This was a World Championships like no other. Despite starting in challenging circumstances, with Indonesia pulling out their entire team, China sending a mostly second-rung squad, and star attraction Carolina Marin forced to skip because of injury, the event finished on a high.
The Meteoric Rise of Loh Kean Yew
Until the Bali leg in November, Loh Kean Yew was hardly ever considered in the elite league. His defeat of Kento Momota and runner-up finish to Viktor Axelsen at the Indonesia Open were the first signs that something was afoot. Axelsen then would feel the heat from the quick-moving and hard-hitting Singaporean in the first round of the World Championships that he was expected to win.
Loh’s fairytale only got better from then on, winning his remaining five matches without dropping a game. The significance of what he accomplished will be felt far beyond badminton, for Loh has an earthy charm and easy relatability that are likely to make him a front-page fixture. What will be interesting is to see whether he can replicate the success from Huelva in the coming months, and how his accomplished rivals handle his wares.
Akane’s Post-Olympic Saga
“After Tokyo, I thought, let me start from zero’,” said Akane Yamaguchi after winning the Denmark Open. The Japanese had returned to the circuit determined to bounce back from her Tokyo disappointment, and that was apparent in her run of good results at the European leg and in Bali. In Huelva, she showed no sign of fatigue at being in her eighth successive tournament as she clinched her career’s biggest title. There was no better way to bounce back from heartbreak at her home Olympics.
As for Tai Tzu Ying, who she beat in the final, the world No.1 announced that she wasn’t done with badminton just yet. Despite being affected by a thigh problem in the final, she refused to take refuge in any excuses, and gave full credit to Yamaguchi.
The one absorbing rivalry in recent months has been Yamaguchi versus An Seyoung. Yamaguchi won the round in Huelva, and badminton fans will be fixated with how the rivalry develops over the next few months.
Chen/Jia – League of Greats
The loss from the final of Tokyo 2020 stung, for Chen Qing Chen and Jia Yi Fan have revved it up a notch. Having helped China win the Sudirman Cup and Uber Cup in October, Chen and Jia were unstoppable in Huelva. Their first big challenge was in-form duo Nami Matsuyama/Chiharu Shida, whom they dismissed in straight games, followed by equally comfortable defeats of defending champions Mayu Matsumoto/Wakana Nagahara and Lee Sohee/Shin Seungchan. The Chinese are nearly an unstoppable force now; what can their rivals do to rein them in?
Hoki/Kobayashi – Stepping Up
When Japan lost three of their most accomplished men’s doubles players after Tokyo 2020, it looked like a long haul ahead for the team in that category. To everyone’s surprise, Takuro Hoki and Yugo Kobayashi outdid themselves with superlative performances during the European leg and in Bali. Having won Japan’s first men’s doubles gold, Hoki and Kobayashi, along with Akane Yamaguchi, have made Japan’s disappointment at their home Olympics a distant memory. What might have been a sombre 2021 instead finished on a dazzling note.
Bas/Popor’s Incredible Stamina
The sheer number of matches that Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai have played – and won – in recent weeks made their triumph at the World Championships a staggering accomplishment. Their consistency stands out – a sweep of the three-event Asian Leg in Bangkok; another sweep of the Bali Leg in Indonesia; the Hylo Open in between, and the year wrapped up with World Championships gold – it’s a record that will take some beating. As the first Thai pair to win World Championships gold, Puavaranukroh and Taerattanachai have set a landmark, with the promise of more to come.