OLYMPIC XD Preview – In with the new?

Of the two disciplines that have belonged to China and Korea since badminton’s Olympic era began, mixed doubles has Chinese pairs as the top two seeds but has by far the stronger new chance for a new gold medal nation.

By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent.  Photos: Badmintonphoto (archives)

A lot about the 2012 Olympic mixed doubles competition is new.  The group round-robin format is, of course, new to all Olympic badminton disciplines this year.  But in mixed, we also have eight of the pairs having been formed in the last 3 years and 4 of those have been together for less than two.

Furthermore, of the eight players in seeded pairs, only Lilyana Natsir has been to the before.  The rest are among the 19 players who are playing in their first Olympic Games.

Can a third get lucky this time?

The real question, though, is whether 2012 will see a new nation take its place amongst the list of gold medallists.  Olympic gold in mixed and women’s doubles has only ever been earned by pairs from China and Korea.  2008 champion Lee Yong Dae (pictured right with Ha Jung Eun) is back to defend his title but he and his new partner have only the 2011 U.S. Open title to their name and are winless against 3 of the top 4 pairs.

China, on the other hand, is strongly placed to take back the gold that was won for them in Sydney and Athens by the great Gao Ling and Zhang Jun.  World #1 and defending World Champions Zhang Nan / Zhao Yunlei and second seeds Xu Chen / Ma Jin (all pictured top) have won 15 major titles between them over the past two years.

Still, Olympic mixed doubles is stubbornly resistant to what may look like invincibility. Gao Ling, two time defending champion and winner of 8 Super Series titles, including 2 All Englands, in 14 starts with new partner Zheng Bo, lost in the very first round on home soil in Beijing. The great Kim Dong Moon and Ra Kyung Min came to two as defending World Champions – the second time on a 14-tournament winning streak – and both times finished out of the medals.

Zhang and Zhao, in particular, already have their demons.  All England winners in their very first tournament together, they subsequently lost their first four matches to Joachim Fischer-Nielsen / Christinna Pedersen (pictured left) of Denmark, before finally finding the winning formula late last year (see the head-to-head statistics at the bottom of this article).

Thailand’s former world #1’s Sudket Prapakamol / Saralee Thoungthongkam scored their second victory over the top seeds en route to winning the last Superseries Premier before London, the Djarum Indonesia Open, though unlike the Danes, they have yet to beat Xu/Ma.

Make yourself at home

The most worrying, perhaps, might be the Chinese pair’s two first round losses earlier this year to Britain’s Chris Adcock / Imogen Bankier (pictured below).  The Brits have shown they are keen to rise to the occasion on home court, where they were already beaten finalists in last year’s World Championships.

Last summer, they had yet to beat the Chinese but with two wins under their belts, the story could be different this time around, even if Zhang/Zhao did finally turn back the tide at the Djarum Indonesia Open Superseries Premier, with their own first-round victory.

The saving grace for jittery top pairs, however, might be the group stage.  The losses by Kim/Ra and Zheng/Gao at the last three all happened in the quarter-finals or earlier.  This year, though, it will almost certainly take more than one upset to off a top seed.  Furthermore, only one unseeded pair has beaten each of the seeded pairs.

Zhang Nan may also be the youngest player in the draw, at 22, but he has been to the top of the podium at the All England and the Worlds and he and Zhao Yunlei have enjoyed success in the group format as well, with two consecutive Superseries Finals titles, including one where they bounced back from losing their first group match.

The experience ticket goes to Saralee Thoungthongkam (pictured left with Sudket Prapakamol).  She and 36-year-old Robert Mateusiak, the oldest player in the field, are both playing in their fourth but only Saralee has been in the mixed doubles each time.  Any doubts about her fitness were dispelled when, in her second match on each of the last two days of this year’s Thailand Open, she led her sixteen-year-old team-mate to victory over the top two Chinese women’s doubles pairs.

It is certainly likely that there is a causal relationship behind the fact that the lower ranked pairs who have managed to win against the most pairs – the Thais plus Laybourn/Rytter Juhl – are also the two that have been playing together the longest.

Can Lilyana TCB?

Finally, the pair of the moment has to be Tontowi Ahmad / Lilyana Natsir (pictured) of Indonesia.  Already once this year, Lilyana has taken care of unfinished business when she and Tontowi won the All England title that eluded her in two finals with Nova Widianto.

In London, too, she is the returning runner-up.  Unlike defending champion Lee Yong Dae, Lilyana and her new partner have won three major titles this spring and have recorded victories over every pair in the draw that they have faced.

For more information, visit the official website for the London Olympics

Results should be available on tournamentsoftware


Please see below the head-to-head records for the top ten pairs. Details missing from tournamentsoftware have been corrected and are noted below.

Zhang
Zhao
Xu
Ma
Ahmad
Natsir
Fischer Nielsen
Pedersen
Chen
Cheng
Laybourn
Rytter Juhl
Lee
Ha
Prapakamol
Thoungthongkam
Chan
Goh
Adcock
Bankier
Zhang
Zhao
8-2 4-1 2-4 7-1* 0-1 2-0 1-2 4-0 4-2
Xu
Ma
2-8 3-2 4-3 2-1 3-0 2-0 0-1 2-0
Ahmad
Natsir
1-4 2-3 1-0 5-0 2-1 4-2 4-1 4-0 1-1
Fischer Nielsen
Pedersen
4-2 3-4 0-1 2-3 3-1 2-0 2-0
Chen
Cheng
1-7* 0-5 3-2 1-0 0-2 4-2** 4-1 1-0
Laybourn
Rytter Juhl
1-0 1-2 1-2 1-3 0-1 1-0 6-1†† 1-1 1-0
Lee
Ha
0-2 0-3 2-4 0-2 2-0 0-1 1-0
Prapakamol
Thoungthongkam
2-1 0-2 1-4‡ 0-2† 2-4** 1-6†† 0-1 2-2 3-0
Chan
Goh
0-4 1-0 0-4 1-4 1-1 2-2 2-0
Adcock
Bankier
2-4 0-2 1-1 0-1 0-1 0-3 0-2

*  Includes one win for Zhang/Zhao at the 2010 Asian Games
**  Includes one win for Chen/Cheng at the 2010 Asian Games
†  Includes one win for Fischer Nielsen/Pedersen at the 2009 Super Series Finals
††  Includes one win for Laybourn/Rytter Juhl at the 2008 Super Series Finals
‡  Includes one win for Ahmad/Natsir at the 2011 SEA Games

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