ALL ENGLAND 2011 Preview – Not just a title, a tradition

All attention will focus on Birmingham, England’s second most populous city, when badminton comes home to the prestigious All England Open on March 8th.  Our preview specialist, Aaron Wong, evaluates […]

All attention will focus on Birmingham, England’s second most populous city, when badminton comes home to the prestigious Open on March 8th.  Our specialist, Aaron Wong, evaluates this year’s draw and also uncovers what makes this event special by drawing our attention to the distinction between stature and status.

By Aaron Wong, Badzine Correspondent.  Photos: Badmintonphoto

Fun facts: Special & Elusive

Out of a possible 50 titles in a decade, only on two occasions in each of the preceding two full decades – the first of the new millennium and the last of the previous one (read 4 out of 100 gold medals) – has an All England title been won by someone who would never become a world #1 in that discipline or a World Champion or an Olympic medallist of any colour.  A twist that makes the All England extra special is that even if you amazingly managed the heroic feats of acquiring all three credentials, #1 and World Champion and Olympic champion, this title is not necessarily your entitlement as it is with Zhang Ning and Taufik Hidayat who each came close twice but it remains elusive.

And if you were wondering, the calibre of champions who have successfully defended a title is a rarer breed.  Since 2000 it has been achieved by Lin Dan, Xie Xingfang, Gao Ling, Huang Sui, and Zheng Bo, all representing China, and only one of them is competing this time — Lin.  Across the last two decades, all the winners in consecutive years have been World Champions and/or Olympic Champions, which leaves 3 possibilities in 2011 as Yu Yang and Du Jing and Jonas Rasmussen are now part of new doubles combinations since last year’s edition.

Furthermore, with the exception of 2 runners-up since the inception of the rally point scoring system, and 3 all up since the start of the millenium – every All England finalist has been world #1, or an Olympic or World Championship medallist, or a European or Asian champion.   Any which way you look at it, the finalists are special indeed.

Exceptional stature & premier status

This year, five Super Series events have been elevated to “Premier” status with the All England being the second of these to commence.  Yet the All England hardly needs contemporary justification of its pre-eminence.  Its stature lives in the hearts and dreams of players, and in everybody’s memories, as the special one because it has the most history.

Memories are made of becoming champion or watching it or your parents telling you stories when you were young and in these respects, as a whole, the All England is unrivaled compared to badminton at the Olympics, which is not even twenty years old.  True, the Olympics are hugely memorable for players but it is not matched in the spectator fervor stakes as only once, at Beijing, has it been hosted by a badminton nation.  Rows of empty seats were plain to see during televised badminton medal matches of the Athens Olympics, and there was no live broadcast reaching Indonesia when their favourite son grabbed gold with tears in his eyes.

Despite not offering the most prize money or ranking points, the All England doesn’t struggle to attract the best players or a crowd to watch.  The top tier Chinese, badminton’s undoubted top powerhouse, have turned up without fail and history shows us it has been willingly.  This is significant as the top players of other nations over the course of 2008, 2009, and 2010 keenly felt the loss of the highest standard of competition when China opted for cherry-picking tournaments and sending smaller contingents so that it became rare to see all the Chinese stars in one place with one of the few exceptions being the All England.   The frigid Korea Open could never attract a full cast before this year because of its position in the circuit next to the tropical Malaysia Open, and the Super Series Finals – which by description is the winners against the winners of the year – has lost players who choose to participate in the East Asian Games instead.

The rest of the world rather organically came to realise that China brought out the best performances in all, and winning a Super Series devoid of Chinese competition lacked something special.  The episode threw a 180-degree about turn in perspective on China’s clean sweeps of tournaments, which up until that point used to garner negative sentiment generally suggestive of boredom.  Such genuine change of heart to view China not singled out as a race but as a major piece of the whole community has been a healthier attitude for the sport.  The All England marks another year in time and change in attitudes, and reunites all the powerhouses in one place.

There you have it.  Stature is marked in terms of both competitors and spectator support and affection, whereas status is conferred by the Badminton World Federation (BWF).  The All England has both now.  What’s immediately noticeable from this year’s draw is the effect of the new “Premier” status, which goes hand in hand with a new policy to fine top players $5000 if they are absent or withdraw.  Instead of breadth and depth of talent, which is a remarkable enough achievement for any organiser, the All England has ended up with breadth within the depth of talent.  Unheard of really.

Seedings & qualifications

It has produced difficulties in seeding players properly in doubles due to the quantity of high quality players as well as overall numbers.  The organisers reverted to their old habit of leaving seedings to be based on world rankings and not really taking into account new pairings of top players.  A very obvious example is the women’s doubles pairing of Cheng Shu and Ma Jin, recent former world #1s, who joined forces at the start of the year and were seeded 7th at both the Malaysia Open and Korea Premier Super Series in January but at the All England inexplicably find themselves dropped into qualifying day.

