Former world #1s aim to return to court in time for Tokyo

Former singles world #1s Carolina Marin and Son Wan Ho have both been in the news and on social media this week, talking about their prospects for returning to the […]

Former singles world #1s Carolina Marin and Son Wan Ho have both been in the news and on social media this week, talking about their prospects for returning to the badminton court in 2019.

Photos: Badmintonphoto

As the badminton world reels from the retirement announcement of long-time world #1 Lee Chong Wei, two other former world #1 singles shuttlers have been in the news this past week with updates on their recovery from surgery following serious injuries earlier this year.

Three-time World Champion Carolina Marin tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) during the final of the Indonesia Masters in January and two months later, Hong Kong Open winner Son Wan Ho ruptured his Achilles tendon during a domestic tournament match.  Both players underwent surgery within days of sustaining their injuries and both are ongoing beneficiaries of the BWF’s new ‘protected ’ system.

For Carolina Marin, things seem to be going her way as she often posts positive messages on her social media, showing clear progress after her ACL surgery, including a video of her hitting shuttles in the gym, from a sitting position, shot just over a week after she left the operating theatre.  The Spaniard shows her usual strong mind, spending up to 10 hours daily on her rehab work, helped by her close team.

Marin may be back as early as the 2019 , even if she doesn’t yet want to think too far ahead: “Everything is going well and I’m happy with the way things are going, but I still need more time and I don’t know whether I will be competing in the ,” she told Badzine.

The Spanish Badminton Federation, however, has kept her spot by accepting the BWF’s invitation for the annual event in Basel in August.

Son Wan Ho is not nearly as far along in his recovery, of course, having just had surgery less than two months ago.  This week, Korean online magazine Badminton Times ran a story after interviewing Son while he was undergoing therapy at the PTEdu facility in Seoul.  According to the article, Son had his leg in a cast for an unusually long 8 weeks but he has been working on getting back to full strength, both his injured leg and his body generally, although he still feels awkward walking.

Like Marin, Son apparently showed up at Korea’s national training centre in Jincheon, with his leg in a cast, and made sure he got some drilling in with a racquet in his hand.  Still, the Korean is aiming to get back to competition by November at the earliest.

Lessening the burden of trying to both come back from and qualify for the Tokyo , both Marin and Son have what is called a ‘protected ranking‘.  Unlike current world #1 Kento Momota, who was out for over a year and had to start from scratch in the summer of 2017 with 0 ranking points, the protected ranking will save these recovering players’ places in the queue, so to speak, so that they will still be allowed – and indeed, required – to participate in the top BWF World Tour events upon their return to competition.

The Olympic qualifying period began just over a month ago and spans 12 months, until the end of April 2020.  For Carolina Marin, her challenge to qualify is likely to involve merely being the top Spaniard in the world rankings, where her next highest-ranked compatriot is at #46.  However, Beatriz Corrales has been as high as #20, back when Marin was #2 in the world, so Marin will have to show some of her usual quality if she wants to be Spain’s woman in Tokyo next summer.

Son Wan Ho might have it tougher.  There has always been another Korean in the men’s singles top 16 at the time of the Olympic qualification deadline and Son’s team-mate Lee Dong Keun, who was the last player to sneak into the top 16 in time to qualify for Rio 3 years ago, is currently sitting at #22 in the world.  Lee has only won one match so far in 2019 but if he regains his form and moves into the top 16, Son Wan Ho will have to join him there if he wants to make it to Tokyo and he may only have about 5 months in which to do it and he will not have the benefit of weighty tournaments like the World Championships or the World Tour Finals, nor will he get a boost from a team competition like most of the other shuttlers in his echelon.  One country – or member assocation – is allowed to send two players to the Olympics in one singles category only if both are ranked in the top 16 in the world.

Son already has the experience of sneaking into the top 16 at the last minute, as it was his first Superseries title, at the 2012 India Open, which gave him an 11th-hour boost that allowed him to accompany Lee Hyun Il to the London Olympics.  That year, he was filling the void left by Park Sung Hwan, who was permanently sidelined by injury shortly after he beat Son at the 2011 World Championships.

Son Wan Ho and Carolina Marin are five years apart in age but they are similar in that, unlike some of their contemporaries, they did not start making a real impact on the world stage until they were out of their teen years.  Marin will only be 27 by the time of the Tokyo Olympics and depending on her success in bouncing back from this injury, may well prove to exhibit some of the longevity we have seen in many of Europe’s top women’s singles players.

Son Wan Ho, meanwhile, has been the oldest player on the Korean national team ever since Yoo Yeon Seong left in May 2017; however, he is not the oldest Korean in international men’s singles badminton.  In fact, Son told Badminton Times that he can see himself continuing to play after Tokyo if he can somehow emulate the discipline shown by 39-year-old Lee Hyun Il.  Lee, who won the Macau Open last autumn and has played 5 tournaments so far in 2019, was Son’s opponent when injury struck him down in March.

For now, these two athletes will continue with their rehabilitation.  One has an Olympic title to defend, the other is facing what is likely his last chance at a medal.  Both have a very challenging year ahead of them, both off the court, and hopefully back on.



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 @