of action, with Simon Santoso taking the men’s singles title to ensure success for the Indonesian’s in their home Premier Series event.
Santoso and Nehwal Take Titles
The stranglehold of the Chinese on these events has been loosened with the results of this week, albeit with Lee Chong Wei injured and the Chinese squad in their Olympic camp ahead of London 2012. There was still a Chinese presence in both singles events, with a Chinese player in both finals. Simon Santoso defeated Du Pengyu in the men’s singles final in three games in the longest final of the day at 79 minutes whilst Sain Nehwal overcame Li Xuerui after saving two match points in the second game, before claiming her second victory in six attempts over the 4th seeded Chinese player.
Ahmad and Natsir Denied
Lee and Jung claimed the men’s doubles title in 76-minutes, after being taken to three games by the Danish pair of Boe and Mogensen who have now lost their last three meetings with the Korean pair. Wang and Yu defeated Tian and Zhao in three games to claim their 8th victory in their last nine meetings between the top two pairs in the world in the shortest match of the day, which still took over an hour.
The last match of the day seen Ahmad and Natsir take on the Thai pairing of Prapakamol and Thoungthongkam, but the expectations of a nation were too much of the Indonesian pair, after dropping the opening game they fought back to ensure a deciding game but they were never in the 3rd game, with the Thai pairing expanding on their lead before claiming the title 21-13 in the deciding game.
Indonesia has two finalists at it’s home Premier Series event, whilst another top seed is toppled on semi finals day in Jakarta.
Santoso Into Final
Simon Santoso has benefited from the absence of several top name players and shock exits to book his place in the men’s singles final. His two game victory over Kashyap Parupalli set up his final against Du Pengyu, with the Chinese 8th seed defeating Hu Yun in two games to book his place in the final.
Wang Yihan crashed out at the semi final stage, losing her all-Chinese clash with Li Xuerui in two games to ensure the 4th seed would represent China in the final. Her opponent will be the 5th seeded Saina Nehwal, who defeated Sung Ji Hyun to book her place in the final and her 6th meeting against Li Xuerui, with the 4th seeded Chinese player winning four of their past five meetings.
Top Two Clash
Lee and Jung set up their highly anticipated match with Boe and Mogensen in the men’s doubles final. The Danish pair failed to drop a game on route to the final whilst the Korean pair needed three games to end the run of Kido and Setiawan to ensure their place in the final.
Wang and Yu set up their 10th meeting against Tian and Zhao in the women’s doubles final, with the 2nd seeds claiming victory in their last meeting at the All Englands in March. The top seeded Wang and Yu have won seven of the previous eight meetings however and the top seeds have needed just six games to reach the final.
Ahmad and Natsir defeated Xu and Ma to claim a famous victory and a place in the mixed doubles final and take on the unseeded Thai pairing of Prapakamol and Thoungthongkam, who defeated Ko and Eom of Korea to book their place in the final.
The Chinese contingent in Indonesia lost some of it’s stars as Saina Nehwal claimed her 3rd victory against Wang Shixian in a 96-minute classic.
Unlikely Bunch In Last 4
Parupalli, Hu, Santoso and Du. One of those four names would claim the men’s singles title and their first Premier Series title. Parupalli’s stunning week continued with a victory over Hans-Kristian Vittinghus to set up a semi final against Simon Santoso of China. Du Pengyu ended the run of Sony Dwi Kuncoro to book his place in the last four against Hu Yun of Hong Kong, who defeated Tien Minh Nguyen to reach the semi final stage.
Both Wang Xin and Wang Shixian crashed out of the women’s singles, with the 2nd seed losing out to Sung Ju Hyun in two close games. Wang Shixian lost her third of her four meetings with Saina Nehwal, with the 3rd seed having to save three match points to win in the second game but Nehwal was too strong in the third and booked her place in the last 4. The other semi final is an all-Chinese affair between the top seeded Wang Yihan and Li Xuerui, seeded 4. Both defeated their European opponents in the semi final, with Wang Yihan needing just two games to defeat Tine Baun.
