FRENCH OPEN 2011 – Preview

When I think of France, I immediately think of Guillaume, Raphael, Muriel and definitely badminton. Truly. I do. Because my buddy Guillaume and I met playing badminton at Macquarie University […]

When I think of France, I immediately think of Guillaume, Raphael, Muriel and definitely badminton. Truly. I do. Because my buddy Guillaume and I met playing badminton at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. How unexpected? Raphael bought me a train ticket as I struggled to find coin change within five minutes of having been introduced. Who does that? And Muriel pointed out that the French don’t really queue up on my first day in Paris. Really?

By Aaron Wong. Photos: Badmintonphoto

It sort of makes sense to me now: the . It is a Super Series, larger than the Taipei, Thailand, Dutch and Macau Opens, and up there with the Japan and Malaysia Opens, bastions of badminton. If we correlate the size of a tournament to the number of world top ten athletes in the sport from the host country as normally is the case then the is an odd one out. We’d hardly expect the French to be big about badminton but they are, and as I’ve witnessed they find ways of jumping to the forefront.

With 10 months to go until the London Olympics and barely 6 more months to accumulate ranking points before the cut off mark to qualify, the French Open offering 9200 points to the victors cannot be ignored.

Sweet treat

How much can change from one big tournament to the next when they are a week – no, 2 days to be precise – apart?

I venture to say that all the winners will excel once more.  I had highlighted the majority of these names as ones to watch except that I have a habit of being a year premature. I shall be bold and also predict that women’s singles star Wang Xin will definitely be heading to the Olympics.

The French, with their penchant for desserts, get their sweet treat with all the big names from Odense, Denmark, last week reemerging at Paris’ Stade Pierre de Coubertin where qualifying rounds begin today. All the excitement on Day 1 is mainly reserved for men’s doubles, where Malaysians are the expected favourites, in particular to observe how far the undoubtedly talented Hoon Thien How can maintain his fine form with brand new partner Tan Wee Kiong after coming off last Friday’s quarter-finals berth in a Premier Super Series.

Men’s Singles: Following Chen Long

The first time I ever won a singles match against my father, a man whose competitiveness is second nature, it was an unbelievable feeling and he brought me back down to earth with a view to shine again by sagely stating “See if you can do it again”. Unselfishly, the question didn’t start off with “let’s”.

It was absolutely the right thing to hear because I might not have said it to myself. For China’s Chen Long (photo), his first time straight-game conquering of world #1 Lee Chong Wei convincingly settles the score. Twice Chen had defeated the Malaysian when he was unwell, but this time both were healthy.

I did beat my father a second time, it was not within a short space of time but from then on I had figured “it” out. Not simply my father but a whole lot of things about badminton and how to beat many people. For Chen Long, it is this Denmark Open win over Lee that is a turning point, a leap in levels and resulting in a new unshakeable confidence.

A Denmark Open final repeat would be a semi-final in the top half of the French draw. Those charting Chen’s path with interest will be keen to see him in a quarter-final encounter with either China’s Wang Zhengming or defending French Open champion Taufik Hidayat, who featured in two finals in this stadium last year.  Jan O. Jorgensen’s withdrawal removes one potential roadblock at that stage, however.

Early matches of note:
Taufik Hidayat [5][INA] vs Wang Zhengming [CHN]
Lin Dan [2][CHN] vs Lee Hyun Il [KOR]
Tien Minh Nguyen [7][VIE] vs Tommy Sugiarto [INA]

Women’s Singles: The six markswomen of China

This year this discipline has turned into a thriller where once it was as predictable as the fate of the Titanic. There are more than a handful of delicious women’s singles first round matches. Also, how very unusual that all six of China’s top women, five of them ranked within the world’s top 7, are dispatched to the same tournament — even when it is not compulsory, as it was in Odense. Each with an equal chance to prove herself on the same battle field for a change.

If India’s hope Saina Nehwal were to win the French Open she potentially could be fighting Chinese born players every inch of the way beginning with Yao Jie, one time world #4, who now represents the Netherlands. Scaling the great badminton wall of China to reach the top has been achieved before my Denmark’s Camilla Martin and Malaysia’s Wong Mew Choo, at the China Open no less. For Saina Nehwal, to manage reaching the view from the top would yield feelings like Chen Long feels now.

