AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2013 Preview – Thailand March in April

Sydney gets set to host its second Grand Prix Gold event, with plenty of top badminton action expected in the Yonex Australian Open’s last edition before it takes on Superseries […]

Sydney gets set to host its second Gold event, with plenty of top badminton action expected in the Yonex ’s last edition before it takes on Superseries status.

By Aaron Wong, Badzine Correspondent.  Photos: Aaron Wong and Badmintonphoto

“Do you know what the weather will be like next week?”  the tournament director Loke Poh Wong asked our specialist, Aaron Wong, over lunch.  Clearly he is equally concerned about what happens inside the stadium as well as outside and assumed from my job title that I can predict blue skies too.

The Australian Badminton Open is as much about promoting sport as it is about boosting tourism.  The organisers couldn’t have picked a more photogenic location.  Again, the tournament is being held at Darling Harbour, which is downtown, sandwiched between Chinatown and the CBD.

As for what we know will happen next week, the tourists include Korea sending a contingent of less renowned shuttlers than last year, India flying in their entire men’s singles battalion except for Kashyap Parupalli, and it should be a fun week with umpires having trouble pronouncing the myriad Thai names about to flood these shores.  With seeded players in every discipline, one suspects the Malaysians and Indonesians are under pressure to perform.

Men’s Singles: Lee’s tricky third and fourth hurdles

It is hard to go past Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei (pictured) as this year’s Australian Badminton Open winner in the men’s singles, because world number ones seldom attend Grand Prix Gold level tournaments unless they are conveniently running in tandem weeks with a Superseries.

But for the first time, the world number two, Chen Long of China, is hovering dangerously close at less than 3000 ranking points of overtaking Lee for the top spot.  Winning a Superseries or one Grand Prix Gold and one other good result would be sufficient for Chen to surpass Lee.  Unfortunately, coming to Sydney will not help Lee add any breathing room in the ranking points from Chen chasing him, but he will have the chance to show his world #1 prowess against some different opponents and on some new terrain.

It is not the seeded players that would trouble Lee, as he has had ample practice at taming the same names during his long sovereign reign. The intriguing match-ups are against the men he has never met, and potentially there could be such a clash in the third round against Suppanyu Avihingsanon of Thailand, as well as an even more delectable encounter with Qiao Bin of China in the fourth. Therein lies the unknown.

The legendary Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia, now in the winter of his career, has as good a draw as he could wish for. Friday night ticket-holders have a better than even chance of watching his incomparable stroke production given his five-match winning streak – the latest coming as recently as three months ago – against second seed and 2012 finalist Nguyen Tien Minh of Vietnam, who is likely to be his quarter-final opponent.

Women’s Singles: Will Japan spoil the Thai party?

In the women’s singles, there is a high chance of the winner being from Thailand, as both competitors are seeded, and furthermore, in separate halves of the draw. Whether it could be an all-Thai final between Nichaon Jindapon and Sapsireee Taerattanachai, largely depends on what Sayaka Takahashi has to say about it with her racquet in a quarter-final rendezvous with the latter young lady.

Nary a top 15 player – former or current – in sight, this is the most do-able category, the entire chasing pack must feel.  The challenge here is winning over someone around the same calibre and more than a few people are susceptible to anxiety creep from psychologically dwelling on the fact that there’s no reason why you cannot accomplish this.  In this situation, it is crucial to put aside thoughts of status anxiety and keep existing in the moment so as to fully focus on the shuttle in flight.

Men’s Doubles: Friday night highlight

Friday could be serving a treat in men’s doubles, as there is nothing preventing the two best pairs, Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong of Malaysia, and Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan of Indonesia, meeting that night.

The separation of Thailand’s former world number seven, Maneepong Jongjit and Bodin Issara into new partnerships, both present in Sydney, does not subtract from making them the ones to watch out for as the potential other finalist against the winner of the Malaysian-Indonesian encounter. If nothing else, the Thais are the most fun to watch due to their highly charged on-court personas.

Pia or Jang or Taerattanachai: Which lady can go home with two titles?

Pia Zebadiah Bernadeth is top seed in both women’s doubles and mixed doubles. She is a stronger bet for winning the mixed final with her brother Markis Kido, the Beijing Olympic champion in men’s doubles.

Korea’s Jang Ye Na is also entered in both disciplines, and she will be want to make her mark in the mixed partnering Shin Baek Cheol, an Asian Games champion.  They reached the top of the podium in Germany but they are keen to test themselves more before they are depended on in next month’s Sudirman Cup.

Out of Bernadeth, Jang and Taerattanachai, all of whom have the possibility of grabbing two titles in Sydney, it is the Thai who has the most grit, but the Indonesian who has the better overall draws to accomplish the feat.

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 @