ALL ENGLAND 2013 Preview – Constant throughout change

The significance of the All England tournament shines through in obvious as well as esoteric ways during badminton’s current era of great change as the sport determinedly seeks to find […]

The significance of the tournament shines through in obvious as well as esoteric ways during badminton’s current era of great change as the sport determinedly seeks to find a global commercial audience.  Not yet 30 years old and Lin Dan is famous enough for two lifetimes.  He isn’t attending the 2013 and our specialist, Aaron Wong, explains why this is a good thing for both badminton, the man himself, and how the All England, in his case, has taken on new meaning as a marker in time.

By Aaron Wong, Badzine Correspondent.  Photos: Badmintonphoto

British trinity ticked off

As if he wasn’t already peerless by 2011 – having topped the rankings as far back as February 2004, won the World Championships thrice consecutively, added a Beijing Olympic gold in the midst of that, and engraving his name on the All England trophy thrice as well – he went and did it all over, as the only badminton player to claim the British Trinity (2011 WC, 2012 AE & London Olympic Gold), which in the process entitled him to reascend from a probably personally unbothered #7 spot back to world #1.

Lin would have been propelled to legendhood through his recent set of achievements alone.  The overachievements taken altogether have the further effect of emphatically denying his contemporaries a chance at a coveted badminton trinity (or quadruple including world #1) unless one could wait upwards of a decade or at least another four years from here on.

It benefits badminton that he is away from this edition of the All England.  To be thought of fondly and so that people do not get tired of him is to realise it is shrewd to avoid overexposure.  The badminton scene needs time to regerminate and reinvigorate, and he needs to recharge his competitive desire through finding reasons to continue.  There is no question Lin Dan should carry on but after a while is the right move, the sport would be poorer had he retired or had he not paused here.

Singles: True #4s

Talk of a lull after the Olympic season is merely generalisation.  For many players, the career drive does not go on hold simply because of the Olympics, namely those who didn’t qualify for it.

The most improved man on the circuit is not new.  Like China’s Zhou Mi and Korea’s twice-retired, twice-returned Lee Hyun Il before him, Sony Dwi Kuncoro (pictured above) of Indonesia is a rare breed of true top five singles specialist who, having virtually lost his ranking, managed to climb back up within a short space of 14 months.  The Athens Olympic bronze medallist and former World Championship runner-up has cut a swath in the international circuit, which included a victory over Lin Dan, to reclaim the lofty status that was once his.

Kuncoro now sits at world #4, only one spot off from his best world ranking achieved in October 2004.  To have done this against an ever-evolving and youthful cast of pretenders to the top ten rightly justifies his status.  But ranking records are not well kept or easy to find in badminton so a better way to state one’s quality is by winning the All England to mark his prominence indelibly.

China’s Du Pengyu (pictured), as well as continuing to hunt for his maiden major title, leads the charge against preventing world #1 Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia from a third consecutive crown this year and theirs would be a semi-final showdown.  Kuncoro has Malaysians to destroy too, with potentially his own “Chong Wei” (Feng) to fend off come Round 2 and possibly Liew Daren to follow, both of whom are the other in-form players of the moment.

In-form Wong Wing Ki of Hong Kong takes a stab at Lee Chong Wei on the same day as both lacklustre Hidayat and Sasaki cross swords.  Predicting the match of two in form opponents is difficult as it is let alone both being out of form.  The multi-dimensional style of Hidayat affords him a slight edge.

First round men’s singles matches of note:
Kenichi Tago (JPN) [7] vs. Viktor Axelsen (DEN)
Chong Wei Feng (MAS) vs. Jan O Jorgensen (DEN)
Taufik Hidayat (INA) vs. Sho Sasaki (JPN)

In the women’s singles, the tall seeded players are grouped on one side of the draw.  Enjoying a career high of world #4, Juliane Schenk, aged thirty, appears on the other side along with the two Chinese players against whom she has the best head-to-head records: Jiang Yanjiao and Wang Shixian.  Even better for the German, one will cancel the threat of the other early on.  Thus, Schenk can see as far as the semi-final where her first truly stiff test is an opponent who is no less gritty, the second seed Saina Nehwal of India.

A match to put your money where your mouth is is when the two best teenagers shall do battle in the opening round.  The Thai, Intanon, has consistently maintained the higher world ranking but remains unrequited in terms of majors won whereas the Taiwanese girl is a fresh recruit into the top 10 since the very end of last year, yet has earned two Superseries titles to her credit.

Former All England champion, Denmark’s Tine Baun (pictured), in her final tournament before retirement, probably has to address the up-and-coming star Han Li of China in Round 2 in order to meet her arch-rival and third seed Wang Yihan at the quarter-final stage.  It seems fateful and fitting these women who have taken All England’s off each other should meet again and that the Dane should along the way also get to prove to herself once more that she can handle the next generation.

First round women’s singles matches of note:
Li Xuerui (CHN) [1] vs. Bae Youn Joo (KOR)
Wang Shixian (CHN) [6] vs. Carolina Marin (ESP)
Ratchanok Intanon (THA) [8] vs. Tai Tzu Ying (TPE)

Level doubles: Lopsided luck

Britain will make an appearance in the main draw of the level doubles categories but anyone progressing beyond or let alone reaching Round 1 in mixed doubles, their traditional strong suit, is remote.

