Sunday, August 20, 2017
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO
Conversations around Men’s Singles at the World Championships over the last few years have centred around Lin Dan, Lee Chong Wei and Chen Long. Will the TOTAL BWF World Championships 2017 continue the narrative, or will a new star break through?
If this year’s season is any indication, neither of the three big names have had overwhelming success. Yet, it’s a mark of how much they have achieved, and how well they tend to peak at major events, that pre-event performance isn’t much of an indicator of how their week is likely to pan out.
Of the three, Lee will need to be on his guard from the start, as he takes on Frenchman Brice Leverdez in his opener; Leverdez beat him in Denmark last year and can be a doughty customer on his day. In the third round looms another challenge – Denmark’s Hans-Kristian Solberg Vittinghus or China’s Tian Houwei. The prize for overcoming these obstacles is a quarter-final with the man who beat him in three major finals – Chen Long.
China’s Chen had a slow start to the year, falling in the second round of the Yonex All England and conceding a walkover in his quarter-final in Malaysia. However, later in April he won the Badminton Asia Championships beating Lin Dan in the final; led China into the Sudirman Cup final, and made the title clash at the Crown Group Australian Open before losing to India’s Kidambi Srikanth.
The defending champion faces Mauritian Georges Paul in his opener. On his path to the quarter-finals are likely to be Indonesian veteran Sony Dwi Kuncoro and India’s Ajay Jayaram, neither of whom has troubled him lately.
The likely semi-final contenders from the third quarter are Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen, Hong Kong’s Ng Ka Long, Chinese Taipei’s Chou Tien Chen and India’s Sai Praneeth.
With his titles in Dubai late last year and India this year, Axelsen showed he has come of age. The Dane has bronze medals from World Championships (2014) and Olympic Games (2016), and should he pass unscathed through the early rounds, is a title contender.
Praneeth is among the emerging names; his victory at the OUE Singapore Open showed he had finally arrived after years of staying in the shadows of his more illustrious teammates. The Indian has improved on the physical side, and that, allied to his natural shot-making ability, makes him a tricky prospect for any opponent – as Lin Dan found out at the Celcom Axiata Malaysia Open, where he was nearly ambushed by Praneeth in the first round.
Danish great Morten Frost had singled out Korea’s Son Wan Ho, besides India’s Kidambi Srikanth, as the ones to watch in his assessment of Men’s Singles; both are in the top quarter. Son has some easy early rounds lined up; his first big test could come in the third round courtesy Thailand’s Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk, who beat him in the Denmark Open final last year. The top seed’s form wavered through the year, but Son achieved the morale-boosting feat of having taken his team into the Sudirman Cup final, which they eventually won over China.
Kidambi, whose back-to-back successes in Indonesia and Australia signaled that he’s in peak form, will be closely watched. A third round against Denmark’s Anders Antonsen, Indonesia’s Tommy Sugiarto or Hong Kong’s Hu Yun looms.
Lin Dan (featured image) starts against local hopeful Kieran Merrilees. The five-time World champion showed in Malaysia that he was still hungry, toppling Lee Chong Wei in his lair – his aggression and body language unsettling the 11-time Malaysian champion. Lin played only two tournaments since then, but he is a past master at peaking for the big occasion, and few would dare write off his chances for an incredible sixth World title.
A second round with Denmark’s Emil Holst; a third with England’s Rajiv Ouseph or India’s Sameer Verma, and a quarter-final against compatriot Shi Yuqi or Hong Kong’s Wong Wing Ki are likely to unfold.
In the same quarter is Brazil’s Ygor Coelho de Oliveira, who a year ago created ripples on the biggest stage – at home in Rio. The Brazilian has enjoyed some good results, including title victories at the Peru International Challenge and the Pan American Championships, and it will be interesting to see how far he can progress.
Another name to keep an eye out for is Japan’s Kanta Tsuneyama, who is also in the same quarter. The Japanese 20-year-old has notched some big results this year, with victories over the likes of Tian Houwei, Wong Wing Ki and Lee Hyun Il.