Spare a thought for the women’s doubles pairs of Group D.
Second seeds Chen Qing Chen/Jia Yi Fan have been drawn along with Kim Soyeong/Kong Heeyong, Jongkolphan Kititharakul/Rawinda Prajongjai and Gabriela Stoeva/Stefani Stoeva. It couldn’t get any more competitive than this at the group stage.
Kim and Kong were in outstanding form in January during the Asian Leg. They won the TOYOTA Thailand Open and all but clinched the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals 2020 the following week, losing their way after holding six match points against compatriots Lee Sohee/Shin Seungchan.
Chen and Jia, always a formidable pair, haven’t been seen since the All England 2020, but such is their track record – as world champions in 2017 and Asian Games winners in 2018 — that they are expected to be one of the pairs to beat in Tokyo. The Chinese’s last major win was the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals 2019.
While the above two pairs are expected, in terms of record and ranking, to go through to the quarterfinals, they can expect fierce resistance from the other two. The Thai duo are consistent, and recent form bodes well for their chances in Tokyo, for they were runners-up at the YONEX Thailand Open and semifinalists at the season finale.
The Stoeva sisters are not far behind either. They’ve had a succession of good results in recent months, with notable wins coming at the 2021 European Championships and SaarLorLux Open 2020.
It is almost as close in Group A. Top seeds Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota and Greysia Polii/Apriyani Rahayu are the two favoured pairs, but things could get complicated for them if Chow Mei Kuan/Lee Meng Yean and Chloe Birch/Lauren Smith step it up a notch or two. After all, Chow/Lee did throw up a big surprise at the Asian Leg, where they beat Polii/Rahayu en route to the semifinals of the season finale.
Birch and Smith will take heart from their performance at the European Championships — they were in the final – and from the All England, where they pushed Fukushima/Hirota to three games.
With two-time world champions Mayu Matsumoto/Wakana Nagahara likely to top Group B, the pivotal clash could be between Selena Piek/Cheryl Seinen and Rachel Honderich/Kristen Tsai. The Canadians have won both their previous clashes against the Dutch without losing a game, but those matches were in 2019 and might have little bearing on the outcome in Tokyo. The fourth pair in the group, Egypt’s Doha Hany/Hadia Hosny, will have caused a quake should they get the better of any of the other pairs.
Fourth seeds Lee Soohee/Shin Seungchan and Du Yue/Li Yin Hui are favoured to go through from Group C, with Sara Thygesen/Maiken Fruergaard and Gronya Somerville/Setyana Mapasa attempting to overturn the gulf in rankings. The Koreans will still be savouring their memorable win at January’s HSBC BWF World Tour Finals, which they won after holding off six match points against compatriots Kim/Kong.
The record between the pairs is interesting. Du Yue/Li Yin Hui have won all three matches against Lee/Shin, while Danes Thygesen/Fruergaard have beaten the Chinese once in two matches. Should these trends hold, Group C might be in for an interesting finish.
Women’s doubles at the Olympics has come a long way over the last two Olympic cycles. For the first five Olympics, China and Korea won all 16 medals on offer. Japan made the final for the first time in 2012; Rio 2016 saw a Denmark-Japan final, with China not figuring on the podium.
The strength of the groups at Tokyo 2020 indicates that, while Japan, China and Korea still are favourites, their path will be more severely contested than ever.