Tuesday, July 9, 2019
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO
China have gone five editions without winning the women’s singles title at the World Championships, and the responsibility for ending that unwelcome streak will fall on the shoulders of Chen Yu Fei, He Bing Jiao and Han Yue, who have been confirmed for Basel.
China, who, before 2013, won 15 of the 17 previous titles, have had an uncharacteristic mini-drought in women’s singles, thanks to a clutch of top competitors who emerged from other countries in recent times. Chen Yu Fei will be China’s big hope to reassert their supremacy – she has had an excellent season so far, winning the All England, the Swiss Open and the Australian Open, and leading China to the Sudirman Cup title.
Three recent champions – Carolina Marin (2014, 2015, 2018), Nozomi Okuhara (2017) and Ratchanok Intanon (2013) are also in the running. Marin, who suffered a serious right knee injury in January, has been working her way back to full fitness; there will be plenty of curiosity about her condition and whether she can make an impact.
The qualifiers in women’s singles are led by Tai Tzu Ying, who will be keen to erase her unlucky tryst with the Worlds. Tai, for all her exploits on the circuit, has yet to win a World Championships medal.
Other top contenders, like Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi, India’s Pusarla V Sindhu and Saina Nehwal, Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun, USA’s Beiwen Zhang and Canada’s Michelle Li, will all be seen in action in Basel. However, Korean wonderkid An Se Young, winner of the New Zealand Open and Canada Open, could not qualify as her ranking on the cut-off date (30 April 2019) wasn’t sufficiently high. Korea will be represented by veteran Sung Ji Hyun and Lingshui China Masters champion Kim Ga Eun.
Apart from Marin, Europe’s main challengers will be Denmark’s Line Kjaersfeldt and Mia Blichfeldt, and Scotland’s Kirsty Gilmour.
In men’s singles, China secured a full complement of four qualifiers, led by Sudirman Cup hero Shi Yu Qi. Two-time champion Chen Long and five-time champion Lin Dan will be accompanied by youngster Lu Guang Zu. Lin has served notice to opponents with his recent form, and fans will follow him keenly to see if he can add to his phenomenal record at the Worlds.
Japan, Denmark, Indonesia and India have three qualifiers each. Japan will expect reigning champion Kento Momota to once again come good, while Denmark will bank on 2017 champion Viktor Axelsen and Indonesia Masters winner Anders Antonsen. Jan O Jorgensen, bronze medallist in 2015, has also qualified.
Indonesia last won the men’s singles in 2005; their hopes this year are in the hands of young duo Jonatan Christie and Anthony Sinisuka Ginting. India’s trio of qualifiers – Kidambi Srikanth, Sameer Verma and Sai Praneeth – will want to achieve what no Indian has done – win a title at the Worlds.
Multiple silver medallist Lee Chong Wei’s absence due to retirement will be keenly felt; Malaysian fans will hope Lee Zii Jia and Liew Daren can step up and deliver.
Given that the World Championships has a tradition of throwing up surprises, especially in the early rounds, players like France’s Brice Leverdez, Russia’s Vladimir Malkov, Vietnam’s Nguyen Tien Minh and Brazil’s Ygor Coelho are among those who might cause a stir in Basel.