OLYMPICS Day 5 – Back to business

Away from the disciplinary sideshow, Day 5 of the badminton competition at the London Olympics saw Zhao Yunlei play true to her status as the now overwhelming favourite in women’s […]

Away from the disciplinary sideshow, Day 5 of the badminton competition at the London saw Zhao Yunlei play true to her status as the now overwhelming favourite in women’s doubles as well as in mixed.

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

Zhao Yunlei, world #2 in women’s doubles and #1 in mixed, now has an even better chance of being the first player in history to win two golds at one Olympic Games.  She certainly started off in London with an even better shot at it, on paper at least, than did Gao Ling, the women’s and mixed doubles finalist in Athens.

Gao was seeded second in both her events, whereas Zhao has the top seeded position in mixed doubles.  However, with only 3 wins in eleven meetings with compatriots Wang/Yu, it looked like Zhao would likely be having to settle for at least some silver.

Now, though, with the decision to expel the world #1’s, along with three other pairs (see here), Zhao and Tian Qing are left with a near-cakewalk to what could be Zhao’s second gold.

Mixed semis on seed

First, though, Zhao Yunlei and Zhang Nan (pictured above) had to address the tiny matter of overcoming the only pair in the mixed doubles draw that they had never beaten. Not only had Thomas Laybourn / Kamilla Rytter Juhl of Denmark bounced the Chinese out of the 2010 Korea Open in the two pairs’ only meeting previous to Wednesday’s Olympic mixed doubles quarter-finals, but Rytter Juhl was fresh from serving Zhao a rare upset in women’s doubles, on Tuesday at Wembley Arena.

Zhao and Zhang, though, got it right against the Danes on Wednesday, seeing them off in two games to set up a semi-final against Denmark’s highest ranked pair, Joachim Fischer-Nielsen / Christinna Pedersen, whom the Chinese have not played since winning a pair of finals against them in the last two Superseries events of last year.

The closest to an upset in the mixed quarters actually came from the second lowest ranked pair in the draw.  European Champions Robert Mateusiak / Nadiezda Zieba (pictured) had a great start against second-seeded Xu Chen / Ma Jin but allowed the Chinese #2 pair to gain the advantage in the deciding game.  The Poles did erase the first two match points and even earn one of their own but Xu/Ma then countered with their own 3-point run to end it 23-21 and take their place in the semi-finals opposite Tontowi Ahmad / Lilyana Natsir for the third time this year.

Women’s doubles: who’s left?

The removal of the four pairs involved in the match-fixing controversy of Tuesday evening left a void in the women’s doubles knockout draw that not only ended up being filled by the four lowest-ranked pairs in the tournament, but also pitted them against one another in two separate quarter-final matches.

Russia’s Sorokina/Vislova (WR#18) defeated South Africa’s Edwards/Viljoen as expected, while Alex Bruce / Michelle Li of Canada (pictured) capitalized on their first match against a pair ranked outside of the world’s top 20, edging Australia’s Choo/Veeran 21-9, 18-21, 21-18 to become the first ever Olympic semi-finalists from outside of Asia or Europe.  The opportunity is an especially welcome one for Li, who also came to London for the women’s singles but had the misfortune to be drawn in the same group with no one but World Champion Wang Yihan.

Earlier, Japan’s Fujii/Kakiiwa had won the battle of the only two remaining pairs to have beaten now favourites Tian/Zhao.  They saw off the challenge from Denmark’s Pedersen/Rytter Juhl in two to face the Canadians in the semis, while Tian/Zhao dumped Chinese Taipei’s Cheng/Chien out of their third straight Olympics to set up a date with the Russians.

Yip wreaks sole upset

Plenty of singles shuttlers had promising performances in Round of 16 play on Wednesday, but the only upset came from Yip Pui Yin (pictured) of Hong Kong.  Once again rising to the occasion in a multi-sport event, the Asian Games bronze and silver medallist followed up her win over Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun by sending France’s Pi Hongyan back across the channel with no chance of a medal.

Yip now has the unenviable task of facing the new princess of the Chinese women’s singles squad, Li Xuerui after Li survived a scare from 18-year-old Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei.

World #1 Wang Yihan was again troubled by Korea’s Bae Youn Joo, who has beaten the Chinese ace twice in the past, but Wang recovered and finished very strong in the deciding game to see her way in the quarters opposite Cheng Shao Chieh of Taiwan.

The men’s final 16 was completely devoid of upsets, although it had its moments.  In the only match-up between unseeded players, Sri Lanka’s Niluka Karunaratne continued to play above his pay-grade, taking a game from India’s Parupalli Kashyap before going down in 3.

China’s Chen Jin also needed three games to beat Marc Zwiebler of Germany, while Lee Hyun Il looked much more solid as he preceded his Beijing bronze medal rematch with Chen by silencing Denmark’s Jan Jorgensen in two straight.

Thursday’s action begins in the morning with the men’s doubles, the only doubles quarter-final round remaining to be played, while the singles competitions will see their final eight contested in the early afternoon.

Click here for complete Wednesday results

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