With just a few more events to go for the end of qualifying to the Tokyo Olympics, there is near-certainty on the big stars – those who will be vying for gold and glory.
Pairs like Zheng Si Wei/Huang Ya Qiong, Wang Yi Lyu/ Huang Dong Ping, Dechapol Puavaranukroh/Sapsiree Taerattanachai, Yuta Watanabe/Arisa Higashino and Praveen Jordan/Melati Daeva Oktavianti can all be considered frontline contenders who will be expected to feature at the business end of the Olympics.
However, just away from the spotlight, there is a clutch of names capable of upsetting the applecart of the stars. Given the high-pressure nature of the event, and the fact that it will be held with many of the participants having spent months away from competition, there will be higher unpredictability in Tokyo that at any recent Olympics.
Here, then, are the dark horses, those who can disrupt the campaign of the top contenders:
*Note: The qualification period for the Tokyo Olympics ends on 13 June 2021; the list of qualifiers will be notified in due course.
What marks them out is their rapid progress in abilities and supreme self-belief. The young French duo – both are aged 22 — have beaten nearly every other top pair; having won the YONEX Swiss Open 2021 and reached several semifinals in recent months – including two semifinals at the Asian Leg – Gicquel and Delrue are capable of making history for France.
For a while, Ellis and Smith were in the shadow of their illustrious compatriots Chris Adcock/Gabrielle Adcock, but over the past few seasons have emerged as an accomplished pair in their own right. While their game is not spectacular, it is quietly efficient. Their stubbornness when the chips are down is a feature of their game, and that has seen them win the Princess Sirivannavari Thailand Masters 2020, besides semifinals of the All England (2020 and 2021), the YONEX Swiss Open 2021 and the DANISA Denmark Open 2020.
Seo/Chae on their day can be a particularly tricky proposition, for they are the only left-handed duo apart from Tang Chun Man/Tse Ying Suet in the top echelons of mixed doubles. Seo has progressed by leaps and bounds in recent months, with his attacking game having gained muscle; his ability to conjure steep and unpredictable angles also gives this pair an edge, while Chae’s calmness at the front allows Seo to be more adventurous.
Chan and Goh surprised many by making the final of the Rio Olympics, and to their credit, have stayed in the top 10 despite the challenges of being a professional pair and Goh’s injuries. Expected to qualify ahead of, or alongside, compatriots Goh Soon Huat/Lai Shevon Jemie (another Malaysian pair Tan Kian Meng/Lai Pei Jing are not far behind), Chan and Goh are a study in cleverness and using skill to outplay better-endowed opponents. They are certainly not the most youthful of pairs, but don’t rule out a surprise or two from the wily Malaysians.
There are a few European pairs contending for places at Tokyo (apart from Ellis/Smith and Gicquel/Delrue, there are the Adcocks, Robin Tabeling/Selena Piek and Mark Lamsfuss/Isabel Herttrich); Christiansen and Boje have yet to land a major title; yet, at their best they can be a handful for the top pairs. Recent performances, such as the SaarLorLux Open 2020 win, or the runner-up spot at the Swiss Open 2021, indicate that they are becoming more solid. Christiansen’s experience and power, and Boje’s youthful energy, does make this a pair to watch.