Was Zheng expressing genuine concern or was it just exaggerated modesty? After all, the Chinese duo had racked up 30 straight match wins since they got together in late April for the Badminton Asia Championships.
In those 30 matches, only twice were they in danger of losing – to Yuta Watanabe/Arisa Higashino at the Thailand Open, and Yang Po-Hsuan/Hu Ling Fang at the Malaysia Masters. It was the second instance that Zheng was referring to.
“For example,” continued Zheng, “Our opponents’ strategy worked well against us and we were at a disadvantage. Honestly, we had no time to watch our videos and analyse our play. We need to go back, analyse our game and decide on an appropriate training plan.”
As the TotalEnergies BWF World Championships 2022 approaches, Zheng and Huang are a near-certainty for the title, but their own expectations will be tempered by what happened last year, when they fell in the final of the Tokyo Olympics.
A silver medal at the Olympics is no mean achievement, but for Zheng and Huang, that loss has defined their journey over the following year. They were paired up with new partners, with mixed success, and their journey together had appeared to come to an anti-climactic and premature end.
“The Asian Championships was very crucial, that was maybe the first tournament that got us fired up. Winning that title gave us confidence and motivated us a lot,” said Zheng.
While Zheng and Huang were already a great pair in their first stint, they now appear more driven. What explains their insatiable hunger?
“I don’t think we’re unbeatable,” said Huang. “But we’ve prepared very well. We’ve matured a lot and are more stable. We tried different tactics with different partners, which helped us understand our own strengths, so when we got together once again we could use these strengths to get better as a partnership.”
With unflagging physical intensity, and their refusal to be satisfied with what they’ve achieved, the duo are on their way to setting many more landmarks. The loss at Tokyo had hurt¸ but it was also a wake-up call of sorts.
“Of course our loss at the Olympic Games had a big impact on us,” said Zheng. “It hurt us and made us determined, and taught us to be more stable mentally.”