WORLDS 2011 Preview – Legends and more legends?

Our preview specialist, Aaron Wong, takes a look at the upcoming 2011 Yonex BWF World Badminton Championships, which may be the most memorable since 2007, in part due to it […]

2011 top four men's singles seeds and 2005 medallists: (left to right) Lin Dan (2), Taufik Hidayat (4), Peter Gade (3), and Lee Chong Wei (1)

Our specialist, Aaron Wong, takes a look at the upcoming 2011 Yonex BWF World Badminton Championships, which may be the most memorable since 2007, in part due to it being the last time we see all 4 of the most dominant men’s singles stars of the entire last decade together competing.

By Aaron Wong, Badzine Correspondent.  Photos: Badmintonphoto

In terms of venues, the name Wembley immediately conjures impressions of BIG – big place, big crowd capacity, big stars, big event, big occasion.  How fitting that upon returning to the homeland of badminton this year’s Yonex BWF World Badminton Championships are being staged at the Wembley Indoor Arena, which will also be scene of next year’s Olympics in this sport.

Something important is about to happen

The is a big event that hasn’t felt like a big occasion in a while.  There’s a difference.  Taufik Hidayat, one of the sport’s most recognisable faces, said early on that it lost some sheen when it turned into an annual event.  Not to mention China have been dominating, culminating in a clean sweep of titles in Paris last year, a first since China last did it in 1987 at home.  World class badminton – yes, consistently – yet China’s brilliance has brought about a certain déjà vu and ennui in terms of outcomes.

But in 2011, to borrow the opening line from an early 90s house classic by Icelandic songstress Björk who never fails to be distinctive:

“I can sense it, something important is about to happen, it’s coming up…”

“It takes courage”, she further reminds us, which in sport translates into the vital lesson gleaned from experience:

Be not afraid to win; and be not afraid to lose.

What stands out in 2011 is there is an even chance of brand new champions in all 5 disciplines.  The women’s singles field has never been more competitive with no Chinese player safe from the threat posed by a German, Indian, several Thais, Koreans, and Taiwanese.  Mixed doubles sees the rise of 3 new elite pairs who have blazed up the rankings, collecting titles from the get-go.  Koreans haven’t triumphed in men’s doubles in more than a decade, though they did gave us a scintillating final in India to remember, and they could very well convert here, being seeded 3rd and having developed more smashing power since then.

Date with destiny

The possible newspaper headlines hot off the press in 10 days days could announce “New Indonesian Pair Win Mixed” or “A New Women’s Singles Queen: Wang (fill in the blank) Crowned”, but the most interesting scenario of all is the one that has a whiff of destiny about it in the same way it was for Lin Dan in the lead up to the Olympics that got underway in his homeland on the eighth day of the eighth month of the year two thousand and eight.

I, of course, mean the headline written in 1 year and 1 week’s time which could read “Lee Chong Wei World Champion and Olympic Champion”, which therefore must have its origins at Wembley next week.

It could certainly be the year of Tantowi Ahmad / Lilyana Natsir or Wang Shixian or Jung Jae Sung / Lee Yong Dae (pictured) but it is the scent of Lee Chong Wei’s prospects that hangs thickest in the air.  This year’s All England title going his way in straight games suggests that Lee seems to have finally solved the mental puzzle of playing Lin Dan.  Malaysia came close last year through Koo/Tan in men’s doubles but still, quite bizarrely, have not won a single World Championship title, which puts this nation behind Japan, Sweden, Great Britain and the USA on the leader board. 

Destiny lies not in that it is all for Lee to do but that it is do-able and it requires him to rise to the occasion.


This is recognition that such are Lee Chong Wei’s powers at this point in time and the right opportunities are at hand given his stated intention to retire after the London Olympics.  Along with him, these World Championships are the last for the seemingly evergreen Peter Gade of Denmark (age 34), and Taufik Hidayat (age 29), both of whom were already in the top 5 pre-turn-of-the-millennium.  It is very remarkable that the great Dane and Indonesian are still 3rd and 4th respectively in world rankings, with only Lin Dan (age 27) – the most decorated player of the modern era – and Lee (age 28) – arguably the best player of the moment – ahead of them.  Enjoy watching them still as a force to be reckoned with while you can.

