OLYMPIC MD Preview – Indonesians vie for a 4th gold

Indonesia sends two solid top seeds into the men’s doubles competition in Tokyo, but they will be challenged by more than a dozen dangerous pairs all with their own chances […]

Indonesia sends two solid top seeds into the men’s doubles competition in Tokyo, but they will be challenged by more than a dozen dangerous pairs all with their own chances at either a medal or at a chance to perpetrate a decisive upset.

By Don Hearn.  Photos: Badmintonphoto

The Tokyo men’s doubles field is as wide open as it gets.  On paper, world #1 Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo (pictured top) are the overwhelming favourites but there are still some things on that paper that make it a very tough call.

Hendra Setiawan (pictured right, with partner Mohammad Ahsan) again plays the part of a returning champion.  But while in Rio every discipline had someone with a golden Olympic past – including four in men’s doubles – this time around not only is Setiawan the lone past gold medallist in his own discipline, he is the only one in the entire Tokyo badminton competition apart from men’s singles defender Chen Long.

Of course, if not for the strength of the two Indonesian pairs, one might be getting ready for a real changing of the guard in Olympic men’s doubles.  Korea, China, Malaysia, and Denmark are all in the unlikely situation of being limited to just one pair in this edition.  It’s familiar territory for Malaysia and Denmark but neither Korea nor China have ever been in this position before of each relying on lone gunmen.

What’s more, of these four former powerhouses, only China has a seeded pair and Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen (pictured) hadn’t won anything bigger than a Super 300 since early 2019.  Of course with all the layoffs in 2020 and 2021, it is impossible to predict who will be match-ready for their Tokyo matches.  When it comes to Chinese athletes, however, one can’t help thinking back to 2009, when the entire team took a two-month training break and then China swept the titles when they got back to business at the All England that year.  We should not be surprised if Li and Liu could come roaring back better than ever.

Dark horse nations, in-form pairs

Only three countries have ever claimed Olympic gold in men’s doubles and only two others have ever won silver.  But 2021 could well be the year that Japan or Chinese Taipei get added to the honour roll.  Yuta Watanabe and Hiroyuki Endo (pictured right) are obviously riding high as they come in on the heels of their second consecutive All England win but more than that, or than even their home court advantage, they have put together a six-match winning streak against top-seeded Sukamuljo and Gideon.

Also on a roll are Wang Chi Lin and Lee Yang (pictured below).  Their biggest confidence boost comes from the string of three titles in consecutive weeks in Bangkok earlier this year.  They may only have had to contend with one of the top four Tokyo seeds for those January victories but it was still a major achievement.  The question is whether that kind of momentum can bridge across four months with no international activity.

For all their promise at this year’s , Endo/Watanabe and Lee/Wang have also among the trickiest draws among the higher-ranked pairs.  The Japanese duo have impressive records against many top-tier opponents but in the group stage, they need to find a way past two European pairs that have given them considerable trouble in the past.

For Wang and Lee, it is also difficult to predict.  They might have expected to play second fiddle in Group A against Gideon and Sukamuljo, whom they have never beaten, but they are also drawn against the ever-dangerous Rankireddy/Shetty, whom they have never played.  An upset at the hands of the young Indians could derail the Taiwan pair’s designs on the medal podium.

3-time World Champions Ahsan and Setiawan also could have a tricky time at the group stage.  Like at this year’s World Tour Finals, they have been drawn in the same group as Korea’s Choi Sol Gyu / Seo Seung Jae (pictured) and Chia/Soh of Malaysia.  While they have a strong record against the Malaysians, their semi-final win in Bangkok was their first against the Koreans.  With the largely untested Canadians rounding out Group D, the battle for admission to the knockout round could be even more interesting this time around.

Of all the groups, Group C would appear to be the most straightforward at first glance.  However, European Championship runners-up Mark Lamsfuss and Marvin Seidel cannot be dismissed out of hand.  They prevailed against world #5 Kamura and Sonoda the last time the two pairs met and they had a great run at the Swiss Open earlier this year.  Their first ever encounter with 2018 World Champions Li/Liu at the group stage will also be an interesting one to watch.

Click on the above table to see a version with links to detailed head-to-head results.  Cels shaded in green denote match-ups that will take place in the round robin stage.

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