Sunday, April 24, 2016
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO
For several players from three continents – Asia, Europe and Oceania – the coming week will decide whether they set sail on their long-dreamt voyage to the Rio Olympics.
The continental championships of Asia, Europe and Oceania begin on Monday, which heralds the final week of qualification for the Rio Olympics. While a few players and pairs are assured of their places regardless of the outcome next week, the results will weigh heavily on the minds of those who are on the threshold of qualification. The Race to Rio will hit the home stretch in Wuhan (China), Vendee (France) and Papeete (Tahiti) next week.
The Pan Am continental championships too are being held next week, but the Pan Am Individual Championships, to be held in Campinas (Brazil), offers no world ranking points; the points from last July’s Pan Am Games instead will count towards qualification.
Given the importance of the events in the context of the Olympics, the continental championships, especially in Asia and Europe, have seen a strong draw. The Dong Feng Citroen Badminton Asia Championships offers the same ranking points as a World Superseries while the European Championships has the ranking points of a Grand Prix Gold.
Men’s Singles, for instance, will see the likes of China’s Chen Long (1), Lin Dan (2) and Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei (3). Familiar rivals Lin and Lee are due for a semi-final date.
But it is for players like Wei Nan (Hong Kong), Lee Dong Keun (Korea) and Ajay Jayaram that the event presents a do-or-die opportunity, for they are within grasp of qualifying.
Wei Nan, for instance, at No.17 in the world rankings is just 3187 points behind compatriot Hu Yun, who is at No.14.
The 2016 European Championships has a draw of 64 in Men’s Singles, with Danes Jan O Jorgensen and Viktor Axelsen heading the opposite ends. Among their likely challengers are Brice Leverdez (France), Hans-Kristian Vittinghus (Denmark), Rajiv Ouseph (England), Marc Zwiebler (Germany) and Pablo Abian (Spain). Ouseph is No.14 in the Race to Rio rankings but would like to seal his place with a strong show. The No.5 seed is likely to run into Vittinghus in the quarter-finals.
In Women’s Singles, the most interesting aspect in the Badminton Asia Championships would be the performance of the three Chinese. With all three – Li Xuerui, Wang Shixian and Wang Yihan – in a dead heat, the performance in Wuhan could decisively swing fortunes one way or other. Of the three, Wang Yihan has the easier draw, but a difficult quarter-final against Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara looms ahead.
Thailand’s Porntip Buranaprasertsuk (featured image), who is on the fringe of qualifying, is among those who will need a strong showing in Wuhan, but she has a difficult opener against Li Xuerui.
World champion Carolina Marin (Spain) is obviously the red-hot contender in the European Championships, although she has not had a great Superseries season so far. A final against Scotland’s Kirsty Gilmour (2) is a distinct possibility.
Other strong prospects include Denmark’s Line Kjaersfeldt (3) and Anna Thea Madsen, Bulgaria’s Linda Zetchiri (8) and Germany’s Karin Schnaase.
Tense Race in Doubles
Doubles pairs, especially the second-ranked pair from each country, face a tricky situation. A country can field a maximum of two pairs only if both are in the top 8. Consequently, even some of the very best pairs are not assured of qualification.
A good example is that of Korea’s third Men’s Doubles pair Ko Sung Hyun/Shin Baek Choel, who at No.6 are just 2087 points behind Kim Gi Jung/Kim Sa Rang and will look at a last-gasp effort to overhaul their compatriots. Another interesting contest is between Goh V Shem/Tan Wee Kiong (55,098 points) and Koo Kien Keat/Tan Boon Heong (51,070) in their race to qualify as Malaysia’s sole pair in the top 16.
In Women’s Doubles, the Luo twins, who were ahead of their compatriots, have fallen behind but still have a slim mathematical chance of overhauling Tang Yuanting/Yu Yang and Tian Qing/Zhao Yunlei. Thailand’s Puttita Supajirakul/Sapsiree Taerattanachai are breathing down the necks of compatriots Jongkolphan Kititharakul/Rawinda Prajongjai with just a few points separating them.
In Mixed Doubles, pairs such as Germany’s Michael Fuchs/Birgit Michels, Poland’s Robert Mateusiak/Nadiezda Zieba, Netherlands’ Jacco Arends/Selena Piek, Thailand’s Bodin Issara/Savitree Amitrapai and Japan’s Kenta Kazuno/Ayane Kurihara are all within a few points of each other and will track the progress of their competitors keenly.
The Oceania Championships will be held over three days – Tuesday to Thursday. The Men’s Singles has a draw of 32, while the fields in Women’s Singles and Women’s Doubles are weaker at just eight and five competitors respectively.
Pit Seng Low (Australia) heads in as top seed in Men’s Singles; his biggest challengers are likely to be compatriots Ashwant Gobinathan, Anthony Joe and Nathan Tang.
Hsuan-Yu Wendy Chen and Joy Lai, both Australia, are seeded to meet in the Women’s Singles final, with the main challenge expected to come from Jennifer Tam and Tiffany Ho. Chen and Lai are separated by a few points in their quest to qualify as Oceania’s sole representative, and there is much at stake for either player.
Matthew Chau/Sawan Serasinghe and Anthony Joe/Pit Seng Low (Men’s Doubles); Tiffany Ho/Jennifer Tam and Gronya Somerville/Melinda Sun (Women’s Doubles) and Robin Middleton/Leanne Choo and Matthew Chau/Gronya Somerville are the likeliest contenders in their respective categories.
Pan Am Championships
The Pan Am Individual Championships (28 March-01 April) follow the team championships (25-27 March).
Brazil’s Ygor Coelho de Oliveira heads in as Men’s Singles favourite. Likely challengers are compatriots Daniel Paiola (2), Alex Yuwan Tjong (3) and Peru’s Mario Cuba.
Similarly, in Women’s Singles, two Brazilians head the opposite ends of the draw. Lohaynny Vicente (1) and Fabiana Silva (2) are favoured to meet in the final, but Vicente might have a tricky quarter-final against Canada’s Brittney Tam. Jamaica’s Katherine Wynter, Peru’s Daniela Macias and Brazil’s Ana Paula Campos are other names to watch out for.
Brazil’s Hugo Arthuso/Daniel Paiola and Ygor Oliveira/Alex Yuwan Tjong (Men’s Doubles); siblings Lohaynny and Luana Vicente and Paula Pereira/Fabiana Silva (Women’s Doubles) and Alex Yuwan Tjong/Lohaynny Vicente, Nyl Yakura/Brittney Tam and Hugo Arthuso/Fabiana Silva (Mixed Doubles) are the strongest contenders in their respective categories.