Former women’s world #1 pair Cheng Shu / Zhao Yunlei (pictured) begin campaigning on qualifying day, bizarre considering the latter is reigning Olympic champion and a few months ago held the world #1 spot.  In another odd twist, Zhao’s erstwhile partner and therefore equal world #1 Tian Qing starts in the main round with Bao Yixin, in fact in the same 1/8 of the draw as Zhao, facing the second seeds Christinna Pedersen / Kamilla Rytter Juhl of Denmark.

Should the Chinese advance, it will be a battle of current Olympic champions in the second round!  If the Danes succeed they would have beaten the Olympic champs together and separately to somewhat soothe the injustice of being the only badminton players ever having gone home empty handed despite disposing of the Olympic champions during the Olympic week.

Some amount of wry amusement will forever link top seeds Wang Xiaoli / Yu Yang of China to seventh seeds Koreans Jung Kyung Eun / Kim Ha Na whenever they meet after their infamous and unfortunate Olympic encounter.  However, on the business end of it all, it is useful for Korea to use Wang/Yu as a yardstick for checking their players’ skill level against the only top Chinese pairing that hasn’t been disbanded.  The second and latest top ten Korean pair Eom Hye Won / Jang Ye Na can be compared at the semi-final stage if the first pair fall prey to the Chinese.  What does it say about the eventuality that there are no pairs at this All England that have yet beaten Wang / Yu?

First round women’s doubles matches of note:
Christinna Pedersen / Kamilla Rytter Juhl (DEN) [2] vs. Bao Yixin / Tian Qing (CHN)
Pia Zebadiah Bernadeth / Rizki Amelia Pradipta  (INA) vs. Goh Liu Ying / Lim Yin Loo (MAS)
Anneka Feinya Agustin / Nitya Krishinda Maheswari (INA) vs. Wang Rong / Zhang Zhibo (MAC)

The world #2 Malaysians and former All England champions Koo Kien Keat / Tan Boon Heong ought to benefit from a good bottom half draw and it not being a pressure year to go all the way unless China’s fifth seeded Hong Wei / Ye Shen trip them up as happened last year.

Multiple dangerous pairs crowd and converge in the top half including fastest improver of the season and defending champion Lee Yong Dae with new partner Ko Sung Hyun.  A date looms with the Indonesians, Mohammad Ahsan / Hendra Setiawan (pictured), who swept them aside in just half an hour in January.  It is more likely that the other finalist will be one of these fresh combinations of familiar faces than the old guard of  Boe/Mogensen and Cai/Fu who will also rendezvous at the quarter-final stage.  And don’t be surprised by Russians making waves early in the week.

First round men’s doubles matches of note:
Mathias Boe / Carsten Mogensen (DEN) [1] vs. Angga Pratama / Ryan Agung Saputra (IND)
Hiroyuki Endo / Kenichi Hayakawa (JPN) [4] vs. Bodin Issara / Pakkawat Vilailak (THA) … probable
Liu Xiaolong / Qiu Zihan (CHN) vs. Vladimir Ivanov / Ivan Sozonov (RUS)

Mixed doubles: Seeds roughly stay the same

There cannot be an all-Chinese mixed doubles final because they are adjacent quarters apart in the draw but the odds are one is bound for the finals.  Although the defending champions Tontowi Ahmad / Liliyana Natsir are seeded second, the currents of confidence flow stronger with the Danish pair Joachim Fischer Nielsen / Christinna Pedersen to go forth and make something of the final.

However, there is sufficient tension in the draw as the Danes tread a manageable yet tricky path through a thicket of the best of the rest who are capable of neutralising their particular brand of aggressive play.  A sustained and undaunted effort from either the unseeded Indonesians Kido/Bernadeth or former world #1 Thais Prapakamol/Thoungthongkam can cause an upset.  Similarly, the Polish former world #1 Robert Mateusiak / Nadiezda Zieba (pictured above), with their more natural and balanced teamwork, are capable of undoing Ahmad/Natsir during their weakened state.  Malaysia’s Chan/Goh seeded third have the poorest chance of advancing far as both Chinese pairs lie in wait.

First round mixed doubles matches of note:
Zhang Nan / Zhao Yunlei (CHN) [5] vs. Mads Pieler Kolding / Kamilla Rytter Juhl (DEN)
Joachim Fischer Nielsen / Christinna Pedersen (DEN) [4] vs. Markis Kido / Pia Zebadiah Bernadeth (IND)
Robert Mateusiak / Nadiezda Zieba (POL) [8] vs. Kenichi Hayakawa / Misaki Matsutomo (JPN)

To leave one’s mark, or to demarcate as the case may be

The philosophy of duality requires change to be accompanied by its opposite in order to survive healthy and remain complete.  In the world of badminton, the All England tournament is the one constant.

The All England stays in the same place, it remains the dream of badminton players after the Olympics just as players dreamed before the sport was featured in the Olympics.

In the case of the greatest player badminton has known, Lin Dan (pictured), the All England title was also once upon a time longed for but presently its use has been inverted.  It is one to skip and for good reason, to demarcate clearly two lifetime’s worth of achievements as he prepares to embark upon achieving a third lifetime’s within this current life.  For the rest, winning one All England would be a dream come true and non-Olympians will be trying their utmost.

Click here for the complete All England draws

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 @