Next Gen Stars – World Juniors: Review

Next Gen Stars – World Juniors: Review
World Junior champion Riko Gunji.

The BWF World Junior Championships offers a peak into the sport’s next generation. While not all of those who do well at the junior level make a successful transition to the elite level, there have been several who, as juniors, seemed destined for success in their senior career.

Here are some of the names from the recently-concluded BWF World Junior Championships 2019 who stood out.

Riko Gunji

Gunji’s resemblance to Akane Yamaguchi – physically and in playing style – is startling. Gunji, 17, idolises Yamaguchi; in Kazan she took the first step towards emulating her idol when she won the women’s singles title. Incidentally, it was her first title after two runner-up finishes. She was unbeaten in Kazan, guiding Japan into the semifinals of the team event, before picking up her country’s sole title in the individual competition.

Indah Cahya Sari Jamil

Indah Cahya Sari Jamil, a strong mixed doubles prospect for Indonesia.

Jamil has a great record at the junior level, winning the World Juniors last year and the Asian Juniors this year. Her defence of the title in Kazan with Leo Rolly Carnando came unstuck in the final this time, but Jamil is on the radar for Indonesia as one of their brightest mixed doubles prospects. Sound skills at the front combined with calmness under pressure are great signs. At the moment, she does seem to have a lot going for her before her vault into a higher league.

Lin Fang Ling

Lin Fang Ling achieved a double in Kazan.

Played a stellar role for China in Kazan. Lin and mixed doubles partner Feng Yan Zhe guided China to the final, not dropping a game on the way. In the individual event, Lin did double duty; Lin and Feng surprised defending champions Carnando/Jamil in the mixed doubles final before she and Zhou Xin Ru captured the women’s doubles crown. Ling has had a good year, reaching eight finals and winning four. Interestingly, her idol is not a doubles but a singles player – Lin Dan.

Kunlavut Vitidsarn

Vitidsarn was in total command of the men’s singles final.

The Thai was expected to win his third title and he did, dropping only one game on the way. His coach Udom believes he has everything he needs to excel at the elite level, particularly in shot-making, netplay and variations; speed and fitness are areas he has to work on. Has had a spectacular season, winning seven tournaments including the Polish Open and the Spanish International.

Christo Popov

Christo Popov rode on his adrenalin to make the final.

Europe didn’t have a particularly memorable World Junior Championships. There was European presence in only two quarterfinals in the individual championships. Europe however could take some solace from the performance of France’s Christo Popov. The left-hander seemed to get better and better with every match, riding on his adrenalin to quell one tough opponent after another. The intensity of his play and his celebrations got the crowd behind him, and although he fell to Vitidsarn tamely in the final, his performance bodes well for the future.

Leo Rolly Carnando & Daniel Marthin

Carnando and Marthin are touted to be the next big names in men’s doubles for Indonesia.

The Indonesians were a cut above the rest at the World Juniors; with four titles this year, they have the results to show for their undoubted abilities. Carnando’s skills evoke comparisons with Kevin Sanjaya’s, while Daniel Marthin complements him well with his power game from the back. Whether they can live up to all the hype remains to be seen.

Brian Yang

Brian Yang is inspired by Michelle Li’s grit.

Pan Am’s brightest hope and currently No.2 in the world. Has already played 19 tournaments this year, and has some good results to show, including titles in Canada and Peru, runner-up spots in Germany and Brazil, and a semifinal at the Dutch Junior International. Can he follow in the footsteps of senior compatriot Michelle Li, who has blazed a trail in women’s singles for Canada?

Anastasiia Shapovalova

Anastasiia Shapovalova will hope to be a trail-blazer for Russia.

The Russia got the crowd buzzing with her performance in the women’s singles. She surprised top seed Phittayaporn Chaiwan in the opening game of their fourth round match but remained combative, eventually going down in three. Just 17, Shapovalova uses her height well in hitting steep smashes. She has had a promising season, reaching the semifinals of the Swedish Junior, winning the Russian Junior White Nights, and making the final of the Bulgarian Junior International. Russian fans will hope to see her break new ground.

Di Zi Jian & Wang Chang

Di Zi Jian and Wang Chang have shown promise at the senior level.

The young Chinese pair couldn’t have asked for a better start against the world’s best pair, as they took the Minions to three games in the opening round of the French Open. At the World Juniors they blitzed their opponents in straight games before falling to Carnando/Marthin in the final. Semifinalists at the Lingshui China Masters, Di and Wang appear to have already made inroads into the senior level.