Dubai – The return

The qualifying list for this year’s Superseries Finals in Dubai is marked by six players and pairs who have not been seen in international badminton competition in at least a […]

The qualifying list for this year’s Finals in Dubai is marked by six players and pairs who have not been seen in international badminton competition in at least a month.  Will they all come back for the all-time finale?

By Don Hearn.  Photos: Badmintonphoto

The Superseries is coming to the end of its 11-year run before an expected last-minute rebranding.  But the idea of a Superseries last hurrah may be even more true for four pairs set to be invited to the 2017 season finale.

All will depend on the decisions of the Korean and Chinese teams and their willingness to incur fines but the top two mixed doubles pairs in the final standings – both from China – have not played together since the French Open and half of each pair have already been fed into a brand new but instantly dominant pair in the guise of Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong.

In women’s doubles, it has been more than 2 months since Chang Ye Na / Lee So Hee (pictured above) and Jung Kyung Eun / Shin Seung Chan – #6 and #8 in the final standings respectively- have been seen on the same side of the net.  Similarly to Zheng and Huang, Lee So Hee and Shin Seung Chan combined to reach two in a row, though the came away with just one title.

These new pairs, regardless of the immediate success in the new partnerships, cannot possibly get an invitation to Dubai.  Korea and China still have the option of reuniting their former top pairs to compete in Dubai.  This is what Korea did in 2013, when Ko Sung Hyun got back together for the Superseries Finals with Lee Yong Dae after 3 months apart.

In contrast, last year, when Zhang Nan and Fu Haifeng were given a wild card as Olympic gold medallists, they turned it down and China sent Li Junhui / Liu Yuchen in their place.  No public mention was made of disciplinary action against Fu or Zhang but BWF rules state that players invited to the Superseries Finals face fines if the fail to attend.

The case of the wayward wildcards

2017 marks the third time that the BWF has granted a free pass to Dubai for the winners of its big August titles.  The rule apparently went into effect to prevent a situation such as in 2014, when Carolina Marin won the World Championship but then played only 2 of the last 6 tournaments and was not even close to qualifying for the finale.

In the two years since, the wild card has only granted Dubai tickets on three occasions to players who wouldn’t have qualified on merit and in hindsight, the system has failed to increase the interest or competitiveness of the season-ending tournment.  The BWF’s earlier decision to fine players who qualified but refused to attend – beginning in 2010 – had a pronounced effect on both the strength and prestige of the Superseries Finals but the effect of the wild card has fallen flat by comparison.

In 2015, the wild card allowed World Champions Tian Qing / Zhao Yunlei to qualify instead of Korea’s Go Ah Ra / Yoo Hae Won and Zhao withdrew from the tournament before her last group stage matches.

Last year, the Olympic gold medallists who had to be moved to the front of the line were Chen Long (pictured above) and Fu Haifeng / Zhang Nan.  Both were ranked a lowly 15th in the Superseries standings at the end of the season and would not have been close to being invited if not for the wild card.  However, both simply refused make the trip and the qualifying contingent ended up reverting to the pre-2015 pattern, with Hu Yun and Li Junhui / Liu Yuchen enjoying the fruits of the labour they put into getting into the Superseries top 8.

Two more question marks

While all four Korean women’s doubles players have competed in all four Superseries events since Japan, Nozomi Okuhara has been far more scarce in the same period.  Okuhara is this year’s sole beneficiary of the wild card rule and will thus be invited ahead of #8 Chen Yufei of China, despite finishing 9th herself.  Okuhara did appear on court at the China Open but retired after playing one rally and now her presence in Dubai is in doubt.

India’s Srikanth Kidambi (pictured), the only man with more than 3 major men’s singles titles this year – all 4 of his Superseries – has also been out of international competition for the past month.  He still only narrowly missed finishing at the top of the Superseries table but only if his problems have been fully dealt with will he be in the field in Dubai in December.

With Okuhara, Japan matches its biggest-ever contingent for the season-ender with 7 players and pairs.  If she is unable to attend, China could go up to the full 10 qualifiers, which they too have achieved more than once in the past.

Who’s in?

Only one change in the qualifiers in each of two disciplines were wrought by the Hong Kong Open results.  In women’s doubles, Greysia Polii / Apriyani Rahayu of Indonesia were oh-so-close to sneaking in under the wire.  Just a few more points in the Hong Kong Open final would have done it but instead of it being a Dubai debut for Rahayu and a return for Polii, it will be a first time for both Hsu Ya Ching and Wu Ti Jung (pictured below) of Chinese Taipei.  One of only 3 top 10 pairs to have played all 12 Superseries events, Hsu/Wu will be hoping to make a better showing in Dubai as they haven’t won a Superseries match since Australia.

The only switch in the top 8 was actually in the top 3, where Yuki Fukushima / Sayaka Hirota (pictured above) replaced their compatriots Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi as the 2nd and final Japanese pair.  Although 4 pairs from Japan made the actual top 8, BWF rules limit each member association to a maximum of two entries in Dubai.

In fact, the ascension of Fukushima/Hirota makes this the discipline with by far the most first-time qualifiers.  None of the four Japanese players who are expecting invitations have been before, nor have either of the Taiwan players.  The seventh rookie is China’s Yu Xiaohan, who will be playing her first Superseries Finals with Huang Yaqiong, who attended once, in 2016, but only as a mixed player.

