While it would take a sequence of seismic events for most of the above pairs to be denied glory at Tokyo 2020, we look at those who are capable of achieving an upset or two, and even featuring in the business end of the tournament.
(Note: The Race to Tokyo is still on and qualifiers are not confirmed yet.)
The Thais have been among the top pairs for a while with some good results, but they are yet to enjoy a career-defining, major triumph. They had their shot at a first HSBC BWF World Tour Super 1000 crown at the YONEX Thailand Open earlier this year, but fell in the final to Polii/Rahayu. A tenacious pair, the Thais have done well this season, with semifinal finishes at the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals, the YONEX Swiss Open, and winning the Orleans Masters.
The Malaysians are quite unheralded, but they have the weapons to breach the ramparts of the top-ranked pairs. With the ability to play long battles of attrition, and a nippy attack and stable defence, Chow and Lee could seize their opportunity in Tokyo. This year couldn’t have been better for them, as they made the semifinals of the TOYOTA Thailand Open, made the last four of the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals (beating Polii/ Rahayu to that place), and yet another semifinal, at the YONEX Swiss Open.
The Bulgarians can be prone to inconsistency, but on their day they can be hard to crack. In recent months they have strung up some impressive results – runners-up at the Barcelona Spain Masters 2020, semifinalists at the Denmark Open 2020, runners-up at the Swiss Open and the Orleans Masters, and finally, a title at the 2021 European Championships. Victory over Sara Thygesen/Maiken Freurgaard in the semifinals and Chloe Birch/Lauren Smith in the final would have done their confidence a world of good.
The Danes created a sensation at the Indonesia Masters 2020, which was in the original Olympic year, beating pairs like Fukushima/Hirota and Matsutomo/Takahashi on their way to the final. They haven’t quite found that same dream form since, and were unable to capitalise on relatively weaker fields this year.
The England duo started the year well, with a quarterfinal at the YONEX Thailand Open – they beat Nami Matsuyama/Chiharu Shida and Fruergaard/Thygesen. After some middling results they once again had a strong result at the European Championships, making the final.
Other pairs to watch: Selena Piek/Cheryl Seinen, Rachel Honderich/Kristen Tsai, Gronya Somerville/Setyana Mapasa.