Ko Sung Hyun and Kim Ha Na are the surprise leaders in the BWF Destination Dubai World Rankings with just two World Superseries events left before the year-ending finale in Dubai.
The Mixed Doubles pair from Korea have had a healthy season, but their first Superseries title of the year (and second overall) remained tantalisingly out of reach until they outplayed Indonesia’s Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir in three games in the Yonex Denmark Open final.
Their European sojourn turned even sweeter the following week in Paris as Ko and Kim won the Yonex French Open title over another Indonesian pair, Praveen Jordan and Debby Susanto. The back-to-back Superseries victories gave Ko and Kim 62,650 points, putting them in the lead just ahead of Ahmad/Natsir (62,000) and China’s Zhang Nan/Zhao Yunlei (61,870).
Zhang and Zhao though maintained their formidable form from last year. The Dubai champions added four more Superseries crowns besides the World title to their collection, before suffering a rare early defeat in the second round of the Denmark Open. Despite the odd upset, Zhang and Zhao will be the pair to beat when December comes around.
Other names leading the race to Dubai are: Liu Cheng/Bao Yixin (China), Joachim Fischer-Nielsen/Christinna Pedersen (Denmark), Xu Chen/Ma Jin (China), Lu Kai/Huang Yaqiong (China), Chris Adcock/Gabrielle Adcock (England) and Lee Chun Hei/Chau Hoi Wah (Hong Kong).
Chen Long stood head and shoulders above the rest of the competition in Men’s Singles. Continuing from where he left off last year in Dubai, the world No.1 has decimated all opposition this year, losing just three Superseries matches and winning 29 – helping himself to five Superseries titles besides the World crown. With 64,650 points, Chen is well clear of Kento Momota (Japan, 59,170) in the Destination Dubai Rankings.
“I am pleased with how my season is going. I have won five World Superseries titles and I would definitely like to defend my title in Dubai but there are more Superseries tournaments before the Finals so I hope I will be able to get over a few injuries I have to go to Dubai and play well,” said Chen.
Momota – winner of the OUE Singapore Open and the BCA Indonesia Open – heads a clutch of names trailing Chen: Denmark’s Jan O Jorgensen and Viktor Axelsen, Chinese Taipei’s Chou Tien Chen, China’s Lin Dan and Tian Houwei, India’s Kashyap Parupalli and Kidambi Srikanth, and Indonesia’s Tommy Sugiarto.
Axelsen nearly made his Superseries breakthrough, but was unlucky to fall in three finals – in India, Australia and Japan. Chinese great Lin, meanwhile, showed inconsistent form, but he showed he was still in the running for the big titles by claiming the Yonex Open Japan title.
Korea’s Son Wan Ho and Denmark’s Hans-Kristian Vittinghus – contestants at the World Superseries Finals last year – have had a disappointing season and are unlikely to qualify this time.
Women’s Singles has been the most exciting and closely-contested category. Spain’s Carolina Marin is the only player to have won more than one Superseries – she has four – while the other six have been evenly split between India’s Saina Nehwal, China’s Sun Yu, Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon, Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara, Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun and China’s Li Xuerui. The competition is thus close among the top ten. China’s Wang Shixian (62,360) might have not won a title but she leads the rankings thanks to her consistency. Marin follows close behind (62,220), ahead of Wang Yihan, Saina Nehwal and Li Xuerui.
Intanon, Okuhara, Tai Tzu Ying (Chinese Taipei), Sung Ji Hyun and Akane Yamaguchi (Japan) are others in the top ten. Intanon broke a long drought with her title win in Indonesia, while Okuhara emerged out of the shadows of her compatriots with a triumph on home turf in Japan. With Sung Ji Hyun outclassing Wang Yihan in the Korea Open final, and Li Xuerui rediscovering her form in Denmark, Women’s Singles offers everything a badminton connoisseur could ask for.