Standout names are seen in every discipline across qualification:

WS: Adrianti Firdasari (INA) – Macau Open 2010 Runner up
MS: Lee Hyun Il (KOR) – former world #1
MD: Robert Blair (SCO), with Flandy Limpele (INA) – Madrid Worlds silver medallist + Athens Olympics bronze medallist

Women’s doubles

Seeded players normally needn’t worry about opening rounds but five women’s doubles pairs can be forgiven for thinking “Why did ever I work so hard to be seeded in the first place?”  Of these, Cheng/Ma and energetic world #1s Cheng Wen Hsing / Chien Yu Chin are on a collision course for a round 2 rematch of their Korea Open encounter, where the Taiwan ladies finally trumped a current top Chinese pair in a nail-biting finish, and of all the Chinese in contention here this is Cheng/Chien’s best bet to repeat the feat.  If they manage it, they would meet old foes Wang/Yu, the favourites, in the semi-finals.

Singaporeans Sari/Yao take on the reunited Ha/Kim (KOR) who used to be world #2 once upon a time.  Another new Chinese pairing who were good enough to become Asian Games champions on their first outing take on the top Russians. The Danes Pedersen/Rytter Juhl, ranked outside the top ten, have confidence from winning the European Mixed Team Championships and can topple the Japanese second seeds in order to meet the surprisingly unseeded Asian Games champions Tian Qing / Zhao Yunlei in the bottom half semi-finals.   The aforementioned potential four semi-finalists would fancy their chances of getting that far ahead.  Christinna Pedersen has been one to watch in mixed doubles and let’s see what she can produce in this category, especially when her partner Kamilla Rytter Juhl is not concentrating on two events this time.

First round women’s doubles matches of note:
Sari/Yao [8](SIN) vs Ha/Kim (KOR)
Qing/Zhao (CHN) vs Sorokin/Vislova [6](RUS)
Pedersen/Rytter Juhl (DEN) vs Maeda/Suetsuna [2](JPN)

Women’s singles

Current women’s singles world #1 Wang Shixian is new to the job and has only shown signs of improving, which should see her comfortably through to the semi-finals.  She’s too quick and her placement is sharper than anyone else in her quarter.  The second quarter contains three Chinese ladies – Wang Xin, Jiang Yanjiao, and Lu Lan – with consistency over the years belonging to three-time China Open champion Jiang and she ought to make the most of this opportunity to make a big mark because she isn’t selected as often as the others for big occasions.

The other quarters are boring to look far ahead and far more entertaining to look near as there are visions of the future.   Thai teenager Ratchanok Intanon battles just-out-of-teens 8th seed Bae Youn Joo of Korea in the most appealing first round.   The intriguing second rounds would be teenager Sung (KOR) meeting defending champion Baun (DEN), and Tai (TPE) against Nehwal (IND).  The Indian player’s odds have improved with news of world #2 Wang Yihan (CHN) injuring a ligament in her knee as they were a logical quarter-final.

First round women’s singles matches of note:
Juliane Schenk [7](GER) vs Yip Pui Yin(HKG)
Ratchanok Intanon (THA) vs Bae Youn Joo [8](KOR)
Sayaka Sato (JPN) vs Lu Lan (CHN)

Men’s singles

Bloodbath is the word that springs to mind at first glance of the men’s first round singles match-ups.  Two encounters are Super Series winners facing off.  It only gets more interesting in round 2 with last year’s surprise finalist Tago of Japan versus Denmark’s Peter Gade.

Out of everyone, fifth seed Chen Long of China has the easiest route to the quarter-finals, followed by the old reliables Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei.   Simon Santoso (INA) is my pick to meet world #1 Chong Wei in the first quarter-final, which entails probably dealing with the unknown quantity that is Lee Hyun Il in round 2.  Closely ranked Top 10 calibre Chinese Du, Dane Jorgensen, and Vietnamese Nguyen all being in the same 1/8th of the draw is the hardest to call as to who will have the pleasure of meeting Lin but statistically, Nguyen already has the edge and his superior defence and patience favours him more.

It is World Championships déjà vu for Taufik Hidayat with Korea’s Park Sung Hwan and then Chen Jin of China – his last two opponents in Paris last summer – in his path once again.  Reaching the semi-finals is not impossible for Hidayat, who has twice been a finalist, in 1999 and 2000, but he has not solved the Lin Dan puzzle in 5 years.  The last occasion they met, in Korea over a month ago, it went to 3 games for the first time in all that time and that offers a modicum of hope in his famous quest to complete his own badminton trophy set.  The tag sentimental favourite carries with it undertones of comparing present abilities to past abilities; nevertheless Hidayat still defies expectations when the spotlight is not on him as his current credentials are as world #2 and World Championship silver medallist.

