AUSTRALIAN OPEN Preview Part 2 – Finding one’s voice

In spite of the stellar cast for this year’s Australian Open, the missing Europeans in men’s doubles and the unheralded absentees in the other doubles categories do make a difference.  […]

In spite of the stellar cast for this year’s , the missing Europeans in men’s doubles and the unheralded absentees in the other doubles categories do make a difference.  Our specialist, Aaron Wong, explains.

By Aaron Wong.  Photos: Badmintonphoto

Men’s doubles lets down the cast list of an otherwise stellar Australian Open, the second-richest country-specific

Since the Badminton Asia Championships in April, many solid yet unheralded players, former one-hit wonders, and burgeoning youths began coming into their own en masse.  Many have signed up for Sydney but it is a shame the four other disciplines cannot rival the near perfectly rounded men’s singles cast on offer (see Part I of the Preview).

These interesting absentees competed in the Indonesia Superseries Premier and missing out on Sydney a week later seems like a lost opportunity.  Why break the rhythm of progress?

Women’s doubles: Where are the maiden maidens?

Malaysia isn’t sending 2013 Australian Youth Olympic Festival gold medallists Lee Meng Yean / Chow Mei Kuan, who’ve been making a stronger impact on opponents than their veteran team-mates Hoo/Woon currently.  The women’s doubles category isn’t even full, with a bye made available in every quarter.

All England champions Chang Ye Na / Lee So Hee are the happy recipients of one of those byes and could safely navigate into the semi-finals.  The threat to the seeds largely comes from five Japanese pairs showing up in three of the four quarters.  Chang / Lee have, on the other side of their quarter, two unseeded Japanese who may conveniently be extinguished by sixth seeds Huang Dongping / Li Yinhui (pictured).  Either way, the Koreans have found these particular Chinese and Japanese adversaries demanding yet manageable in the past.

The Chinese defending champions Bao Yixin and Chen Qingchen are part of new formations and in the same quarter of the draw as a third Chinese pair so they could cancel one or both of themselves out – it slightly depends also on whether a tradition of team orders still exists.

Prospects are good for world #1 Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi to take their first Superseries of 2017 as well as first Australian Open given that the internal Japanese threat for them are not the compatriots who have beaten them twice since March.

The Australian Superseries women’s doubles competition last year was unremarkable because of several key Chinese withdrawals and Korea not being represented.  The situation is healthy once more with 12 of the top 14 pairs – all the ones that make a difference – vying for honours.  Still, it would have been nice to have the company of last year’s beaten finalist Greysia Polii with her new partner Apriyani Rahayu, a 2014 World silver medallist.  The Indonesians were noteworthy in their Sudirman Cup debut and won the Thailand Gold in the past fortnight on their very first individual tournament attempt.  Alas, staying warm in their form could have continued.

Ripples have been felt through the pool of women’s doubles Superseries winners this year.  Calm is temporarily restored as the missing Indonesians, Malaysians and disbanding of feisty Koreans Yoo Hae Won / Go Ah Ra has reduced the possibility to nil of there being maiden winners.

First round women’s doubles matches of note
Jung Kung Eun / Shin Seung Chan (KOR, pictured) [5] vs. Bao Yixin / Tang Jinhua (CHN)
Huang Dongping / Li Yinhui (CHN) [6] vs. Yuki Fukushima / Sayaka Hirota (JPN)

Men’s doubles: Yawn

This week Mathias Boe reascended to world #1 at age 36.  It’s a pity none of the three Danish pairs in the men’s top 11 signed up for Sydney but did for Jakarta.  Ditto Russians Vladimir Ivanov / Ivan Sozonov, who were in fine form at the Sudirman Cup in Gold Coast a month ago.

Does it make a difference? Yes.  Let’s be honest, the most virtuoso badminton category gets terribly monotonous quickly when there’s a dearth of styles on display and it becomes that without the best Europeans competing too.

Eighth-seeded Taiwanese Chen Hung Ling / Wang Chi-Lin (pictured) could rescue the plot somewhat with their skilful changes of pace.  You’d have to both hope for resolution of the injury that caused them to retire in Jakarta and wait until the quarter-final for an appetising contrast between them and Takeshi Kamura / Keigo Sonoda.  One thing you can bank on is the Japanese won’t be the ones changing the rhythm of the match, they will be hellbent on one of two settings: fast or faster.  They do this more effectively than anybody else at the moment as there is some thoughtfulness about it, but stubbornness is for certain.  This should be a great match because both pairs apply intelligence in producing their best form.  The Japanese may lose some of their edge because of the ‘slower’ stadium conditions.

Without the heightened theatrics of three-time Superseries champions this year Marcus Fernaldi Gideon / Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo or the versatile Malaysians Goh V Shem / Tan Wee Kiong in their half of the draw, this final is waiting for the Taiwan pair as long as they are both ready and able.  Beforehand, they might need to negotiate the next best men’s doubles player who hasn’t titled at a Superseries.

