A generational shift is in evidence as 2016 heads to a close with only three events left in the MetLife BWF World Superseries circuit.
This trend is more pronounced in the three doubles categories following the retirements of some of the contemporary greats of badminton in the post-Olympic season.
Fans might struggle to come to terms with the retirements of Korea’s Lee Yong Dae, Shin Baek Cheol and Kim Sa Rang, China’s Zhao Yunlei, Yu Yang and Tian Qing, and Japan’s Kenichi Hayakawa. These players were the torch-bearers of their countries in the paired events, and their retirements within weeks of each other will leave a vacuum of sorts.
However, if there was one thing that the post-Olympic season reaffirmed, it was that no player – however great – is indispensable to the circuit. China, it appears, have already found a likely replacement for the legendary Zhao in the form of 19-year-old Chen Qingchen.
Chen announced herself back in 2013 with the World Junior title; she has subsequently won four more. This year she came of age at the elite level – anchoring China to the Uber Cup triumph at home and then winning her first Superseries title in Australia in June with Bao Yixin. Chen also reached the Mixed Doubles final with Zheng Siwei, thereby showing she was adept in both her categories.
If Zhao’s retirement signalled the end of two great combinations (with Zhang Nan and Tian Qing), Chen showed she could step into the breach with Zheng Siwei (featured image) in Mixed Doubles and a variety of partners in Women’s Doubles, such as Tang Yuanting, Bao Yixin and Jia Yifan.
While it is still early to classify Chen in the same league as Zhao, Chen’s rapid ascent at such a young age marks her out as the fittest replacement.
The post-Olympics season thus far has seen Chen in the thick of action. She and Zheng picked up their first Superseries title as a pair at the Yonex Open Japan, followed by a runner-up finish to Korea’s Ko Sung Hyun/Kim Ha Na at the Victor Korea Open in October. Later that month, Zheng/Chen once again finished runners-up, to home pair Joachim Fischer Nielsen/Christinna Pedersen at the Yonex Denmark Open; the next week, in Paris, they captured their second Superseries title, the Yonex French Open, where Chen picked up her first Superseries double, winning the women’s paired event with Jia Yifan.
Chen has thus been in seven finals in all of the last five Superseries, winning four titles. Equally impressive has been her Mixed Doubles partner Zheng. The Zheng/Chen combination has everything going for it to be viewed as the successors to the Zhang Nan/Zhao Yunlei combine that brought several laurels to China. Placed No.4 in the Destination Dubai Rankings, the youngsters are looking at doing well in Dubai.
“We want to qualify for Dubai and we will try our best in the coming events to get there,” said Zheng, following their triumph in Paris.
Alongside, the rise of Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen in Men’s Doubles also augurs well for China. The two 21-year-olds captured their first title at the Yonex Open Japan, and finished runners-up the next week in Korea.
While these young players had outstanding results in the post-Olympics season, the seasoned pros of the circuit did not completely relinquish control.
In Japan, which was the first Superseries following the Olympics, Danish veterans Christinna Pedersen/Kamilla Rytter Juhl thwarted home duo Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi in the Women’s Doubles final.
In Korea, Lee Yong Dae and Yoo Yeon Seong survived the jitters against Li and Liu in the Men’s Doubles final, giving Lee the best possible send-off from international badminton. The Mixed Doubles final saw Korea’s Ko Sung Hyun and Kim Ha Na prevail over Zheng/Chen, giving the home team their first of three doubles titles on the day – Jung Kyung Eun/Shin Seung Chan wrapping up proceedings beating China’s Luo Ying/Luo Yu in the Women’s Doubles match.
At the Denmark Open, it was Joachim Fischer Nielsen/Christinna Pedersen’s turn to deny Zheng/Chen; the Danes winning their first Superseries in over a year. Malaysia’s Goh V Shem/Tan Wee Kiong capitalised on their new-found confidence with their first Superseries victory, over the resurgent Thais Bodin Isara/Nipiphon Phuangphuapet in Men’s Doubles, while Japan’s Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi’s dream season continued to unfold in Women’s Doubles, as they picked up their fourth Superseries title of the season. Goh and Tan had had good results since their silver medal finish in Rio, making the semi-finals of the Korea Open before clinching the title in Denmark.
Finally, in France, between the various Chinese successes, another veteran Danish pair, Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen, climbed atop the Men’s Doubles podium for the first time since March 2015. The moment was especially significant for it marked their first Superseries triumph since Mogensen’s comeback from brain surgery earlier this year.
Given the number of retirements and recombinations in pairs following the Olympics, placings on the Destination Dubai Rankings have undergone significant changes over the last four Superseries. Goh/Tan, Matsutomo/Takahashi and Ko/Kim lead the Destination Dubai Rankings in Men’s Doubles, Women’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles respectively. There are only two more Superseries left for contenders to cement their places at the Dubai World Superseries Finals in mid-December (14 to 18 at Hamdan Sports Complex). The Thaihot China Open and the Yonex Sunrise Hong Kong Open are likely to see some heated contests as the contenders give it everything to finish the year on a high.
1.Goh V Shem/Tan Wee Kiong (Malaysia) 2.Takeshi Kamura/Keigo Sonoda (Japan) 3.Angga Pratama/Ricky Karanda Suwardi (Indonesia) 4.Marcus Fernaldi Gideon/Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo (Indonesia) 5.Chai Biao/Hong Wei (China) 6.Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen (China) 7.Mads Conrad-Petersen/Mads Pieler Kolding (Denmark) 8.Mohammad Ahsan/Hendra Setiawan (Indonesia)
1.Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi (Japan) 2.Jung Kyung Eun/Shin Seung Chan (Korea) 3.Nitya Krishinda Maheswari/Greysia Polii (Indonesia) 4.Naoko Fukuman/Kurumi Yonao (Japan) 5.Christinna Pedersen/Kamilla Rytter Juhl (Denmark) 6.Chang Ye Na/Lee So Hee (Korea) 7.Shizuka Matsuo/Mami Naito (Japan) 8.Luo Ying/Luo Yu (China)
1.Ko Sung Hyun/Kim Ha Na (Korea) 2.Lu Kai/Huang Yaqiong (China) 3.Joachim Fischer Nielsen/Christinna Pedersen (Denmark) 4.Zheng Siwei/Chen Qingchen (China) 5.Chris Adcock/Gabrielle Adcock (England) 6.Praveen Jordan/Debby Susanto (Indonesia) 7.Kenta Kazuno/Ayane Kurihara (Japan) 8.Chan Peng Soon/Goh Liu Ying (Malaysia)