A host of young Japanese talent take to the courts on their home turf at the Yonex Open Japan, starting tomorrow.
The rise of Japan as a badminton power is reflected in the draws of all five categories. Apart from familiar names like Kento Momota, Akane Yamaguchi and Nozomi Okuhara, a number of talented young Japanese waiting in the wings will seek to prove themselves when the MetLife BWF World Superseries circuit restarts after three months. Among these names are Saena Kawakami – winner of titles in New Zealand (Grand Prix Gold) and Vietnam (Grand Prix) recently; Kaori Imabeppu – runner-up at the Canada Open, and Kenta Nishimoto (quarter-finalist at the Vietnam and US Opens), besides several young pairs, some of who will battle it out in the qualifying rounds.
Women’s Singles World champion Carolina Marin will be wary of the Japanese she will run into in the first round – Yui Hashimoto, who bounced her out of the first round of the Indonesia Open in June. The top seeded Spaniard has Wang Shixian (China, 7) in her quarter; if she makes it to the semi-finals, she might run into defending champion Li Xuerui (China, 3) or Sung Ji Hyun (Korea, 8). However, both Li and Sung have formidable adversaries first up – Li plays Indonesia’s Lindaweni Fanetri, while Sung faces local star and 2013 champion Akane Yamaguchi.
World Championships runner-up Saina Nehwal is seeded to meet Marin in the final; the Indian’s trickiest early challenge could come from younger compatriot PV Sindhu in the second round, followed by Ratchanok Intanon (Thailand) in the third. A semi-final clash against China’s Wang Yihan (6), Canada’s Michelle Li or Tai Tzu Ying (Chinese Taipei, 4) is a distinct possibility.
Men’s Singles World champion Chen Long will look to regain his Yonex Open Japan title that he won in 2011. The top seed from China, who faces England’s Rajiv Ouseph in his opener, should be able to ease into the quarter-finals where familiar foe Lin Dan or Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei is expected to face him. Lin has a tricky first round against Son Wan Ho although he has never lost a game to his Korean opponent in seven matches.
Malaysia’s Lee, who has won four of the last five finals – the last three in a row – starts in the unfamiliar terrain of the qualifying round. The former No.1 will face Scotland’s Alistair Casey in his opener and either Heo Kwang Hee (Korea) or Yosei Yamaguchi (Japan) in the second. A first round with Thai veteran Boonsak Ponsana then beckons – followed by a second round clash with either Lin or Son Wan Ho.
Should Chen emerge from this quarter, a repeat of the World Championships semi-final against Japan’s Kento Momota is likely – the Japanese star should be able to make the last-four, although China’s Wang Zhengming (8) could be a potential stumbling block in his path.
With World No.2 Jan O Jorgensen skipping the event due to a stomach infection, the bottom quarter might well be a contest between his compatriot Viktor Axelsen and India’s HS Prannoy; their last battle having gone the distance at the World Championships. Other hopefuls in the draw include India’s K Srikanth and Kashyap Parupalli, who are headed for a second round clash.
In Men’s Doubles, Lee Yong Dae/Yoo Yeon Seong will hope to put the disappointment of the World Championships behind them as they seek to retain the title. The top seeds – due to face Japan’s Takuto Inoue/Yuki Kaneko in the first round – are expected to run into compatriots Ko Sung Hyun/Shin Baek Choel (Korea) in the quarter-finals.
World champions Mohammad Ahsan/Hendra Setiawan (Indonesia) take on another Japanese pair, Kenta Kazuno/Kazushi Yamada, in their first round; the Indonesians are headed for a quarter-final against China’s Zhang Nan/Fu Haifeng. Denmark’s Mathias Boe/Carsten Mogensen face a stiff opening test against World Championships runners-up Liu Xiaolong/Qiu Zihan (China).
Meanwhile, China continue experimenting in Women’s Doubles in the run-up to the Rio Olympics with World champion Zhao Yunlei paired with Zhong Qianxin, and her World Championships partner Tian Qing with Tang Jinhua. With three other formidable pairs – Ma Jin/Tang Yuanting; Yu Yang/Wang Xiaoli and Luo Ying/Luo Yu in the draw, China hold the aces in this category. Defending champions Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi – in Ma/Tang’s quarter – will hope to come good on home soil despite the obvious difficulties in their path.
Among the interesting first round clashes, Ma/Tang have their opportunity for revenge over young Koreans Yoo Hae Won/Go Ah Ra, to whom they capitulated at the World Championships.
Young Japanese pair Naoko Fukuman/Kurumi Yonao, who created a sensation at the World Championships on their way to a bronze medal finish, face fellow-bronze medallists Greysia Polii/Nitya Krishinda Maheswari (Indonesia) in the first round. World Championships runners-up Christinna Pedersen/Kamilla Rytter Juhl (Denmark) have a good draw and have a shot at making the last four.
Mixed Doubles defending champions Zhang Nan/Zhao Yunlei will have to start guns blazing as they face Australian Open champions Lee Chun Hei/Chau Hoi Wah (Hong Kong) in their opener. The top seeds will be hoping to continue their rich vein of form that has seen them win three Superseries titles and the World Championships this year.
Jacco Arends/Selena Piek (Netherlands), who had a good run at the World Championships, take on Thailand’s Sudket Prapakamol/Saralee Thoungthongkam in the first round. England’s Chris Adcock/Gabrielle Adcock, whose campaign at the World Championships ended prematurely due to illness, are in Zhang/Zhao’s quarter and face Korea’s Shin Baek Choel/Chae Yoo Jung in their first match.