Zheng Si Wei and Huang Ya Qiong are currently the gold standard in mixed doubles, with few pairs able to challenge them over extended spells in a match.
Among those who have stood up to them are Thom Gicquel and Delphine Delrue; their recent performances signifying that they are strong contenders for a medal at the upcoming TotalEnergies BWF World Championships 2022.
In fact, of the three doubles categories, it is in mixed doubles that European challenge runs deep. An injury to Marcus Ellis unfortunately ruled out medal hopefuls Ellis and Lauren Smith; Europe will look to Mathias Christiansen/Alexandra BØje, Robin Tabeling/Selena Piek and Mark Lamsfuss/Isabel Lohau besides Gicquel/Delrue to go far in the draw.
Gicquel and Delrue will take heart from their Malaysia Open quarterfinal against Zheng/Huang, when they were 20-16 up in the first game and then nearly pulled off the second game from a wide deficit. In both games the Chinese came out triumphant, but it had been a close call — 25-23 22-20 – in one of the most exciting mixed doubles matches this year.
The previous time they’d met, the Chinese had walked all over them, 21-13 21-14 in the final of the Indonesia Masters.
The French pair’s frustration at losing the close match in Malaysia was tinged by the satisfaction they drew from their performance against the world’s best pair.
“There were a lot of good things for sure. But it’s not very good to do a great shot when you’re doing that many mistakes. It’s really annoying to play at such high level and really bad for some time,” said Gicquel.
“The good thing is that we troubled them. Next time we’ll win.”
Overall, the French have had a great year, having made five quarterfinals and finishing runners-up at the European Championships and the Indonesia Masters. With Gicquel’s hustling, physical game from the back and Delrue holding her own at the front, the duo have a shot at becoming the first French pair to medal at the World Championships.
World No.21 Dutch pair Tabeling and Piek have had an encouraging season, having made the semifinals of the European Championships and back-to-back quarterfinals in Malaysia. Among the highlights were a three-game thriller against Yuta Watanabe/Arisa Higashino in Indonesia and their takedown of world champions Dechapol Puavaranukroh/Sapsiree Taerattanachai in Malaysia.
“We only played one bad match (lately),” said Piek. “But after that we played Watanabe and Higashino, that was a very good match as well… and to beat the world champions gives us a lot of confidence. It shows us that we can play among the best; we have done that before, but I think we had a little bit of a bad period in between. In Indonesia, it showed us that we can compete with the best… we didn’t manage to beat them (Watanabe/Higashino), so this has helped a lot.
“In the past weeks, we’ve shown that we can actually play with the top pairs, now also beat them again, and our bottom level has gone up quite much. We’re also more confident now.”
World No.13 Danish pair Christiansen and Boje made the semifinals of the Malaysia Open with wins over Watanabe/Higashino, India Open champions Terry Hee/Tan Wei Han and Tabeling/Piek, and are among the European pairs who’ve had a consistent year. Fellow-Europeans Lamsfuss/Lohau too have had a good year, with title wins at the Swiss Open and the European Championships.
The last European mixed doubles pair to medal at the World Championships was England’s Chris Adcock/Gabby Adcock five years ago, and it has been over a decade since a European mixed doubles pair contested the final (Chris Adcock/Imogen Bankier, 2011). With their pairs finding form, Tokyo could well see European presence on the podium once again.