Local girl and crowd favourite Pi Hongyan could not have had a worse draw starting with the recent Denmark winner Wang Xin. However, Pi’s withdrawal made the draw, together with a head-to-head record of 5-0 in favour of the Chinese, a non-issue.

Viewed only from the angle that one shouldn’t miss an opportunity to play the best in the world, Saina Nehwal can be thankful, as can a few of the players below…

Early matches of note:
Tine Baun [8][DEN] vs Tai Tzu Ying [TPE]
Li Xuerui [CHN] vs Bae Youn Joo [KOR]
Wang Shixian [2] [CHN] vs Sung Ji Hyun [KOR]

Doubles: The more serious pairs the better

Taking a high level view on what it takes to win a tournament, it isn’t always a question of your own quality that will get you far when there are several of your contemporaries that are equally excellent. Of course, this hardly applies applies to women’s doubles because the latter condition is not fulfilled.

In men’s doubles, any one of China, Korea, Malaysia, Denmark or Indonesia and a slim chance for Taiwan as it stands could be wearing Olympic Gold. For mixed, it’s the same countries, minus Korea. It is as much about training as who you can possibly avoid or at least not have to meet until the finals because everyone has an achilles heel. For China’s Cai/Fu (photo), they will always wish to be on the opposite half of the draw to the Malaysian’s Koo/Tan and Korea’s Jung/Lee, as is the case this time around.

The Malaysians need to stem the tide, as their ranking is falling, by putting the first round loss in Denmark behind them, and definitely aim to overcome Denmark’s Boe/Mogensen at the quarter-finals. The Malaysians are a pair that, for whatever reasons, are not ever the surest bet at the peak of their teamwork, unlike the top Chinese and Koreans, and it is a foregone conclusion as far as lifting silverware once they become discouraged.

The need for the Malaysians to keep up is that it benefits to have more than a few strong pairs to keep the rest of us guessing, entertained, and make previewing a hairier task. This is more the case in mixed doubles today. The trajectory of Danish pair Pedersen/Fischer-Nielsen, now having beaten world number ones Zhang/Zhao (pictured), and Ma/Xu of China in a high profile final, is close to its zenith and they have finally fulfilled their early promise. What’s interesting next is to observe their progress towards the Olympics as well as to see whether Gutta/Diju V. [IND] and World Championship runners-up Adock/Bankier [ENG/SCO] can be the next in line to rise as they have, and Chen Long did, to add to the mix of serious Olympic gold medal contenders.

Early matches of note:

Jung Kyung Eun / Kim Ha Na [KOR] vs Jwala Gutta / Ashwini Ponnappa [IND]
Wang Xiaoli / Yu Yang [1][CHN] vs Wong Pei Tty / Chin Eei Hui [MAL]

Cai Yun / Fu Haifeng [1][CHN] vs Cho Gun Woo / Kwon Yi Goo [KOR]
Alvent Yulianto Chandra / Hendra Aprida Gunawan [INA] vs Mathias Boe / Carsten Mogensen [3][DEN]

Jwala Gutta / Diju V. [IND] vs Lilyana Natsir / Tantowi Ahmad [IND]
Vita Marissa / Nova Widianto [IND] vs Kamilla Rytter-Juhl / Thomas Laybourn [DEN]

Me, Me, Me

This is clearly a more interesting lead-up to the Olympics than the last one, with several flags continuing to jostle to be planted on the peaks of Super Series’. There continue to be shifts in power, not as a result of retirements, though women’s doubles still waves only one predominantly red flag amongst a sea of white ones.

The secret of success and appeal of the French Open made me scratch my head until I examined my own French experiences. It is real people that I’ve met that have made a lasting and strong impression. I suspect that the same has happened on a grander scale, that badminton has fallen in love with the hospitality and enthusiasm of the French folks, where else but in Paris. Vive le badminton!

Click here for the complete draws

Photos of the Day HERE
(copyright Badmintonphoto)

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 @