ALL ENGLAND 2012 Preview – Britain gets the best of badminton

As our sport picks up competitive momentum again and rolls towards the 102nd anniversary of the All England Badminton tournament in its 16th year at the National Indoor Arena in […]

As our sport picks up competitive momentum again and rolls towards the 102nd anniversary of the Badminton tournament in its 16th year at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham, our specialist, Aaron Wong, explains why this remains the closest there is to the perfect tournament.  In part 1, he evaluates this year’s draw.

By Aaron Wong, Badzine Correspondent.  Photos: Badmintonphoto

Perfection = unrivalled x (prestige + cast + competition + viewing pleasure)

Such is the quality of the field of the All England that it can serve up as delectable a first round duel as a World Championship gold medal mixed doubles rematch.  Not only that, the British are lucky indeed in getting to host the best of badminton four times in the space of a year and a half since the All England’s elevation to Premier Super Series status, what with last year’s World Championships and the Olympics still to come to town.

Doubles: The snaring instead of slaying era?

Mixed doubles engages the British viewing public like no other and this is the event their athletes perennially stand an outside chance of going all the way in.  There are two British mixed pairs, both in the top half of the draw and each with a high initial hurdle to clear, and they don’t come tougher than the world number 1 and defending champions Zhang Nan / Zhao Yunlei for Chris Adock / Imogen Bankier.

Despite the superior technical ability of the Chinese and a daunting reputation that precedes them, we are beginning to see, across the board in international badminton, a reversal of perspective due to a healthy number of fast-rising and fearless pairs including these young Brits.  In other words, should the top seeds break past their tricky British beginning, they may well have to look forward to the fastest rising combination into the top ten of Korea’s Lee Yong Dae / Ha Jung Eun at the quarter-final stage or another relatively new top ten pair, Chan Peng Soon / Goh Liu Ying of Malaysia.

If the top Danes Joachim Fischer-Nielsen / Christinna Pedersen constantly remain at world number 3, they will always have to prepare to get through both top Chinese pairs to ultimately win any Super Series mixed, title.  They have done this before, of course, but more often than not, they run into a Chinese roadblock.  So they should aim to win this title to stop this trend in its tracks.

The threat to the top Danes joining the semi-final party are their teammates Laybourn/Rytter-Juhl at the quarter-final stage.  The threat to the up and coming pairs could be themselves as the female half of the Koreans has experienced short serve stage fright as the year commenced and the Malaysians are coming off a baffling loss at home to singles specialist Lee Chong Wei in a scratch pairing.

Mixed Doubles first round matches of note:
Zhang/Zhao (CHN) [1] vs. Adock/Bankier (ENG/SCO)
Chan/Goh (MAS) vs. Diju/Gutta (IND)

Value for entertainment and thrills in badminton doubles is encapsulated by the maxim:  the more unpredictability the better. Women’s doubles lacks it comparatively.  This category is the surest bet for China as any title is low hanging fruit for world number 1 Wang Xiaoli / Yu Yang to pluck, moreover given neither are doing double duties by playing mixed too whereas the more energetic and fun Chinese pair to watch of Tian Qing / Zhao Yunlei tend to play both.

However, it is an inaccurate portrayal of the current scene to continue depicting Chinese players as slayers of anyone in any category.  The hunters are turning into the hunted.  With three Japanese pairs in the top ten, they could again upset one of the favourites as they did last year with Tian/Zhao early on.  The Chinese solution, as usual with a population of 1 billion to select from, is to regenerate with new names partnering a former world number 1 where possible, thus supplying three other unseeded Chinese combinations of unknown danger quantity.

Women’s Doubles first round matches of note:
Fujii/Kakiiwa [4] (JPN) vs. Ma/Zhong (CHN)
Poon/Tse (HKG) vs. Hoo/Woon (MAS)

Change takes time and in the four years since the last Olympics, the entire Japanese team have improved under the tutelage of head coach and badminton legend Park Joo Bong.  Proof is that Japan have provided All England finalists in three different disciplines in the last two editions.

