Chinese athletes win big at year-end badminton gala

Qu Zimo became the first Chinese shuttler to be named Para-Badminton Player of the Year, while Huang Yaqiong took Female Player of the Year honours for the second year running, […]

Qu Zimo became the first Chinese shuttler to be named Player of the Year, while Huang Yaqiong took Female Player of the Year honours for the second year running, as the BWF feted the best in the game on the eve of the in Guangzhou.

By Don Hearn.  Photos: Luis Veniegra / Badmintonphoto (live)

China claimed two Player of the Year honours on Monday night, at the BWF’s annual Players’ Gala.  The event, held in the days preceding the World Tour Finals in Guangzhou, was the occasion to hand out awards to the male and female Players of the Year for both para and non-para badminton.

Para-badminton ace Qu Zimo (pictured top) finished the year with 12 titles in just 5 tournaments.  Qu is the first non-Korean wheelchair player to be named Player of the Year and is the first Chinese athlete of either gender to pick up a Para-Badminton Player of the Year .  Half of Qu’s titles came from just two tournaments, as he won the triple crown at both the China and Turkey Para-Badminton Internationals.  His toughest competition for the came from standing athlete Pramod Bhagat of India, who also won 12 titles on the year but collected them from 11 tournaments.

The repeat winners

Qu Zimo was not the only 12-title winner to walk away with an award on Monday in Guangzhou.  2018 awardee Leani Ratri Oktila (pictured above) was tipped for the honour for the second straight year.  Oktila, too, picked up her 12 titles in just 5 appearances this year and her haul included triple crowns in both Ireland and Canada.

China’s other accolade came from the other repeat winner at the Players’ Gala.  Mixed doubles world #1 Huang Yaqiong (pictured left) was slightly off her 2018 pace but she still outshone her competition and earned a second consecutive Female Player of the Year award.  Huang not only repeated as mixed doubles World Champion but she and Zheng Siwei also picked up the hat-trick of Super 1000 tournament wins in 2019 – the All England, Indonesia, and China Opens – in addition to two other major titles.

The only other woman to repeat as BWF Player of the Year was Wang Yihan, but she didn’t do it in consecutive years.  Wang Yihan won in 2009, and again in 2012, with two other Wangs from her home country taking the award in the interim.

Breaking the singles drought

Unlike Huang Yaqiong, her partner Zheng Siwei faced much stiffer competition for Player of the Year honours.  Zheng’s 9 titles last year was tied for the best in the business, alongside the eventual winners of the award but this year, 6 titles just couldn’t measure up.  Gideon/Sukamuljo won 8 this year, although they missed out on both the Worlds and the All England, but even they were not the top title takers.

Instead in 2019, it was Kento Momota (pictured right) who stood head and shoulders above the rest.  He won no fewer than 10 titles in 2019, including the All England, the World Championships, and the China Open.  The Super 1000 hat-trick may have eluded him, but he made up for it by winning 3 Super 750s, 2 Super 500s, and the Asian title.  Momota was thus the easy choice and he became the first singles specialist of either gender to earn Player of the Year honours since Lee Chong Wei did so in 2016.

Koreans show promise and improvement

China won two of the four Player of the Year awards but there were two other awards given out on Monday and both went to young Korean ladies.  There was really no question who would be named Eddie Choong Most Promising Player of the Year.  An Se Young (pictured left), at age 17, was the youngest of the four nominees and none of the other 3 even came close to accomplishing what she has in 2019.

Starting the year ranked a lowly #99 in the world, An Se Young caused a sensation when she won the New Zealand Open in early May, beating former Olympic champion Li Xuerui in the final.  She made an even bigger splash later that month when she took down world #1 Tai Tzu Ying at the Sudirman Cup.

An’s first two outings at the Super 500 level were less than remarkable but after two Super 100 titles, she made her presence felt again in October when she beat World Champion P. V. Sindhu in Denmark and then a week later topped the podium at the French Open Super 750.

The award for Most Improved Player of the Year went to An’s compatriots Kim So Yeong and Kong Hee Yong (pictured right).  This award had a much closer race.  3 of the 4 nominees reached the top 10 for the first time in their careers in 2019 and 3 others won the biggest titles of their careers.

Kim So Yeong had won 3 Grand Prix Gold titles prior to this year but had never been in a final of a Superseries or Super 500 event.  Kong had been in a Superseries final but had never won a title at any level prior to 2019.  This year, they won the Japan and Korea Opens, as well as two Super 300 titles.  Among other match-ups, Kim and Kong beat 2017 World Champions Chen/Jia 3 times this year and current World Champions Matsumoto/Nagahara 4 times.

 

Past BWF award winners

  Male Player of the Year Female Player of The Year
2019 Kento Momota Huang Yaqiong
2018 Marcus Fernaldi Gideon / Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo Huang Yaqiong
2017 Marcus Fernaldi Gideon / Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo Chen Qingchen
2016 Lee Chong Wei Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi
2015 Chen Long Carolina Marin
2014 Chen Long Zhao Yunlei
2013 Lee Chong Wei Li Xuerui
2012 Cai Yun / Fu Haifeng Wang Yihan
2011 Lee Chong Wei Wang Xiaoli / Yu Yang
2010 Lee Chong Wei Wang Xin
2009 Lee Chong Wei Wang Yihan
2008 Lin Dan Zhou Mi
Eddie Choong Player of the Year
2007 Lin Dan
2006 Lin Dan
2005 Taufik Hidayat
2004 Taufik Hidayat
2003 Kim Dong Moon / Ra Kyung Min
2002 Kim Dong Moon
2001 Gao Ling
2000 Candra Wijaya
1999 Camilla Martin
1998 Peter Gade

BWF Para-Badminton award winners

  Male Player of the Year Female Player of the Year
2019 Qu Zimo Leani Ratri Oktila
2018 Jack Shephard Leani Ratri Oktila
2017 Kim Jung Jun Amnouy Wetwithan
2016 Lucas Mazur Karin Suter-Erath
2015 Lee Sam Seop Helle Sofie Sagoy

Additional awards

  Eddie Choong Most Promising Player of the Year Most Improved Player
2019 An Se Young Kim So Yeong / Kong Hee Yong
2018 Han Chengkai / Zhou Haodong Mayu Matsumoto / Wakana Nagahara
2017 Chen Yufei Yuki Fukushima / Sayaka Hirota
2016 Chen Qingchen Pusarla Venkata Sindhu
2015 Zheng Siwei  
2014 Akane Yamaguchi  
2013 Akane Yamaguchi  
2012 Kento Momota  
2011 Zulfadli Zulkiffli  
2010 Viktor Axelsen  
2009 Ratchanok Intanon  
2008 Saina Nehwal  

The Players’ Gala was also an opportunity for the World Tour Finals participants to get dressed up and have a little fun before their last on-court appearances of the season.  Prizes for Best-Dressed were given to the singles players who just happened to be standing centre-stage among their colleagues: Ratchanok Intanon (pictured below) of Thailand and Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen.

On-court action in Guangzhou begins on Wednesday morning at 11AM local time.  Momota and Huang, the first awardees to see action, won’t be seen until Wednesday evening but Viktor Axelsen (pictured bottom, with the other 7 men’s singles participants) will away from his fancy duds and into more familiar attire when he appears near the end of the early session on Day 1.


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