A few odd circumstances have culminated in Men’s Doubles turning into the most open category in 2014.
A striking feature of Men’s Doubles is that powerhouses China have only a single representative in the top ten: All England champions Liu Xiaolong and Qiu Zihan. That speaks volumes about the dynamics in this category and why it is likely to throw up several surprises as the year progresses.
The significant change in Men’s Doubles over the past year is that four-time World champions Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng of China have drifted down the rankings, to No. 31. After winning the Hong Kong Open in late 2012, the Olympic champions failed to net a single title. The pair was split and experiments tried with other partners such as Chai Biao, Hong Wei and Zhang Nan, but none of the new combinations have blossomed yet. Men’s Doubles is therefore the only category in which China does not have a dominant presence.
A generational shift can also be seen in Malaysia, which saw their No. 1 pair Koo Kien Keat/Tan Boon Heong being overshadowed by Hoon Thien How/Tan Wee Kiong and Goh V Shem/Lim Khim Wah (right). The latter duo capped a dream run at their home Malaysia Open earlier this year, winning the Superseries Premier and surpassing all expectations. Their compatriots Hoon/Tan too had their moments, reaching the final of the China Open Superseries Premier and winning the Macau Open GP Gold; giving Malaysia much optimism for the big events lined up.
The past year was dominated by two pairs: Mohammad Ahsan (featured image)/Hendra Setiawan of Indonesia and Lee Yong Dae/Yoo Yeon Seong of Korea. While the experience of Setiawan and the energy of Ahsan helped forge a formidable pairing which saw them win the BWF World Championships and five Superseries titles in 2013, Lee and Yoo’s success was even more dramatic as they won the first Superseries they contested as a pair last year. Their triumphs over the last quarter of 2013 should have set the stage for a brilliant run in 2014 but, as fate would have it, Lee found himself facing a one-year ban for failing to provide whereabouts information and missing tests required under the BWF Anti-Doping Regulations. His Korean compatriot, Kim Ki Jung, also faces a similar sanction. If the sanctions stand (Lee and Kim can appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport latest by 17 February 2014), it will mean that two of Korea’s established Men’s Doubles pairs, who were expected to be strong prospects for the major titles of 2014, will be out in the cold.
In their absence, the contest could mainly revolve around Ahsan/Setiawan; Mathias Boe/Carsten Mogensen (Denmark); Hiroyuki Endo/Kenichi Hayakawa (Japan; left), and Liu Xiaolong/Qiu Zihan (China), with others like Chai Biao/Hong Wei (China); Angga Pratama/Ryan Agung Saputra (Indonesia); Chris Adcock/Andrew Ellis (England); Lee Sheng Mu/Tsai Chia Hsin (Chinese Taipei); Lim Khim Wah/Goh V Shem and Hoon Thien How/Tan Wee Kiong (both Malaysia) providing stiff competition.
Japan’s Endo/Hayakawa have been outstanding on occasions but were unlucky in their quest for Superseries honours last year. Their compatriots Takeshi Kamura/Keigo Sonoda and Hirokatsu Hashimoto/Noriyasu Hirata too have been impressive and can help Japan mount a strong challenge, especially in team events such as the Thomas Cup and Asian Games.
Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen (above) had an uneven campaign in 2013, with a couple first-round losses but they won their first Superseries title in over a year by capturing the Korea Open 2014. Their European compatriots Chris Adcock/Andrew Ellis too performed strongly and look set to push their boundaries in the coming season.
Will the established stars shine again this year or will some unheralded pair break through?
Ahsan and Setiawan may be favourites to reign once more but several surprises may be in store.