Can a duo of the top 2 mixed doubles men close the deal in level doubles too? It’s a matter of whether it is this time, particularly after Lu Kai was forced to withdraw from two matches in Jakarta this week.  The other smart player worth watching is Zheng Siwei (pictured).  Amid the previous Australian Open, Zheng was touted as a future world #1 which he fulfilled in mixed doubles by December.

Zheng displays deep maturity as a captain and consistently intelligent shot selection in mixed.  However, men’s doubles is where his strokes achieve beautiful flow in addition to the aforementioned qualities and therefore stands out of the crowd of generic hard hitters as well as among his two events.

First round men’s doubles matches of note
Marcus Fernaldi Gideon / Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo (INA) [1] vs. Ong Yew Sin / Teo Ee Yi (MAS)
Huang Kaixiang / Wang Yilyu (CHN) [7] vs. Fajar Alfian / Muhammad Rian Ardianto (INA)
Goh V Shem / Tan Wee Kiong (MAS) [4] vs. Takuto Inoue / Yuki Kaneko (JPN)
Ricky Karanda Suwardi / Angga Pratama (INA) [5] vs. Hiroyuki Endo / Yuta Watanabe (JPN)

Mixed doubles: Butterflies everywhere

Yawns caused by men’s doubles are distracted by the narrowing of the gap and proliferation of compelling pairs in mixed doubles ever since the Sudirman Cup, although Malaysia’s Shevon Jemie Lai / Goh Soon Huat are nowhere to be seen at the festival.  The unknown impact they could have had may well be replaced by countrymen Cheah Yee See / Chan Peng Soon or recent world #1 Kim Ha Na and new buddy Kim Duk Young (pictured).

Old and new favourites have a chance at the title as they are separated by an equator.  The two who can hold their standard across a week but lacking a Superseries not for long are the Thai duo Sapsiree Taerattanachai / Dechapol Puavaranukroh (pictured top) and Li Yinhui, newly installed at world #3 with veteran Zhang Nan.

Ranging across Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and India, there are no fewer than the same number of pairs emerging as butterflies.  This wonderful explosion of creative talent will catch the eye even of non-fans of this badminton category and makes it the most interesting one for a second year running.

First round mixed doubles matches of note
Liliyana Natsir / Tontowi Ahmad (INA) [6] vs. Lai Pei Jing / Tan Kian Meng (MAS)
Christinna Pedersen / Joachim Fischer Nielsen (DEN) [4] vs. Huang Dongping / Wang Yilyu (CHN)
Debby Susanto / Praveen Jordan (INA) [7] vs. Arisa Higashino / Yuta Watanabe (JPN)
Sapsiree Taerattanachai / Dechapol Puavaranukroh (THA) [8] vs. Lee Chia Hsin / Wang Chi-Lin (TPE)
Huang Yaqiong / Lu Kai (CHN) [2] vs. Tse Ying Suet / Tang Chun Man (HKG)

Women’s singles:  Perfect…9?

Whether seeded previously or unseeded at present, the defending champion Saina Nehwal (pictured) is no stranger to first rounds of a strong flavour.  The good news is the ladies in her path are ones she has overcome before.  It starts with world #5 Sung Ji Hyun and for the third time at the Australian, China’s Sun Yu is again in the Indian’s line of sight.

Everybody deservedly chiming in with superlatives about Tai Tzu Ying’s six tournament streak has let Akane Yamaguchi’s astounding constant evolution fly under the radar.  Having an easy run to the quarter-finals means the short-statured third seed has energy in reserve to – not so much to chase down the shuttle but doing one better – dazzle us with her proactive hunting of shuttles and surprisingly effective jump smashes without expiring before the final.

Few if any expect them to win but seeing what kind of havoc Lee Jang Mi, Minatsu Mitani, and Nitchaon Jindapol can wreak on the hopes of seeded players is half the fun of the unfolding women’s singles draw.  It is especially fun now that another from the low-expectation group – Sayaka Sato (pictured) – has won and Jindapol is similarly fulfilling her potential after an extended plateau.

If all 18 of the top 20 women registered come to town then the conspicuous absence of Zhang Beiwen would ruin what could have been a perfect 10 out of the top 10 score.  Again, the shame is that Zhang is on a roll and stopped it.

No one in the room can hear your voice soar if you’re not around to sing.

First round women’s singles matches of note
Pusarla Venkata Sindhu (IND) [5] vs. Sayaka Sato (JPN)
Sung Ji Hyun (KOR) [4] vs. Saina Nehwal (IND)
Carolina Marin (ESP) [2] vs. Nozomi Okuhara (JPN)
Busanan Ongbamrungphan (THA) vs. Michelle Li (CAN)

Other early possible matches of note:
R16: Tai Tzu Ying (TPE) [1] vs. Ratchanok Intanon (THA)
QF: Akane Yamaguchi (JPN) [3] vs. Chen Yufei (CHN) [8]

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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 @ badzine.net