A fresh breeze is blowing as a new season of the MetLife BWF World Superseries rumbles to life, starting with the sport’s oldest tournament – the Yonex All England Open Badminton Championships in Birmingham next Tuesday.
Some famous names will take to the court again after being out of the spotlight for some time. The event marks the return of two prominent Chinese – Chen Long and defending champion Lin Dan – who have been seen only intermittently, or not at all, since last August’s Rio Olympics. While Olympic champion Chen played his home Thaihot China Open in November – his one and only appearance since the Summer Games – Lin (featured image) skipped the rest of the season after losing his bronze-medal match in Brazil.
Also due to return is Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara, defending champion in Women’s Singles. The Japanese star had an injury-plagued season after claiming bronze in Rio; her last full match was a defeat to compatriot Akane Yamaguchi at the Yonex Denmark Open in October.
China’s Tang Jinhua, once ranked No.1 in Women’s Doubles with Bao Yixin, returns to action after a long lay-off stretching back to June 2016.
With top stars in attendance – including all the Olympic champions and runners-up except Men’s Doubles winners Fu Haifeng/Zhang Nan of China – the All England, with a prize purse of US$600,000, promises to get the Superseries rolling with a bang. Fans eagerly anticipating a Lee Chong Wei-Lin Dan Men’s Singles final might get their wish, but the Women’s Singles is harder to predict, with at least eight potential winners, including 2015 champion and Olympic gold medallist Carolina Marin of Spain.
After the All England, the Superseries circuit moves to Asia in late March. The Yonex-Sunrise India Open, Celcom Axiata Malaysia Open and OUE Singapore Open will be held on consecutive weeks before a month’s break in May during which focus shifts to the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup in Gold Coast.
The Superseries resumes in June with the BCA Indonesia Open – the most lucrative event, boasting a US$1 million jackpot – followed by the Crown Group Australian Open, which too offers a handsome purse of US$750,000.
Performance in the year’s first four Superseries events will count towards qualification for the TOTAL BWF World Championships, to be held in Glasgow in August. As the year progresses, and with qualification on the line, players will throw their all into their matches. After the World Championships, the next Superseries event is the Victor Korea Open in mid-September and thereafter the Yonex Open Japan, before the scene shifts to Europe for the Yonex Denmark Open and the Yonex French Open.
The final leg in Asia consists of the Thaihot China Open and the Yonex-Sunrise Hong Kong Open. The season closes with the US$1 million Dubai World Superseries Finals in December which will feature the top eight players/pairs on the Destination Dubai Rankings.
World badminton is at an interesting crossroads. The retirement of a number of greats, particularly from China and Korea, has thrown open the circuit in doubles, evidenced by the number of new Superseries winners in the post-Rio era such as China’s Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen; Chen Qingchen/Jia Yifan; Japan’s Takeshi Kamura/Keigo Sonoda and Malaysia’s Goh V Shem/Tan Wee Kiong. A new generation has also risen in Men’s Singles; whether these youngsters can maintain their performance in the face of increased expectations will be keenly watched.
While a number of young players have emerged, older players are showing greater ‘shelf life’ than in the past. Veterans such as Lin Dan, Lee Chong Wei, Korea’s Lee Hyun Il in singles and Denmark’s Mathias Boe/Carsten Mogensen; Joachim Fischer Nielsen, Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl and Indonesia’s Liliyana Natsir are still on top of their game, their results setting the standard for upcoming prospects.
Meanwhile, the ‘trans-national’ partnership of Indonesian golden guy, Hendra Setiawan, and Malaysia’s Tan Boon Heong – a rare phenomenon at elite level – could well set an inspirational trend for other veteran stars if it proves successful.
Tokyo 2020 is just over three years away and several older players may fancy a shot at one more Olympics.
This year could well give an indication of how realistic their hopes are.