We are one month into the Tokyo 2020 Olympics qualifying period.
In that time, Korea have unearthed a new superstar, China have flexed their muscles on the world stage and Japan have vowed to work even harder in the next 12 months to ready themselves for a home Games.
Last week’s TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2019 was an interesting insight into the current badminton landscape. Much hype has surrounded the Japanese team as they continue to build what many say is the golden era of Japanese badminton.
Their top seeding in Nanning and the fact they fielded their most potent line-up featuring singles and doubles players world-ranked no lower than No.3 is an indication of their prowess.
However, a surprise 3-0 defeat to China in the final – shocking for the nature of the performance rather than the result itself – has coach Park Joo Bong setting new targets for the squad.
“It is a comprehensive defeat for me. I cannot say our players played their best and I’m sorry about that. I commit myself to preparing better for the (Tokyo 2020) Olympic Games,” said Park post-tournament.
Perhaps it was the quirks of the team event that meant Japan was most vulnerable when it mattered most. Their wealth of riches in women’s doubles was not fully utilised with world champions Mayu Matsumoto/Wakana Nagahara not required in the final; plus the fact Kento Momota had played one more match and had one less day of recovery compared to Shi Yuqi.
Under individual circumstances, without the do-or-die pressure of keeping the tie alive, both singles could have easily gone the other way.
We will have to wait for the BLIBLI Indonesia Open 2019, DAIHATSU YONEX Japan Open 2019 and TOTAL BWF World Championships 2019 in July and August for the next true indication of where Japan stands.
One thing is for certain is that China have found two singles superstars in Chen Yufei and Shi Yuqi to lead them into Tokyo 2020.
The two youngsters join men’s doubles world champions Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen and mixed doubles world champions Zheng Siwei/Huang Yaqiong as certain medal contenders come July next year should they stay fit.
But with Shi proving his worth, China could have a selection dilemma as to who will take the other men’s singles slot alongside him – 2008 and 2012 Olympic champion Lin Dan and 2016 Olympic champion Chen Long. That could be interesting!
Another superstar on the rise is Korea’s An Se Young and her emergence in these first four weeks of Olympics qualifying has surely put her rivals on notice.
A year is a long time in sport, but there’s no doubting some of the more established women’s singles stars will keeping a close eye on both An and Chen.
With Carolina Marin out injured and Pusarla V. Sindhu not quite capturing the form that saw her be crowned HSBC BWF World Tour Finals champion last year, both the Korean and Chinese sensations have somewhat stolen the limelight and heightened their presence among the women’s elite.
They join an already impressive list featuring Tai Tzu Ying, Nozomi Okuhara, Akane Yamaguchi, He Bingjiao, Ratchanok Intanon and Saina Nehwal who have clear Olympic medal intentions.
What’s potentially scary for these ladies is that An and Chen are still learning and improving.
An defeated Beiwen Zhang, Aya Ohori and Li Xuerui in winning the BARFOOT & THOMPSON New Zealand Open 2019 in early May and then took the scalp of world No.1 Tai Tzu Ying at the Sudirman Cup in Nanning.
Tai said of An after their match: “She’s tall, powerful, and has very good footwork. She’s good in all aspects of the game. She will be an outstanding player in future for sure.”
For Chen, it’s been a whirlwind start to 2019 with victories at the All England Open and Swiss Open to match her heroics against Yamaguchi in the final on Sunday. She’s hot favourite to take a third title of the year at the Australian Open next week.
“I have learned a lot here,” she said following the victory. “This is the first time I have been chosen as the team’s leading women’s singles player and to win my matches is an encouragement to me.”
So, watch out world! We’re in store for an even more exciting few months ahead in badminton.