Top seeds Yu Yang (left) / Wang Xiaoli, after losing their second to Zhao Yunlei / Tian Qing (right) at the 2011 Malaysia Open

Women’s Doubles: Predictable

The most predictable gold medal of all is the women’s doubles going to China again.  For the 10th time in a row.  Odds on favourites by the bookies, to be hung around the necks of Wang Xiaoli / Yu Yang.  If seedings prevail, then a couple of Japanese pairs stand in the way of them making a beeline for the final.  Despite great strides in Japanese women’s badminton lately, with 3 pairs in the top 10 including the current world #2, the sheer firepower of Wang/Yu still seems only to be manageable by another Chinese pair.  And it just so happens that the only other Chinese pair in the draw is also the only pair yet to beat Wang/Yu.

The bottom half of the draw is several times more interesting.  The Danish mixed doubles specialist combination and top Europeans Rytter Juhl/Pedersen collide with Asian Games gold medallists Zhao Yunlei / Tian Qing, who are expected to be the biggest threat and likely other finalist.  On the other side of that quarter is brewing a 3rd round battle between the always solid and plucky Russians Sorokina/Vislova [10] and second best Japanese pair Fujii/Kakiiwa [4], which could result in a minor upset.  In the bottom quarter, of the Korean, Indonesian and Taiwanese top pairs, the last, Cheng Wen Hsing / Chien Yu Chin, worth their weight as 2nd seeds, probably have the edge going through to the semis.

Early matches of note:
Jwala Gutta / Ashwini Ponnappa (IND) vs Cheng Wen Hsing / Chien Yu Chin [2] (TPE)
Chin Eei Hui / Wong Pei Tty (MAS) vs Jenny Wallwork / Gabrielle White (ENG)
Mariana Agathangelou / Heather Olver (ENG) vs Lotte Jonathans / Paulien Van Dooremalen [13] (NED)

Men’s Doubles: China or Korea?

On a good day, there is still not much separating the top five men’s pairs China’s Fu/Cai, Koreans Lee/Jung, Malaysians Koo/Tan, Denmark’s Boe/Mogensen and Indonesian’s Kido/Setiawan.  The last 10 months have seen all their performances go through peaks and troughs, for instance after a sterling effort at to life the All England trophy the Danes struggled at the Swiss Open and Sudirman Cup.  And the end of last year saw Fu-Cai falter repeatedly against the Koreans but they have since stemmed the tide.

The upcoming World Championships may make legends of a pair or bestow new champions onto the honour roll.  Cai Yun / Fu Haifeng (pictured) have come a long way.  They were not unlikely champions but given their pedigree of being in China’s “weakest” discipline, they were the least likely of legends of the sport yet here they are, newly atop the rankings once more and with an opportunity to win a 4th World Championship gold, which would put them ahead of Lin Dan, Ge Fei, and Kim Dong Moon, equal to Gao Ling, and just shy of Park Joo Bong – and uniquely make them the only competitors so far to win more than 3 gold in a single discipline.

Seeded 1st and 3rd respectively, a Cai/Fu and Jung/Lee encounter has them locking swords as soon as the quarter-finals.  Last year’s runners-up Koo/Tan have their hands full with their own Korean encounter Ko/Yoo [5] in the quarters which they have enough talent to surmount before a repeat of the All England final at the semis stage here.  Talent has never been what the Malaysians lack.  Actually, it’s a little extra concentration and a little luck, which they’ll need all of to break their losing streak against the no.2 Korean pair.

Luck has unfortunately struck all the remaining pairs as 2007 champions and Asian Games gold medallists Kido/Setiawan have withdrawn, due to Kido’s bout with typhoid.

Early matches of note:
Howard Bach / Tony Gunawan (USA) vs Mohd Zakry Abdul Latif / Hoon Thien How (MAS)
Hirokatsu Hashimoto / Noriyasu Hirata [9] (JPN) vs Ruud Bosch / Koen Ridder (NED)
Ingo Kindervater / Johannes Schoettler [13] (GER) vs Chen Hung Ling / Lin Yu Lang (TPE)

Mixed Doubles: Indonesia or China?

The previous four World Championships spoils have been shared by four different countries.  All four champions or part-thereof (due to fresh combinations) are in the draw and of them, Indonesian Lilyana Natsir has a third chance at the prize with her new partner in crime Tantowi Ahmad (pictured), as they shot through to world #2 in the space of eleven months.  Her two main threats are the Chinese pairs Tao/Tian and top seeds Zhang/Zhao, who both rose to prominence just as quickly.  Natsir’s first decent warm up is Lee/Chien [11] (TPE) in round 3.