The motivation to be in Dubai will give the players the extra edge in the two remaining tournaments. As Li Xuerui admitted: “I want to go to Dubai so I will be fighting my hardest in the remaining events. I am not sure if I will have enough points and also there’s Wang Shixian and Wang Yihan ahead of me (in the rankings). My team-mates who went to Dubai last year said it was luxurious. I want to try skydiving there.”
Lee Yong Dae and Yoo Yeon Seong have ridden a wave since early September. The Korean duo, who had earlier won the Australian Open, were unstoppable in the four Superseries events in September-October. Their sizzling run saw them capture the Yonex Open Japan, Victor Korea Open, Yonex Denmark Open and Yonex French Open, making them runaway leaders in the race to Dubai, where they will be defending the title.
“We are playing well and we want to keep winning. We have to focus on the other Superseries first and then we can think about Dubai. We are looking forward to the Superseries Finals and retaining the title in Dubai,” said Yoo.
China’s Fu Haifeng and Zhang Nan haven’t won a Superseries this year but their consistency (four finals) has seen them in second place (61,160), ahead of Japan’s Hiroyuki Endo/Kenichi Hayakawa (57,120). Denmark’s Mathias Boe/Carsten Mogensen began the year on a perfect note with the Yonex All England title and are in fourth place. World champions Mohammad Ahsan/Hendra Setiawan (Indonesia) captured the Maybank Malaysia Open but it has been mostly lean pickings for them since then.
Their compatriots Angga Pratama/Ricky Karanda Suwardi (Singapore Open), China’s Chai Biao/Hong Wei (India Open) and Korea’s Shin Baek Choel/Ko Sung Hyun (Indonesia Open) were the other Superseries winners. Shin and Ko though are in 14th place and unlikely to make the cut for Dubai, especially since their compatriots Kim Gi Jung/Kim Sa Rang are ahead of them in eighth place (only two players/pairs from one country in the top eight are eligible).
Denmark’s Mads Conrad-Petersen/Mads Pieler Kolding, who made the finals in India and France, and Chinese Taipei’s Lee Sheng Mu/Tsai Chia Hsin, also are in the top eight and strong contenders for Dubai.
For all the dominance that China’s Women’s Doubles have traditionally enjoyed, the country has only two pairs in the top ten of the Destination Dubai Rankings, primarily due to the experimentation with different pairs all through the year. World champions Tian Qing/Zhao Yunlei, for instance, played only two Superseries as a pair and are at No.27.
China’s twins Luo Ying/Luo Yu – winners in Malaysia – lead the rankings just ahead of Denmark’s Christinna Pedersen/Kamilla Rytter Juhl and Indonesia’s Greysia Polii/Nitya Krishinda Maheswari. The Danes and Indonesians have been resurgent this season, with Polii/Maheswari savouring a career-high title victory in Korea.
“We hope the World Superseries Finals will be our best performance this year,” said Polii. The Indonesian duo’s campaign last year in Dubai was cut short due to an injury to her partner. ”We want to make up for last year. We want to be more consistent and go there with the right mindset.”
Korea’s Women’s Doubles pairs too have performed strongly this season. Chae Yoo Jung/Kim So Yeong (No.7) and Go Ah Ra/Yoo Hae Won (No.8) are both in the top ten, while Denmark Open champions Jung Kyung Eun/Shin Seung Chan are at No.14 but within striking distance of qualifying. Defending champions Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi’s campaign was slightly derailed due to Matsutmo’s injury in Japan, and the pair are at No.4, ahead of compatriots Miyuki Maeda/Reika Kakiiwa. Dutch pair Eefje Muskens/Selena Piek too have had a good year and are in contention for Dubai. The others who will fancy their chances are Ma Jin/Tang Yuanting (China, No.9), Naoko Fukuman/Kurumi Yonao (Japan, No.10) and Jwala Gutta/Ashwini Ponnappa (India, No.11).