1  Shiho Tanaka / Koharu Yonemoto (JPN) – 71680
2  Yuki Fukushima / Sayaka Hirota (JPN) – 67190
3  Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi (JPN) – 64930
4  Chen Qingchen / Jia Yifan (CHN) – 64330
5  Christinna Pedersen / Kamilla Rytter Juhl (DEN) – 56740
6  Chang Ye Na / Lee So Hee (KOR) – 54570
7  Naoko Fukuman / Kurumi Yonao (JPN) – 47910
8  Jung Kyung Eun / Shin Seung Chan (KOR) – 37220
9  Huang Yaqiong / Yu Xiaohan (CHN) – 37010
10  Hsu Ya Ching / Wu Ti Jung (TPE) – 36300
11  Greysia Polii / Apriyani Rahayu (INA) – 35280
12  Ashwini Ponnappa / Sikki Reddy (IND) – 32760

Chen Long’s victory over Anders Antonsen in the Hong Kong semi-final was the decisive stroke in altering the men’s singles list of invites.  The early loss by Wong Wing Ki allowed Chen to take the Hong Kong player’s place in the top 8 but beating Antonsen blocked the last attempt to usurp his new position.

With neither Wong nor Antonsen making the grade, it means that the only Superseries Finals rookie to be invited this year will be China’s Shi Yuqi (pictured right, with H. S. Prannoy).  Last year, Shi won the French Open but only played the last half of the circuit and ended up way down in the #22 position.

1  Son Wan Ho (KOR) – 62980
2  K. Srikanth (IND) – 59500
3  Shi Yuqi (CHN) – 54380
4  Lee Chong Wei (MAS) – 54260
5  Chou Tien Chen (TPE) – 54110
6  Ng Ka Long (HKG) – 51400
7  Chen Long (CHN) – 49280
8  Viktor Axelsen (DEN) – 49050
9  Wong Wing Ki (HKG) – 45880
10  Anders Antonsen (DEN) – 45580
11  H. S. Prannoy (IND) – 44110

Men’s doubles will have 4 first-time participants in Dubai as none of the members of the #7 or #8 pairs have qualified before.  Along with women’s doubles, this is the most concentrated, with China, Japan, and Denmark qualifying two pairs each.

As in women’s singles and doubles, all but one qualifier has a Superseries title so far in 2017.  This despite men’s doubles being the only discipline where one pair, Marcus Fernaldi Gideon / Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo (pictured right), raked in half the titles.  Only Mads Conrad Petersen / Mads Pieler Kolding and Takuro Hoki / Yugo Kobayashi are winless this year and, incidentally, in their Superseries careers.

1  Marcus Fernaldi Gideon / Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo (INA) – 86830
2  Mathias Boe / Carsten Mogensen (DEN) – 68880
3  Li Junhui / Liu Yuchen (CHN) – 66610
4  Liu Cheng / Zhang Nan (CHN) – 64070
5  Takeshi Kamura / Keigo Sonoda (JPN) – 63630
6  Mads Conrad Petersen / Mads Pieler Kolding (DEN) – 53510
7  Lee Jhe-Huei / Lee Yang (TPE) – 52310
8  Takuro Hoki / Yugo Kobayashi (JPN) – 46150
9 Hendra Setiawan (INA) / Tan Boon Heong (MAS) – 44640
10  Vladimir Ivanov / Ivan Sozonov (RUS) – 43840
11  Lu Ching Yao / Yang Po Han (TPE) – 41380

Mixed doubles features three first-timers, including Tang Chun Man (pictured right, with Tse Ying Suet) – who also won the first Superseries title of his career recently – and Tan Kian Meng / Lai Pei Jing.  There could be the potential for more if China decides not to reunite its two pairs at the top of the table.  Dropping one of them would allow China to send instead Japan Open winners Wang Yilyu / Huang Dongping.   Wang and Huang has stayed together for the entire Superseries.

1  Zheng Siwei / Chen Qingchen (CHN) – 58820
2  Lu Kai / Huang Yaqiong (CHN) – 57470
3  Wang Yilu / Huang Dongping (CHN) – 52230
4  Tontowi Ahmad / Liliyana Natsir (INA) – 52140
5  Tang Chun Man / Tse Ying Suet (HKG) – 47620
6  Praveen Jordan / Debby Susanto (INA) – 46580
7  Chris Adcock / Gabrielle Adcock (ENG) – 44550
8  Tan Kian Meng / Lai Pei Jing (MAS) – 41450
9  Kenta Kazuno / Ayane Kurihara (JPN) – 35620
10  Wang Chi-Lin / Lee Chia Hsin (TPE) – 32360
11  Lee Chun Hei / Chau Hoi Wah (HKG) – 30990

Women’s singles is the only discipline without a rookie slated to go to Dubai next month.  Chen Yufei put in a valiant effort but ultimately came up short.  She did, however, break into the top 8 but that was not enough because this is also the only division where a World Champion’s wild card will pre-empt a player who would have qualified on points.  Chen could make a debut appearance if the injury concerns persist for Nozomi Okuhara (pictured right), however.

Unlike in the men’s doubles, the two Dubai qualifiers who have not titled in the 2017 Superseries have won tournaments previously.  Like the men’s singles, women’s singles will have qualifiers from 7 different nations, with only Japan placing two players among the 8 invitees.

1  Akane Yamaguchi (JPN) – 83710
2  Tai Tzu Ying (TPE) – 79420
3  Sung Ji Hyun (KOR) – 68900
4  P. V. Sindhu (IND) – 68040
5  Ratchanok Intanon (THA) – 67720
6  Carolina Marin (ESP) – 62640
7  He Bingjiao (CHN) – 52890
8  Chen Yufei (CHN) – 48530
9  Nozomi Okuhara (JPN) – 48020
10  Sayaka Sato (JPN) – 47530
11  Saina Nehwal (IND) – 44280
12  Zhang Beiwen (USA) – 39780

Click here for complete Superseries standings as published by the BWF

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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 @ badzine.net