First round men’s singles matches of note:
Sony Dwi Kuncoro (INA) vs Bao Chunlai (CHN)
Boonsak Ponsana (THA) vs Simon Santoso (INA)
Du Pengyu (CHN) vs Jan Jorgensen (DEN)
Wang Zhengming (CHN) vs Park Sung Hwan (KOR)

Men’s doubles

Danish world #1s Boe/Mogensen chart the trickiest course to the finals with dangerous hurdles every step of the way, beginning with a Chinese pair Hong/Shen ranked 57 whom they have never played, then compatriots Conrad Petersen/Rasmussen, followed by Fang/Lee (TPE) who have brought them down on more than one occasion, before meeting Jung/Lee (KOR) for a delicious semi-final.  Jung/Lee, quite the opposite, have on paper the surest route to the final if the top seeds fall short.

For spectators who could only obtain tickets for early in the week, there are treats such as 2005 World Champions Gunawan/Bach (USA) challenging 2010 champions Cai/Fu (CHN), and very possibly 2000 Olympic champion Candra Wijaya (INA) partnering Luluk Hadiyanto facing Beijing gold medallists and compatriots Kido/Setiawan.

Of the top pairs, it is well known that Kido/Setiawan are the achilles heel to Jung/Lee, for the Indonesians it is Koo/Tan, for the Malaysians it is Cai/Fu (CHN).  So the Koreans are safe this time.  The exciting thread is to see whether the undoubtedly abundantly talented Malaysians can do again what they know how to do, which is beat the Indonesians – though most of these results were when the latter went off their purple patch immediately post-Olympics – and next do what they have trouble doing (beat the Chinese) in order to reach the finals.

First round men’s doubles matches of note:
Jung/Lee [2] (KOR) vs Adock/Ellis (ENG)
Kwon/Shin (KOR) vs Chai/Guo (CHN)
(Possible) Blair/Limpele (SCO/INA) vs Ko/Yoo [2](KOR)

Mixed doubles

Just like the other doubles categories, this year’s draw is again unkind to top seeds. The defending champions Zhang/Zhao (CHN) encounter 2009 All England champions He/Yang (CHN).  Similarly, the second seeded Danes Laybourn/Rytter Juhl would have crossed paths with their compatriots in the second round too, except that Laybourn is laid up after a knee operation.  This outcome news means the strong pair in the bottom half are the fifth seeds and fastest improvers on the world circuit Tao/Tian (CHN) who have managed to reach a world ranking of #11 in the space of 6 tournaments and only once missing a finals berth.   The other Danes Fisher Nielsen/Pedersen will provide the resistance and the British spectators, who have the greatest appreciation for mixed doubles, will immensely enjoy the contest between the best of European and Asian methods.

Although not being bold with seedings, someone in the committee has applied their own judgement in the example of Setiawan/Russkikh (INA/RUS), ranked 59 in the world, starting in the main draw.  On the other hand, Kido/Nurlita (INA) ranked ahead at 36 find themselves in the qualifiers against none other than Asian Games champion Shin Baek Cheol with new partner Kim Ha Na.  One might presume that both players in a partnership being in the top 10 in level doubles worked to their benefit, and interestingly, this didn’t apply to Cheng/Ma in women’s doubles.  So it could make sense on one level but doesn’t overall.

First round mixed doubles matches of note:
Ko/Ha [6](KOR) vs Xu/Ma (CHN)
Anugritayawon/Voravichitchaikul (THA) vs Chen/Cheng [8](TPE)

The rarest breed of all

World #12 men’s singles player Jan Jorgensen sums up the All England nicely:

“This is for sure the Wimbledon of badminton.  It has the history and a hint of the old days.  There is a special atmosphere…  If you want to proceed in such a strong tournament you have to beat good players from the beginning.”

The All England can claim to be the best badminton competition that there is.  Players certainly regard it so judging by who turns up, how many turn up, and who the winners are.

The most intriguing part is who the two new rare exceptions to win – who haven’t been #1 or World Championship medallist or Olympic champion – will be.  This is the rarest breed, the one far beyond expectation.  Kenichi Tago (JPN) had a chance last year.  Or could it even be the one famous Indonesian who has all the above credentials?  It is a new decade after all.  It can be done.  Whose turn is it?   Will it happen this year?

To view the complete draws for the 2011 Yonex All England Premier Super Series, CLICK HERE

You can follow all the action from the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham here on Badzine.  We will be on site all week bringing you daily reports and live photos from Badmintonphoto.

Our partner hotel for the All England – City Nites – in the Heart of Birmingham

City Nites Birmingham – a fabulous and cost-effective alternative to a hotel room. • There is no closer accommodation venue to the NIA, so if you are attending any show or event, you now know where to stay!

Aaron Wong

About Aaron Wong

Aaron Wong only ever coveted badminton's coolest shot - a reverse backhand clear. He is renowned for two other things: 1) Writing tournament previews that adjust the focus between the panorama of the sport's progress, down to the microscopic level of explaining the striking characteristics of players; 2) Dozing off during men's doubles at the London Olympic Games. Contact him at: aaron @