The representatives of nations making their badminton debut at the Olympics made quite an impression at Tokyo 2020. There were no signs of nerves, nor were they rattled by the quality of their opponents. Some even recorded historic wins.
Azerbaijan – Ade Resky Dwicahyo
Dwicahyo, who had played the World Junior Championships for Indonesia before moving to Azerbaijan four years ago, took down four-time Olympian Nguyen Tien Minh in straight games in Group L before falling to third seed Anders Antonsen in a well-contested match. As the first from Azerbaijan to play the Olympics, Dwicahyo’s victory over Nguyen might be a good portent of things to come. The Azerbaijani plays an out-and-out attacking game, somewhat similar to Anthony Sinisuka Ginting. Aged 23, he has the time and, more importantly, the resolve to go a long way in men’s singles.
“This is my first Olympics. My family is so happy. I had a dream that I could go to the Olympics, and now I’m here. My federation is very happy because we’ve been working hard for two years. And now we did it, we qualified for Olympics,” said Dwicahyo.
Malta – Matthew Abela
The world No.332 from Malta received a Tripartite Commission Invitation place and found himself drawn in Group H with 11th seed Shi Yu Qi and fellow-Tripartite qualifier Soren Opti of Suriname. Shi, expectedly, proved too strong for Abela, who could not get another match as Opti had withdrawn earlier from the event after contracting COVID-19.
The Malese trains at Denmark’s Centre of Excellence. He would have been happier, he said, if he had got double digits against Shi.
“It (target) was 10. Being very close, I’m happy but one more point and I would have been more satisfied.
“I loved every second of it (competing in Tokyo). For the last four years I have been practising in Denmark at the Centre of Excellence. The badminton situation in Malta is okay, it’s getting better finally so I’m happy to see there’s progress slowly.”
Abela, who too had Covid four months ago, commiserated with Opti.
“Unfortunately Opti got positive for Covid, I hope he will be okay, I wish him the best for a quick recovery. I had Covid four months ago, it wasn’t easy to get back but hopefully it will be okay for him.”
Myanmar – Thet Htar Thuzar
Myanmar’s debut at the Olympics happened in the form of Thet Htar Thuzar, who idolises Tai Tzu Ying and plays strokeful style inspired by the No.1. Drawn in Group M with 14th seed Gregoria Mariska Tunjung and Lianne Tan, Thet couldn’t get going against either of her opponents, falling in straight games. She attributed the losses to the lack of practice time after her arrival in Tokyo.
“I knew she’s a good player, so I had to be focussed,” said Lianne Tan, of Thet. “She got some quick points, she’s a dangerous player. I think she can move well, she’s light on her feet. She has a really nice style. I knew she was one to watch.”
Pakistan – Mahoor Shahzad
The first player from Pakistan to feature in the Olympics, Shahzad also had the honour of being her country’s flag-bearer at the opening ceremony. Shahzad was drawn in difficult Group L with fourth seed Akane Yamaguchi and Kirsty Gilmour. She struggled in her first match but gave a better account of her abilities against Gilmour in a 21-14 21-14 loss.
“Since we don’t play many international matches I found it difficult to adjust to the environment,” said Shahzad. “It feels very good that Pakistan has got representation. We’re hoping that from now there will be more players from Pakistan. Carrying the flag felt very good. I’m the first Pakistani female player to hold the flag, so it was an awesome feeling. I received so many messages, and my friends and relatives were very happy.”
Syria – Aram Mahmoud
The biggest story on the opening days of competition was that of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team. Aram Mahmoud made history both for his homeland Syria and as a member of the Refugee Team. Drawn in Group G with Jonatan Christie and Loh Kean Yew, Mahmoud displayed sound skills, including a powerful, acutely angled smash that troubled both his opponents.
“I could play some good rallies, and could challenge him a bit,” Mahmoud said after his loss to Loh Kean Yew. “I was hoping I could give a picture of myself. I’m satisfied with the way I played. I hope in the future I can play higher level tournaments. This is a dream come true, now I’m happy that I was here and it will be in my heart my whole life. A lot of people from around the world were very happy with the way I played. That will motivate me to be better and better.”