Badminton enters a new era as the sport heads towards the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Some familiar faces yet to make an impact at the Olympics have emerged as gold medal contenders following the YONEX All England Open Badminton Championships 2019.
Young Danes Viktor Axelsen and Anders Antonsen have started the season brightly and carry strong momentum into the Olympic qualifying period which begins on 29 April.
Axelsen’s runner-up finish to Kento Momota in Birmingham has him nearing the form that saw him crowned world champion in 2017.
Commentator Gill Clark says she has been impressed by the early season form of both Danes.
“Antonsen has reached two finals in consecutive HSBC BWF World Tour events this season, emulating only Lin Dan and Kento Momota as the sole players to manage that feat in 2018.
“So, naturally he is already in very good company.
“Axelsen has started this year with two semifinals in Malaysia and Indonesia, a runner-up finish at All England and a victory in Spain.
“This makes him the most consistent men’s singles player at the moment and I feel that his self-confidence is starting to come back,” she said.
Elder statesmen Lin Dan, Chen Long and Lee Chong Wei have dominated men’s singles at the Olympics since 2008. But with both Chinese athletes exiting the All England in round one, and Lee delaying his much-awaited return from nose cancer, Clark expects a bit of a changing of the guard.
“Sadly, I think some of the favourites with the fans, and big names of the past, might struggle,” she said.
“Six-time champion Lin Dan has suffered 15 first or second round losses since reaching his 10th All England final last year, and at times has looked a shadow of his former self.
“It is difficult to completely write off a player who has achieved so much and proven to be a big tournament player on many occasions. After all, many had written off Roger Federer before he promptly won two Grand Slam titles in 2017.
“But I fear emulating such a feat may be just beyond Lin Dan.”
It’s more likely that All England champion Shi Yuqi will be the man to lead China into the Olympics.
Shi lost to Axelsen in the All England semifinal but remains one of the elite men.
Momota continues to be the benchmark in the category with his second win of the season and with a proud host nation waiting to cheer him on in Tokyo next August, he has all the motivation he needs to top qualifying.