World’s Elite Into Last 4
Whilst the singles had an unlikely bunch at this stage of the week, the doubles was very much business as usual. Lee and Jung were still on track for their matchup with Boe and Mogensen in the final on Sunday with both pairs progressing into the last 4 without the loss of a game today. Boe and Mogensen take on the 8th seeded Koo and Tan of Malaysia in their semi final whilst Lee and Jung take on the last Indonesian hope in the draw, Kido and Setiawan.
Wang and Yu enjoyed a day off as they watched their team mates Bao and Zhong book their place in the semi final against the top seeded pair. Jauhari and Polii are the sole Indonesian pair left in the draw where they take on the second seeded Tian and Zhao.
Zhang and Zhao crashed out of the mixed doubles to Thailand’s Prapakamol and Thoungthongkam in a day of surprises in the mixed doubles, with the 4th seeded Fischer Neilsen also crashing out to Ko and Eom of Korea, who defeated their team-mates Laybourn and Rytter Juhl in the first round. The 2nd seeded Xu and Ma are safely into the last 4, where they will take on the 3rd seeded Indonesian pairing of Ahmad and Natsir for a place in Sunday’s final.
Olympic build-ups were brought to an abrupt end as big names crashed out in Indonesia for the second day running, only today seen a massive upset as Chen Long crashed out in the second round.
Chen Long Out
Kashyup Parupalli was too strong for Chen Long in a one-sided match, winning the match in two games in just 44 minutes. The world number 24 takes on another unseeded player in Hans-Kristian Vittinghus, who defeated the 5th seeded Lee Hyun Il to take the number of seeds left in the draw down to just two. Simon Santoso is the last seed left in the top half of the draw whilst Du Pengyu is the sole seed left in the bottom half of the draw. The 8th seeded Chinese player will play the on-form Sony Dwi Kuncoro, who defeated Taufik Hidayat in an all-Indonesian second round clash.
Seven of the 8 seeds remain in the women’s singles draw, with the 6th seeded Jiang Yanjiao defeated by Sung Ji Hyun of Korea to ensure 8 of the top 10 players in the world are represented at the quarter final stage. Wang Xin is the Korean’s next opponent in an fantastic line-up of quarter final matches. Wang Shixian takes on Saina Nehwal in the other quarter final match in the bottom half of the draw. The top half of the draw sees the top seeded Wang Yihan taking on Tine Baun, whilst Li Xuerui takes on Juliane Schenk.
Usual Suspects In Last 8
The perennial contenders in the doubles events are again into the last 8, with Lee and Jung headlining the men’s doubles draw. The 2nd seeded Korean pair take on Malaysia’s Hoon and Tan for a place in the semi finals, whilst the 3rd seeded Boe and Mogensen are the top seeds in the top half of the draw and take on Chai and Guo of China in the only all-seeded quarter final.
Wang and Yu have already booked their place in the semi final, after winning their second round match and their quarter final opponents of Matsuo and Naito withdrew from the event. Bao and Zhong defeated the 4th seeded Fujii and Kakiiwa to book their place in the last 8 and will take on the 7th seeded Jung and Kim of Korea for a semi final match against the top seeds. Tian and Zhao are safely into the last 8 and will take on another Chinese pair in the quarter finals, Huan and Tang.
Zhao Yunlei is also safely into the last 8 in the mixed doubles with her partner Zhang Nan, with the top seeds taking on Prapakamol and Thoungthongkam for a place in the semi finals. Fischer Neilsen and Pedersen are the sole Danish pair left in the draw and take on the Korean pairing of Ko and Eom who ended their team-mates Laybourn and Rytter Juhl’s run in the opening round. Xu and Ma’s reward for defeating He and Bao is another all-Chinese match in the quarter finals, taking on Jiaming and Huan for a place in the last 4.
The last major event before the Olympics has attracted the worlds best to Indonesia for the 3rd Premier Series event of 2012, but for Denmark it has been an early exit for many of it’s top players.
