PREVIEW – All England all for Asia?

Birmingham once again gets set to host the All England as the home team thirsts for an end to its title drought. By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent.  Photos: Badmintonphoto Europe […]

Birmingham once again gets set to host the as the home team thirsts for an end to its title drought.

By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent.  Photos: Badmintonphoto

Europe has now completed its Men’s and Women’s Team Championships and now it is back to opening its doors to Asia with a run of three major events, comprised of Grand Prix Golds in Germany and Switzerland on either end of badminton’s only centennarian event, the Yonex All England.

Asian shuttlers have a history of pillaging the gold from Europe’s top spring tournaments, as they have dominated the sport globally.  In 2008, Korea swept the titles at the German Open and the following year, even the All England became one of only 3 events to witness a title sweep by Team China.

It has been nine years since an All England title was won by an English pair.  In 2005, Nathan Robertson and Gail Emms slipped the prestigious title into the year intervening between their Olympic silver and World Championship gold.

This is also the first time in five years that England has fielded two seeded pairs for the All England.  Chris Adcock is part of both of these, and after having scored one win over the defending All England champions in each of his disciplines in the past four months – not to mention taking England’s second ever Superseries title in November – local players and fans can dare to dream.

Of course, the odds are for all five titles to go back to Asia and Danish shuttlers are still the favourites to prevent one from leaving the continent.  After all, it has been Denmark denying an Asian sweep 7 times since the turn of the millennium.  This year, though, will be the first in a long time without 3-time champion Tine Baun and that puts even more focus on Europe’s chances in mixed and men’s doubles.

Adcocks in the hot seat early

In both of his disciplines, Chris Adcock will have to prove his mettle against the top seeds in the quarter-finals if he wants to continue.  In the mixed doubles, that means that he and Gabrielle Adcock will be going up against 2010 champions Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei (pictured).

Of course, Chris has dealt with such pressure in Birmingham before, having beaten the world #1’s in the first round in 2012 with former partner Imogen Bankier.  He and his new partner – and even newer wife – Gabrielle also got a boost of confidence from beating the Chinese aces at the Hong Kong Open but they were put back in their place in January’s Malaysia Open Superseries Premier.

The other two top pairs from the UK also have tricky first round matches and all three are packed into the same half along with the other top Chinese pair, 2011 champions Xu/Ma.  Meanwhile Europe’s highest ranked pair, Joachim Fischer Nielsen and Christinna Pedersen of Denmark, are in the bottom half along with two-time defending champions Ahmad/Natsir, as well as Hong Kong Open runners-up Liu Cheng and Bao Yixin.

Although a second-round matchup between Liu/Bao and the defending champions is likely, the Indonesians will begin their campaign by getting their first look at Malaysia’s Chan Peng Soon and his new partner Lai Pei Jing.  Meanwhile, Liu and Bao will likely meet their compatriots Chai Biao and Tang Jinhua if the latter emerge, as expected, from the qualifying rounds.

First round mixed doubles matches of note:
Chris Adcock / Gabrielle Adcock (ENG) [5] vs. Irfan Fadhilah / Weni Anggraini (INA)
Kenichi Hayakawa / Misaki Matsutomo (JPN) vs. Chris Langridge / Heather Olver (ENG)
Robert Blair / Imogen Bankier (SCO) (pictured above) vs. Shin Baek Cheol / Eom Hye Won (KOR)

In men’s doubles, things are no easier for Adcock.  Even before he and Andrew Ellis can take on the world #1 Ahsan/Setiawan, they will have to get past a second round encounter with two-time champion Cai Yun and a new partner Lu Kai.

The All England is one of the few major titles that Hendra Setiawan has yet to win.  He and Mohammad Ahsan (pictured) have to start against Russia’s Ivanov/Sozonov, who pushed the world #1’s right to the wire at the Hong Kong Open late last year.

The other semi-finalist from the top half of the draw is likely to be the winner of the first round encounter between the first two winners in the 2014 Superseries, Boe/Mogensen and Goh/Lim.  The bottom half features China’s top three pairs but it may still culminate in a semi-final between last year’s finalists Liu/Qiu and Endo/Hayakawa.

One big void, of course, will be the absence of past champions.  Two-time champion Cai Yun will at least be in attendance in a new partnership, even if his former partner Fu Haifeng never made it off the reserve list.  However, when the BWF suspended two-time champion Lee Yong Dae, along with Kim Ki Jung, the event lost a fourth past champion, as the 2007 championship pair Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong had already been disbanded and were not even entered.

Although the news of the Korean suspensions came several hours before the All England registration deadline, the Korean coaches, who were about to run their national team selection process, elected not to put Yoo Yeon Seong and Kim Sa Rang in the event as a scratch pair or with new partners.  Hence, Ko Sung Hyun and Shin Baek Cheol (pictured) are going it alone in Europe this spring, still looking for their first international title together.

First round men’s doubles matches of note:
Mohammad Ahsan / Hendra Setiawan (INA) [1] vs. Vladimir Ivanov / Ivan Sozonov (RUS)
Hiroyuki Endo / Kenichi Hayakawa (JPN) [2] vs. Kang Jun / Liu Cheng (CHN)
Mathias Boe / Carsten Mogensen (DEN) [3] vs. Goh V Shem / Lim Khim Wah (MAS)

For the past three and a half years, women’s doubles forecasts have mostly been a toss-up between world #1 Wang Xiaoli / Yu Yang and whichever of their compatriots can find a way to best them.  The story is much the same at the 2014 All England, with all three top Chinese pairs in the top half, but the big story surrounds the second seeds.