We may not be able to categorically say they will beat such and such a player on a particular day but the Japanese team is large.  They have several hovering around the top five of women’s doubles, and a bunch around the top ten of men’s doubles, men’s singles, and women’s singles.  They are there to ensnare.

The Japanese pairs are known to be thorns in the side of the talented yet concentration-challenged Malaysians Koo Kien Keat / Tan Boon Heong so round one is a test of sorts against Naoki Kawame / Shoji Sato, in a clash of world number six against eleven.  Top seeds Cai/Fu (CHN) run into Japanese in the second round but, of all in the top five, look set as the likeliest to cruise into the semi-finals as the top half of the men’s doubles draw is kinder than the bottom half, where both of last year’s finalists find themselves.

The defending champions Mathias Boe / Carsten Mogensen (DEN) face Beijing Olympic champions Kido/Setiawan in the second round. Fortunately, both top five Korean pairs are in separate halves, and one or both will make it as the other semi-finalists.

Men’s Doubles first round matches of note:
Ko/Yoo (KOR) [4] vs. Fang/Lee (TPE)
Ahsan/Septano (INA) [7] vs. Bach/Gunawan (USA)

Singles: Chens and Wangs

All eyes are on the progress of Peter Gade, the current world number four, and Chen Jin, ranked fifth, progress through this tournament.  Gade, a consistent player if ever there was one, has a favourable draw and has a chance of joining Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan at the semi-final stage.  Chen, on the other hand, has an interesting rematch with Hong Kong’s Wong Wing Ki, who disposed of him this week in the German Open.  If Wong repeats the feat, it will frustrate the Chinese camp by delaying Chen’s possible Olympic qualification and simultaneously sentimental Taufik Hidayat (INA) fans will rejoice as he has a better than Chen chance of winning that match up in the second round.

The Chen Long-Lin Dan matches are becoming a fixture to look forward to too, as the next in line to the throne continues to prove himself.  He has done so convincingly a few times against the world number 1 Malaysian, and now needs to get one on the scoreboard in the head-to-head stakes against his elder.

Men’s Singles early round matches of note:
Kenichi Tago (JPN) vs. Viktor Axelsen (DEN) – likely
Simon Santoso (INA) vs. Hans-Kristian Vittinghus (DEN)
Sho Sasaki (JPN) vs. Jan O Jorgensen (DEN)

The All England’s women’s singles draw features last’s year’s final between Wang Shixian (CHN) and Eriko Hirose (JPN) as a second round prospect this year, while a 2010 Tine Baun-Wang Yihan finals rematch  looms as a quarter-final.  What remains to be seen for both of these Wangs in the top half of the draw is how hard they will be made to work by their lower – though top ten-ranked – team-mates in their path.  Will team ethic prevail without being asked because it has already been decided which Chinese ladies are Olympic bound?

China’s world number two Wang Xin, who is looking for her first title of 2012, treads the most treacherous and tiring path of the Wangs, with upset makers and formidable stamina athletes every step of her way in form of names like Sung Ji Hyun, Ratchanok Intanon, Bae Youn Joo, Juliane Schenk, and Saina Nehwal all as potential opponents in order to reach a berth in the semi-finals.

Women’s Singles first round matches of note:
Wang Shixian (CHN) [3] vs. Cheng Shao Chieh (TPE)
Pi Hongyan (FRA) vs. Carolina Marin (ESP)
Juliane Schenk (GER) [8] vs. Bae Youn Joo (KOR)
Wang Xin (CHN) [2] vs. Sung Ji Hyun (KOR)

Click here for complete draws

Click here for Part II of Aaron’s All England 2012 preview

If you are coming for the All England Championships, or whenever you visit Birmingham, try Badzine’s partner hotel, the City Nites Apartments. Offering fully-serviced apartments, it is a stylish setting for long or short-term business people and visitors, and a great place to stay during the All England Championships.

CLICK HERE to make a reservation at the City Nites

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 @