Gade and Axelsen Out
Sony Dwi Kuncoro added another big name scalp to his recent run of good form, after defeating Lin Dan in Thailand he disposed of the 3rd seeded Peter Gade in three games to claim one of the biggest casualties of the men’s singles to date. The biggest casualty was the 2nd seeded Chen Jin, who retired from his match against Jan O Jorgensen trailing a game and 10-7 in the second game. Viktor Axelsen crashed out to Ajay Jayaram but there was a second Dane through to the last 16, Hans-Kristian Vittinghus defeated Daren Liew to set up a second round match against Lee Hyun Il.
All five of the Chinese seeds are safely into the second round, with both Wang Xin and Wang Shixian needing three games to advance into the last 16. Saina Nehwal and Tine Baun also needed three games to progress in their opening round match whilst two of the Chinese seeds needed less than a game to progress with Wang Yihan and Jiang Yanjiao benefitting from retirements from their opponents.
Indonesian Presence In Doubles
There is a large contingent of Indonesia pairs left in the draw, but the top seeds are still safely in the draw also. Lee and Jung are the top seeded pair that started the week and started with a simple two game win to reach the last 16. Their main threats this week will come from the 3rd seeded Boe and Mogensen and 4th seeded Ko and Yoo who both progressed without the loss of a game. The main Indonesian threat will come from Kido and Setiawan, after the unseeded pair took out the 7th seeded Fang and Lee in the opening round.
Pedersen and Rytter Juhl are the biggest names to crash out of the women’s doubles, losing to Indonesia’s Bernadeth and Pradipta in two games. The top seeded Wang and Yu took little time in reaching the last 16, losing just 10 points on route to the second round. Their perennial rivals Zhao and Tian also safely progressed into the second round with a two game victory.
Zhang and Zhao defeated Adcock and Bankier in the biggest match of the day in the mixed doubles, with the world number 1 pairing winning in two games to reach the last 16. Laybourn and Rytter Juhl compounded a poor day for the Danes by crashing out at the first round against Ko and Eom in two games. The bottom half of the draw is littered with Chinese pairings, with the standout match of the second round being the 2nd seeded Xu and Ma taking on He and Bao in an all-Chinese second round clash.
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.
Sixteen nations begun the week in Wuhan but come the weekend, only two remain. China and Korea will fight it out for Uber Cup glory on Saturday, then once more for the Thomas Cup on Sunday.
Korea’s hopes this week fell on a squad without Jung Jae Sung, but Lee Hyun Il gave them the perfect start with a victory over Peter Gade, whose form recently has been far from the heights of even a year ago. Boe and Mogensen ensured parity after 2 matches with a convincing two game victory over Ko and Yoo. Then came the between the world number 13 and 14 for a chance to put their nation within a match of the Thomas Cup final. Shon Wan Ho defeated Jan O Jorgensen in three games to put Korea on the brink of the final. 73 minutes later, they were in the final as Lee and Kim defeated Rasmussen and Fischer Neilsen to ensure Korea’s place in Sunday’s final. For Denmark, it was a stunning loss that could have been avoided had Gade not lost his opening singles, with Viktor Axelsen waiting in the 5th match to take on the world number 166 Lee Dong Keun.
China needed just 3 matches and 6 games to book their place in the final. Lin Dan started the semi final with a two game victory over Sho Sasaki, soon followed by Cai and Fu winning their doubles. Chen Long completed the task against Kenichi Tago in an hour to book China’s place in the Thomas Cup Final.
It was a pair of one-sided finals in the Uber Cup, with Korea defeating Japan 3-0 with the loss of just a single game but the story this week has been the dominance of the Chinese. Wang Yihan started with a two game victory over Inthanon Ratchanok, then the world number 1 pairing of Wang and Yu put China within a match of the final but the most impressive performance was left until last. Wang Xin’s stunning 21-17, 21-2 victory over Porntip Buranaprasertsuk was a message of intent after their stunning 2010 loss to Korea in the Uber Cup final.