The BWF World Championships has never before been staged in the city of the previous Olympics. Tokyo will be a path-breaker, but more than the novelty of that fact, its significance lies in the opportunity for redemption.
This opportunity, for redemption of sorts, will most keenly be felt by the home players, after they won a sole bronze at Tokyo 2020. The talk, therefore – at least as far as the Japanese are concerned – is whether they can bury the disappointment of last year with better returns for the home audience.
The figure who most embodies this aspiration is of course Kento Momota. Having spectacularly fallen in the group stage of the Tokyo Olympics, and with an on-off display of his best badminton since then, Momota will have the opportunity to reconquer the summit. The months since Tokyo 2020 have been a mixed bag for him, but he did win a title – the Indonesia Masters 2021 – while making two other finals. The Japanese was modest about his chances:
“As preparation for this tournament, I have been working on my skills in training and conversing with my coach to enhance my performance. Though I might not be able to be at my highest level of performance yet, I will do my best for this year’s World Championships,” said the world No.2.
“I just want to focus on myself and do my very best in this tournament. I don’t think too much about the pressure, and just try to enjoy my matches. Hopefully, I can get a good result at the end.”
Yet, redemption will be only one of several themes at the World Championships.
There is, for instance:
♦ A generational shift visible across all categories, particularly in men’s singles. A crop of young achievers has arrived: players like Lakshya Sen and Kunlavut Vitidsarn, while others, such as Chico Aura Dwi Wardoyo, Kodai Naraoka and Ng Tze Yong, have caused ripples lately. A ‘dark horse’ causing ripples in the draw is most likely to emerge in men’s singles.
♦ In women’s singles, this generational shift is heralded by An Se Young, whose recent Uber Cup performances and Malaysia Masters win signal that she could well be the player to beat. Korea have never won the women’s singles – could An Se Young do what none of her illustrious predecessors couldn’t?
♦ Men’s doubles, for the first time since China entered international badminton, has no Chinese participation, with China having declined their invitations in this category. Traditional rivals Indonesia, on the other hand, arrive with exceptionally strong contenders. While the attention will be on the Minions (Gideon/Sukamuljo) and Daddies (Ahsan/Setiawan), the Indonesian pair that had a standout season is Fajar Alfian/Muhammad Rian Ardianto, who were in seven finals this year, winning three.
♦ Korean and Japanese depth in women’s doubles stands out. While Japan have a strong record in recent years, Korea haven’t had titlists since 1995.
The other outstanding favourite is of course Viktor Axelsen, who is on a red-hot streak of form with three straight titles and an unbeaten streak of 31 match wins.
The top seed exuded confidence as he eyed his second World Championships title.
“I have a chance of doing well here. Obviously, when you’ve won many tournaments, you believe you can win this one. I believe in myself but I also know there are many strong competitors and every single day I have to be fully focussed, and that’s my plan for this tournament.”
“It’s great to be back in Tokyo. The last time was winning the Olympics. That was obviously the biggest experience of my career so far. So I’m happy to be back here… the last two years have been great for me. I’m just trying to stay focussed and keep doing my thing.”