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