The most prominent anomaly in Tai Tzu Ying’s career is the absence of a medal at the Olympics or World Championships. With the Chinese Taipei superstar flirting with thoughts of retirement in the not-too-distant future, Tokyo 2020 might be one of the last chances she has to set right that anomaly.
She will not have much time to ease into the draw. With Qi Xuefei in particular, and Thuy Linh Nguyen and Sabrina Jaquet in Group P, Tai will have to be on her guard from her first match.
If the last quarter goes according to seedings, Tai will have to reckon with Ratchanok Intanon, the contemporary player she’s most had trouble with in her career. Intanon and Tai have been evenly matched, with neither establishing dominance over a prolonged period. Tai’s three wins over Intanon in three weeks at the Asian Leg did see her edge ahead 15-14 in their career record, but with the Thai seeking her first Olympic medal, there will be no lack of hunger on either side.
Apart from Tai and Intanon, the prominent players in the lower half of the draw are Mia Blichfeldt, Pusarla V. Sindhu and Akane Yamaguchi. Pusarla could face some questions from Hong Kong China’s Cheung Ngan Yi, while Yamaguchi will have to contend with Kirsty Gilmour in their respective groups. An exciting Pusarla-Mia Blichfeldt Round of 16 faceoff is on the cards, and the Dane will seek inspiration from the YONEX Thailand Open in January, when she beat the Indian for the first time.
With Chen Yu Fei having not competed internationally since All England 2020, the conversations in women’s singles have centred around the others, but the Chinese had a tremendous run from late 2019 to early 2020 – winning four events in a row. With the long spell of training she’s had, Chen will undoubtedly be one of the players to beat.
The top seed is unlikely to be troubled in Group A, and is nearly certain to breeze through to the quarterfinal which could be against An Seyoung in what is the clash of the new generation, or (less likely) Busanan Ongbamrungphan. Chen has a 4-0 record over the Korean teenager, but it has been getting closer each time. An was in top gear at the Asian Leg, where she was in two semifinals and recorded wins over Carolina Marin and Intanon.
Home favourite Nozomi Okuhara is in the second quarter and can expect to be stretched by both Yvonne Li and Evgeniya Kosetskaya in Group E. Up ahead, in the Round of 16, is likely to be Michelle Li. The others in this quarter are He Bing Jiao and Beiwen Zhang, who are both in relatively easy groups.
The number of strong contenders with diverse styles makes women’s singles unique, and the competition at Tokyo 2020 is likely to be another landmark event for this category.