The top quarter of the draw bunches together the top seeds, the 2009 champion Danes Rytter-Juhl/Laybourn, and competent Taiwanese pair Chen/Cheng [7].  In the next quarter, 2006 champion and local lad Nathan Robertson with new partner Jenny Wallwork, seeded 10th, could topple the hardest-working mixed pair on the circuit, Thailand’s Prapakamol/Thoungthongkam [3] and wait at the quarter-finals for last year’s champion Ma Jin with new partner Xu Chen [6].

Early matches of note:
Robert Mateusiak / Nadiezda Zieba [14] (POL) vs Muhammad Rijal / Debby Susanto (INA)
Nathan Robertson / Jenny Wallwork [10] (ENG) vs Chan Peng Soon / Goh Liu Ying (MAS)

Women’s Singles: A new queen!

A new women’s singles queen shall be crowned and not necessarily a Chinese one.  The field has never been more open to possibilities until now with the competition gradually closing the skills gap at the same time as all the Chinese have cooled from their peaks.  Nevertheless, Wang Xin could foreseeably go one better than she did last year because she has the most balanced combination of willingness to go for her shots, consistency, speed, will power and the added benefit of being a southpaw.

It is the best-case scenario for the China, though, with each of the four ladies slotting into separate quarters of the draw.  Number 1 seed Wang Shixian will have to survive tackling by Porntip Buranaprasertsuk (THA)[10] followed by the Taiwan’s pocket rocket Cheng Shao Chieh [7].  Jiang Yanjiao’s [4] main rivals will be a more physically tiring experience with Germany’s Juliane Schenk (pictured), who has beaten her twice, and then Tine Baun (DEN) or Sung Ji Hyun (KOR).  Wang Xin’s [3] test is India’s Saina Nehwal [6] and it is no longer a foregone conclusion as the Indian finally overcame her nemesis comfortably in straight games back in May.  Wang Yihan [2] has the best of the youngsters all eager to meet her, firstly Ratchanok Intanon (THA) then by one of Bae Youn Joo (KOR), Tai Tzu Ying (TPE) or Sayaka Sato (JPN).

Early matches of note:
Ratchanok Intanon [11] (THA) vs Judith Meulendijks (NED)
Tai Tzu Ying (TPE) vs Olga Konon (GER)
Bae Youn Joo [8] (KOR) vs Pi Hongyan (FRA)

Men’s Singles: will the world #1 justify himself?

A note to all spectators, round 3 on Wednesday is the best value for money, with the following likely match-ups:
Chen Long [5] (CHN) vs Marc Zwiebler [14] (GER)
Chen Jin [6] (CHN) vs Kenichi Tago [15] (JPN)
Lin Dan [2] (CHN) vs Lee Hyun Il [12] (KOR)

Of the top four men, Denmark’s Peter Gade has the enviable draw of having to navigate not the most powerful nor fastest players in the business from Rajiv Ouseph (ENG),  Simon Santoso (INA), and possibly Nguyen Tien Minh (VIE) until a semi-final with Lin Dan that is undoubtedly hard but the Dane has always been one to bet on himself.

Defending champion Chen Jin [6] (CHN) is in top seed Lee Chong Wei’s half of the draw but before such a rendezvous can happen, there is a repeat of last year’s final when he meets Taufik Hidayat at the quarter-finals.  No doubt, most people are hoping for a Lee-Lin final to see if this year’s All England result was a true reflection of the current order or an aberration.

To become a legend

It could finally be the year of Malaysia and Lee Chong Wei (pictured).  In a year when the Dow Jones index crashed and debt crisis looms for America and Europe, Lee’s stocks have been on the rise.

Can he pull off a brace of World Championship and Olympics in consecutive years like Taufik Hidayat, Lin Dan and Zhang Ning?  Some might say you are only considered a legend when you have earned both and there is just enough time for him to accomplish that before he retires.

Click here for complete draws & results from the 2011 Yonex BWF World Badminton Championshps

Aaron Wong

About Aaron Wong

Aaron Wong only ever coveted badminton's coolest shot - a reverse backhand clear. He is renowned for two other things: 1) Writing tournament previews that adjust the focus between the panorama of the sport's progress, down to the microscopic level of explaining the striking characteristics of players; 2) Dozing off during men's doubles at the London Olympic Games. Contact him at: aaron @