After a relatively quiet period, the World Tour season will pick up steam with the Barcelona Spain Masters 2020 beginning next Tuesday.
With ranking points for Tokyo 2020 at stake, there will be plenty at stake in the tournaments coming up over the next two months.
But what do the signs portend? What trends can we discern – especially with Tokyo 2020 in mind – from what has unfolded over recent months? Read on…
China’s domination in women’s singles and doubles began to slacken after the London Olympics.
Rio 2016 was unprecedented, for the powerhouse did not get a single medal in either category. Over the last few years, Japan’s women’s doubles have won a succession of major titles and are expected to maintain their supremacy for the foreseeable future… but things might be changing. If recent events are any indication, China are steadily regaining lost ground with experienced duo Chen Qing Chen/Jia Yi Fan leading the way, followed by young pairs like Li Wen Mei/Zheng Yu, Du Yue/Li Yin Hui and Liu Xuan Xuan/Xia Yu Ting.
Chen Yu Fei has taken over as No.1 in women’s singles, and with others like Wang Zhi Yi coming through, expect China to once again be the team to beat in the women’s categories.
Momota is Favourite, But…
With 11 titles in 2019, Kento Momota positioned himself as frontrunner for the men’s singles gold in Tokyo. The Japanese had his foot on the pedal all year, and no opponent managed to trouble him consistently enough.
However, the pressure on him in Tokyo will be enormous. For the last couple of years he has been frequently asked about the Olympics, and when it eventually comes around, the pressure will be of a magnitude that few can handle.
Opponents like Anthony Sinisuka Ginting and Anders Antonsen will sense their chance.
Can the Japanese two-time world champion do what Lin Dan did on home soil at Beijing 2008? In the longer term, it will be harder for Momota to repeat what he did in 2019 as younger challengers like Ginting, Antonsen and Shi Yu Qi would have matured.
Watch out for An Se Young
Women’s singles has been the most competitive category over the last six years or so. It is rare that a new talent can make its presence felt in a field of great athletes, but that’s what An Se Young did in 2019. The teenager has not only beaten some big names, she has done it on the biggest stages.
Her apparent immunity to pressure is possibly her biggest strength and will come handy at the Olympics, for she will arrive in Tokyo with the exuberance and the cockiness of youth.
Europe’s Dipping Fortunes
Europe performed creditably at Rio 2016, with four medals. A similar haul in Tokyo looks distant, going by recent form. The last year wasn’t kind to Europe, with former powerhouse Denmark able to maintain their edge only in men’s singles.
Denmark were affected in doubles by retirements and rejigged combinations that have yet to make an impact. However, Carolina Marin’s successful return does spell hope in women’s singles, while in the doubles, Europe will look to the Stoeva sisters and pairs from England, Netherlands and Germany. Europe will also hope that promising performances by Mia Blichfeldt, Sara Thygesen/Maiken Fruergaard, Thom Gicquel/Delphine Delrue and Rodion Alimov/Alina Davletova, among others, will translate into something significant.
Liu Yutong, Bankable Star
Of the many contenders at the Paralympics, none possibly has the unbeatable aura of Liu Yutong. The young Chinese star has followed in the tracks of her idol Kim Jungjun, whose own invincibility has been challenged by his close rival Chan Ho Yuen. Liu, on the other hand, has yet to lose a match in her international career and will look to continue that unbeaten run through Tokyo 2020.
Read this story in our latest edition of Shuttle World (Pg 6)