Wang and Yu, after all, have not been seen on court since the group stage at the Superseries Finals, when they suffered their first-ever loss to the eventual winners Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl (pictured).  The Danes, meanwhile, look to have an excellent chance at becoming the first European pair to win the All England women’s doubles title in 33 years.

Not surprisingly, Pedersen and Rytter Juhl’s road to the final will likely take them through a gauntlet formed by the second tiers of China and Korea, the two nations that have completely dominated this discipline for over three decades.  Korea has fielded two pairs in this half with players just returning from injury layoffs and both will likely have to do battle with China’s Luo twins.

China’s other entry in the bottom quarter will be Ma Jin / Tang Yuanting, but only if this new pair can make it past former World Championship semi-finalists Jwala Gutta / Ashwini Ponnappa.  Even then, their first round opponents would be another in-form pair, Indonesia’s Nitya Krishinda Maheswari and Greysia Polii (pictured).

First round women’s doubles matches of note:
Jung Kyung Eun / Kim Ha Na (KOR) [6] vs. Luo Ying / Luo Yu (CHN)
Lee So Hee / Shin Seung Chan (KOR) vs. Line Damkjaer Kruse / Marie Roepke (DEN)
Nitya Krishinda Maheswari / Greysia Polii (INA) vs. Ma Jin / Tang Yuanting (CHN) (possible)

Women’s singles is becoming one of the hardest categories to predict and that is, of course, what makes it one of the most exciting.  With three-time champion Tine Baun having retired, though, that hardly implies that 2013 runner-up Ratchanok Intanon (pictured) of Thailand automatically becomes the favourite.

For one thing, we can hardly expect the Chinese contingent to just implode as it did last year, when only one shuttler survived past the second round.  In fact, Ratchanok was spared any Chinese opposition on her way to both of her Superseries finals last year, as well as at the World Championships.  This year, Li Xuerui stands in her way, as does Han Li, unless fellow Thai Nitchaon Jindapon can rise to the occasion.

A question mark still hangs over Germany’s Juliane Schenk, the only European left in the women’s singles top ten.  Her determination to save money by getting out of the world’s top ten should have succeeded with her missing the German and Swiss Opens so theoretically, she could still play well in Birmingham and still slip down to a less costly 11th.  However, more than likely the top European threat is going to be from Carolina Marin.

Marin is caught up in one corner of the draw populated with both height and talent.  Her first round matchup is against 2009 winner Wang Yihan (pictured), with the victor advancing to take on the winner between P. V. Sindhu and Sun Yu.

Marin has yet to score a victory over any Team China shuttlers.  Wang Yihan, meanwhile, has not faced Sindhu since her disappointing loss to the Indian at the World Championships last August, although she has bounced back to take three Superseries titles in that time.

First round women’s singles matches of note:
Wang Yihan (CHN) [2] vs. Carolina Marin (ESP)
P. V. Sindhu (IND) vs. Sun Yu (CHN)
Han Li (CHN) vs. Nitchaon Jindapon(THA)

Men’s singles is not so much about the suspense surrounding who is going to make it to the finals as it is about the matches themselves.  Until recently, everyone fully expected, and still hoped for, a final between Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan.  Now, that expectation has shifted to a Lee vs. Chen Long final, a rivalry that has now seen 6 instalments in just over 2 years.

Of course, despite how it sometimes seems when they are on court, neither Lee Chong Wei nor Chen Long (pictured) are invincible and players like Kenichi Tago and Tommy Sugiarto stand ready to seize opportunities when they present themselves.

The men’s singles draw for this year’s All England is particularly ominous for Europe’s best hopes.  Hans-Kristian Vittinghus, Viktor Axelsen (pictured below), and the in-form man last week in Basel, Rajiv Ouseph, all have tough Chinese opponents in the very first round.  Germany’s Marc Zwiebler faces Lee Chong Wei in the second if he can win his opener against Chong Wei Feng.  The only top ten player from Europe, Jan Jorgensen, has it only slightly easier, as he is up against Korea’s Son Wan Ho in the opening round.

First round men’s singles matches of note:
Chen Long (CHN) [2] vs. Viktor Axelsen (DEN)
Du Pengyu (CHN) [7] vs. Rajiv Ouseph (ENG)
Hans-Kristian Vittinghus (DEN) vs. Tian Houwei (CHN)
Vladimir Ivanov (RUS) vs. Gao Huan (CHN) (qualifying)

Badzine will be on site all week at the 2014 Yonex All England Superseries Premier and we will have daily live coverage, complete with quality live photos from Badmintonphoto.

Click here to download the complete draws from the official website

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.

Don Hearn

About Don Hearn

Don Hearn is an Editor and Correspondent who hails from a badminton-loving town in rural Canada. He joined the Badzine team in 2006 to provide coverage of the Korean badminton scene and is committed to helping Badzine to promote badminton to the place it deserves as a global sport. Contact him at: don @