Men’s doubles top seeds Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo have dazzled the badminton world over the last four years, but, like Tai Tzu Ying in women’s singles, one essential element is missing in their career – a medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics or World Championships.
They will not have time to get into the flow of things in Tokyo, for their group is virtually the group of death.
The top seeds share Group A with in-form pair Wang Chi-Lin/Lee Yang, Ben Lane/Sean Vendy and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy/Chirag Shetty. Wang and Lee had a dream run at the Asian Leg in January, winning three events in three weeks. The Chinese Taipei duo are in the form of their life, and go into Tokyo as one of the medal contenders.
Exciting Indian Duo
Nor are the other two pairs in the group pushovers by any means. Satwiksairaj Rankireddy/Chirag Shetty are one of the most gifted young pairs, and they have beaten most of the others in the top 10. Having been in the semifinals of two of their last three events, the Indians won’t be short of confidence; besides, in Mathias Boe they have a sharp coach who can give them the edge in vital situations.
The fourth pair in the group, Ben Lane and Sean Vendy, found their touch at the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals 2020, where they beat senior compatriots Marcus Ellis/Chris Langridge on their way to the semifinals. Given that the England duo are the underdogs in Group A, they can afford to go in with nothing to lose and might well be able to punch above their weight.
The pair that the Minions have had trouble with in recent times are Hiroyuki Endo and Yuta Watanabe, who head Group B. Endo/Watanabe have beaten the Minions six straight times, with their last win being in the final of the YONEX All England 2020. The Japanese have played only one event since then – the All England this year – which they won. Their prime challengers in Group B are Kim Astrup/Anders Skaarup Rasmussen and Vladimir Ivanov/Ivan Sozonov.
The Danes have blown hot and cold and had a disappointing early season in Bangkok, but they made up somewhat by winning the Swiss Open and making the semifinals of the All England, while the Russians head to Tokyo having won the 2021 European Championships, and are one of those unpredictable pairs that can beat anyone on their day.
Like other Chinese players, Li Jun Hui and Liu Yu Chen haven’t tasted international action for 16 months; their main challengers in Group C will be Takeshi Kamura/Keigo Sonoda and Mark Lamsfuss/Marvin Seidel. The Twin Towers, as Li and Liu are known, haven’t had a major title since the Malaysia Open in April 2019, but after their long spell of training, might be a different proposition in Tokyo.
Kamura/Sonoda were runners-up at the All England in March and appeared to have lost none of their sharpness, while Lamsfuss/Seidel have had some good results lately, finishing runners-up at the Swiss Open and the European Championships.
One of the most extraordinary stories in badminton is the longevity of Hendra Setiawan, who is attempting to win his second Olympic medal 13 years after his first. Setiawan and Mohammad Ahsan performed creditably in the Asian Leg, culminating in a runner-up place at the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals.
They will have to be on top of their game in Group D, as they have to contend with Aaron Chia/Soh Wooi Yik and Choi Solgyu/Seo Seungjae, besides Jason Anthony Ho-Shue/Nyl Yakura. The Koreans have been a difficult problem for the Indonesians to solve, winning their first three clashes before the Daddies pulled one back at the season finale in Bangkok. Having made two semifinals at the Asian Leg, Choi/Seo are among the pairs to watch in Tokyo.
Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik hit their stride at the YONEX Thailand Open, and on their day they can be a dynamic, exciting pair. Early round upsets are par for the course at the Olympics – can Chia and Soh take advantage of this principle and go far in the draw?