Singles Champions – Down the Ages

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Carolina Marin’s TOTAL BWF World Championships gold in 2018 did more than win her an unprecedented third world title – it also extended former monopoly China’s winless streak in Women’s Singles to five years.

China entered the World Championships in 1983 and dominated Women’s Singles over the next three decades. While China were relatively late entrants into world badminton, the World Championships itself began only six years before their debut. Lene Koppen, the charismatic dentist from Denmark, won the Women’s Singles and the Mixed Doubles (with Steen Skovgaard).

Indonesia had been stung by the relative lack of success in Malmo, but they would have their fill in Jakarta three years later, with Verawaty Wiharjo trumping Ivana Lie in an all-Indonesia final. Indonesia won four golds in Jakarta, cementing their status as the major power in badminton.

China made an impact at their first World Championships in 1983. Their early successes were built around Li Lingwei, Han Aiping and Tang Jiuhong, who kept the gold for China from 1983 to 1991.

Indonesia’s Susi Susanti broke that streak in 1993. However, Ye Zhaoying (1995 and 1997) recaptured the pinnacle for China, and the Chinese would hold on except for 1999, when Camilla Martin won the world title at home.

BWF World Championships 2010 in Paris

The turn of the millennium saw China tighten their grip on the women’s game. Gong Ruina and Zhang Ning won titles in Seville (2001) and Birmingham (2003) respectively, followed by Xie Xingfang (2005 and 2006); Zhu Lin (2007); Lu Lan (2009); Wang Lin (2010) and Wang Yihan (2011).

The end of the streak came in dramatic circumstances in Guangzhou in 2013. With Olympic champion Li Xuerui facing three-time World Junior champion Ratchanok Intanon, few would have given the Thai much hope against her Chinese opponent. However, Intanon completed one of the great upsets in World Championships finals, overwhelming Li in a tense final in three games.

The next World Championships final too pitted an underdog against the formidable Li Xuerui. Carolina Marin (featured image) was the first Spaniard in a major final, and in circumstances even tenser than the previous final, Marin edged Li 21-18 in the third game to make history.

In her next final – in Jakarta – Marin was far more assured against her challenger, Saina Nehwal, who was bidding to become the first Indian to win the title. Nehwal, who stopped China’s last challenger, Wang Yihan, in the semi-finals, appeared overwhelmed by the occasion and Marin emerged triumphant in straight games.

The World Championships returned to Glasgow in 2017 after 20 years. It was Nozomi Okuhara’s turn to make history, as she became the first Japanese player to win a singles gold after she beat India’s Pusarla V Sindhu in of the greatest matches of all time.

China’s drought would continue into 2018, with Marin once again asserting herself. The Spaniard had had a mostly uneventful year, but true to style, she found her form when it mattered. It was once again Pusarla at the receiving end, as the Indian went down to the Spaniard, who became the first Women’s Singles player in history to win three Women’s Singles gold medals.

The Men’s Singles, in contrast to the Women’s Singles, has never been dominated by a single country for a prolonged time. Denmark and Indonesia were the early success stories at the Worlds, with Flemming Delfs winning it the inaugural year, followed by the eight-time All England champion Rudy Hartono (1980, pictured below) and his younger compatriot Icuk Sugiarto – who took the title in a cracker of a final in Copenhagen, where he beat his compatriot Liem Swie King.

It was then China’s turn for ascendance, with Han Jian (1985) and the left-handed Yang Yang (1987 and 1989) leading the way.

Another left-hander, the brilliant Zhao Jianhua – captured the crown in 1991 before Indonesia asserted themselves once more, through a golden generation of players that included Joko Suprianto (1993) and Hariyanto Arbi (1995).

Peter Rasmussen recaptured the gold for Denmark after 20 years with an epic win over Sun Jun in Glasgow (1997), but Sun Jun would have his moment in the next edition with a contrastingly comfortable victory over Chinese Taipei’s Fung Permadi.

The turn of the millennium saw the title change hands between China and Indonesia, with Hendrawan (2001) taking the crown in Seville; and Xia Xuanze denying Malaysia their first gold by stopping Wong Choon Hann in Birmingham (2003).

The next decade would see the emergence of four greats – Taufik Hidayat, Lin Dan, Lee Chong Wei and Peter Gade, of whom two would win the world title.

Hidayat was at his prime in 2005; Lin Dan would take over with three straight titles in 2006, 2007 and 2009, followed by two more in 2011 and 2013, cementing his place as a legend. The last two came at the expense of Lee Chong Wei, who came close in both finals.

Chen Long took the baton from Lin Dan and repeated his senior’s feat by beating Lee in the finals in Copenhagen and Jakarta.

It was then Viktor Axelsen’s turn to repeat Rasmussen’s feat from 20 years ago, and he did it in the same city. The lanky Dane kept his nerve under immense pressure, beating Lin Dan to enjoy his biggest moment in the sun.

China continued to be thwarted with the return of Kento Momota after a year-long ban; the Japanese was confidence personified as he outplayed China’s Shi Yuqi in Nanjing, making history as the first Japanese to win the Men’s Singles gold.