Thursday, August 1, 2019
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | ALAN SPINK
Basel will make history with an estimated 240 Para badminton athletes competing alongside their able-bodied peers at their respective World Championships, being jointly held for the first time.
Given Para badminton’s inclusion in the programme at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, there is obviously heightened excitement around this tournament. Ranking points earned at the TOTAL BWF Para-Badminton World Championships 2019 will count towards Tokyo 2020 and therefore competitors will be much more motivated to excel.
The one rivalry that currently stirs Para badminton fans is that between Korea’s Kim Jungjun and Hong Kong’s Chan Ho Yuen in men’s singles Wheelchair (WH 2). Kim was unbeaten in international competition until Chan inflicted his first defeat on him, at the Australian Para-Badminton International last November.
Since then, the two athletes have met in four finals this year, splitting the honours evenly. While Chan beat Kim in Turkey and Canada, Kim got the better of his rival in Dubai and Ireland. The stage is thus set for a dramatic showdown between three-time singles world champion Kim and his biggest challenger.
Kim has inspired several players, but none more so than women’s singles WH 2 ace Liu Yutong, who seeks to emulate his achievements in her category.
Liu won both her events this year – the Dubai International and the Turkish International, and is at the head of her country’s challenge in WH 2, that includes Xu Tingting (No.2) and Li Hongyan (No.10).
Liu’s compatriot Qu Zimao appears to be the player to beat in WH 1. Qu won a triple crown in Turkey, followed by two titles in Dubai, at the only two tournaments he played in this year. But WH 1 has a number of contenders, with Qu’s challengers predominantly from Korea – Lee Sam Seop (No.1), Choi Jung Man (No.3) and Canada winner Lee Dong Seop (No.5).
Swiss hopes hinge largely on Karin Suter-Erath in women’s singles WH 1, but she faces some stiff competition, notably in the form of Germany’s Valeska Knoblauch, who beat her in the Canada Para-Badminton International final and leads the rankings. Thailand’s Sujirat Pookkham, who hasn’t been seen in competitions this year, and Irish Para-Badminton International winner Sarina Satomi are also among the top contenders.
The standing categories have seen India and Indonesia dominate this year. The men’s singles Standing Lower (SL 3), for instance, has three Indians in the top 10, led by Pramod Bhagat in first place.
Bhagat has had an exceptional season, winning four of his five events – he emerged champion in Turkey, Dubai, Uganda and Ireland. The only title that eluded him was the Canada Para-Badminton International, where he fell in a thrilling semifinal to England’s Daniel Bethell, 22-20 in the third.
Indonesia will count on No.2 Ukun Rukaendi, runner-up to England’s Daniel Bethell in Canada, and on Dheva Anrimusthi in SU 5, who has had a brilliant season, winning the singles in all four of his tournaments. Anrimusthi returned with a double at three of these, marking him as a prolific winner, alongside women’s star Leani Ratri Oktila (5). The latter has barely done a thing wrong through the season – she won a double in Turkey and Dubai, and a triple crown in Canada and Ireland.
The competition in men’s singles Short Stature (SS 6) has been riveting. Hong Kong’s Chu Man Kai triumphed in Turkey, India’s Nagar Krishna in Dubai and Uganda, England’s Jack Shephard in Canada, and his compatriot Krysten Coombs in Ireland. World champion Shephard, who was BWF Para-Badminton Player of the Year in 2018, had a relatively slow start to the season, going down in the semifinals to Nagar Krishna in Turkey and Dubai, before his memorable triumph in Canada.
In the women’s SS 6, England’s Rachel Choong will return to the spotlight after missing all tournaments this year. The triple world champion from 2015 and 2017 will be hoping to strike it rich once again after spending months away from the action.