AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2015 Preview – A 19-horse race

The Metlife BWF World Superseries gets back in full swing as a men’s singles field with two favourites among 19 strong contenders is just one of the attractions in The […]

The Metlife BWF World gets back in full swing as a men’s singles field with two favourites among 19 strong contenders is just one of the attractions in The Star Australian Badminton Open, where key matches and top-notch action will start early in the week.

By Aaron Wong, Badzine Correspondent.  Photos: Badmintonphoto

History: from last to first

How the Australian Badminton Open has grown in three years!  Having relocated to Sydney in 2012, its distinction as the last tournament offering points for Olympic qualification ensured stars like China’s Chen Jin and Zieba/Mateusiak of Poland, both former world #1s and genuine medal contenders but on the borderline of heading to London, would headline its debut as a Grand Prix Gold event.

Come 2015, it is now in the second year of Superseries status and is the first Superseries event offering Olympic qualification points towards dreams of competing in Rio de Janeiro.  Befitting its prestige, for the first time, a full deck of world number ones have registered. The tournament can’t claim yet to have hosted every reigning Olympic champion though.  That’ll have to be another year, something to reach for.

The more amazing coup is that every single one of the top 20 men’s singles players in the world rankings has decided to turn up. That has to be the best measure of prestige for a badminton event.

Men’s singles: The 19-horse race

The dreamiest of men’s singles finals is in the cards. Why dreamiEST? Because not only are both Chen Long and Lin Dan (pictured top), world #1 and #2 respectively, entered and seeded such that they can only meet in the final, but both are also undefeated in Sydney. Chen came to international notice first upon winning gold at the 2007 Sydney Youth Olympic Festival and at the time there was already talk of him being Lin’s successor. And Lin Dan is the 2014 inaugural Australian Superseries winner and defending champion. The whole “destiny” water cooler discussion is endlessly intriguing.

The realistic question is: can both Chen and Lin make it past four rounds? Half of the top 20 are Superseries titleholders, five more are Superseries runners-up, and three of them more than once. Of the remainder, two came runner-up at Asia Championships and the other two are Grand Prix Gold winners, which is nothing to sniff at since one of them has beaten Chen Long.

So, a two-horse race in men’s singles it isn’t.

Lin Dan has the harder draw on paper. His opener pits the current Malaysia Open Superseries Premier runner-up, himself, against the India Superseries runner-up Viktor Axelsen of Denmark. Succeeding that could mean a repeat of last year’s final against Simon Santoso (pictured above), a three-time Superseries winner although not in the top 20 at the moment. Up next is the Hong Kong Superseries champ, followed by the man whose world #2 spot he usurped a month ago, Jan O Jorgensen, all this for a berth in the final. How bloody difficult is that! In short, to protect his title, Lin Dan potentially has to win five “finals”.

Chen Long may well be stopped at Round 2 by Hong Kong’s Hu Yun to whom he has consecutive losses in the past 11 months and as recently as six weeks ago.

A dozen “finals” before Friday

The Australian Superseries spoils its spectators rotten. Why spend $95 on Sunday to see five finals when $80 all up for Wednesday and Thursday affords a dozen matches of the same calibre?

Furthermore, this is what it’s come to, that of the dozen “finals” before Friday, there is even a need to highlight (in pink) the shining ones.

Round 1 “finals”
WS – Wang Yihan (CHN) [8] vs. P.V. Sindhu (IND)
WS – Tai Tzu Ying (TPE) [4] vs. Bae Yeon Ju (KOR)
MS – Srikanth Kidambi (IND) [4] vs. Hans-Kristian Vittinghus (DEN)
MS – Chou Tien Chen (TPE) [7] vs. Marc Zweibler (GER)
MS – Lin Dan (CHN) [2] vs. Viktor Axelsen (DEN)
MD – Mohammad Ahsan / Hendra Setiawan (INA) [2] vs. Ko Sung Hyun / Shin Baek Choel (KOR)

Foreseeable Round 2 “finals”
WS – Saina Nehwal (IND) [2] vs. Sun Yu (CHN)
MS – Lin Dan (CHN) [2] vs. Simon Santoso (INA)
MS – Chen Long (CHN) [1] vs. Hu Yun (HKG)
WD – Kamilla Rytter Juhl / Christinna Pedersen (DEN) [2] vs. Wang Xiaoli / Zhao Yunlei (CHN)
XD – Christinna Pedersen / Joachim Fischer Nielsen (DEN) [3] vs. Birgit Michels / Michael Fuchs (GER)
MD – winner between 2013 & 2014 World Champions vs. Cai Yun (2011 World Champion) / Kang Jun (CHN)

How do we know it is 2015?

It is the era in both women’s and men’s singles where the India versus China showdowns are the most delectable.

Women’s singles defending champion Saina Nehwal’s first words to the media after last year’s Round 1 victory against Sun Yu was “that was like a final”. It takes one to know one, the Indian star called it right and Sun has since become the latest inductee into the Superseries winners’ club. They have an upcoming rematch in Round 2.

There is enormous upset potential when Kashyap Parupalli takes on sixth seeded Wang Zhengming (pictured) of China on Day 1. It is not beyond the unseeded Indian’s capability because it would be like playing himself but taller, for their stroke productions are both textbook classic and the tempo they prefer is medium, not dissimilar to Thailand’s Boonsak Ponsana in many respects.

Something very similar to Lin Dan’s luck of the draw happens in women’s doubles, which also promises a pseudo-rematch of the 2014 final in Round 2. Utterly inexplicable is that the scratch pairing of world #2 and world #3 players haven’t been seeded, nor did they even make it to the main draw. Instead, unbelievably, they find themselves unseeded in the qualification round and, moreover, one of the pair is defending champ Zhao Yunlei. The most terrifying rear court women’s proponent, Wang Xiaoli (pictured above right), teams up with the smartest and most lethal front court player of the past five years, Zhao, to rival the current pair with by far the best head-to-head record against Chinese pairs, Danes Kamilla Rytter-Juhl / Christinna Pedersen.

Meanwhile, the “luck” that Saina Nehwal enjoys also flows on into mixed doubles where last year’s Round 1 also repeats in Round 2 when Denmark’s Christinna Pedersen / Joachim Fischer Nielsen, ignominiously ousted top seeds last time around, get a chance to right past wrongs in a bout with 2014 runners-up Birgit Michels / Michael Fuchs (pictured bottom) of Germany.

Magnetic World Champions

There’s no question World Champions are magnetic. In addition their crowd-pulling abilities, they are attracting each other’s company too.

More than a few felt 2013 men’s doubles champs Mohammad Ahsan / Hendra Setiawan (pictured) were has-beens during the dazzling unprecedented and unsurpassed triple Superseries gold run of 2014 that propelled Yoo Yeon Seong / Lee Yong Dae to world #1. But the Indonesians demonstrated convincingly their relevancy to the present scene through claiming the Malaysia Open Superseries Premier and pushing aside the Koreans in that final. In Round 1, they contend with the other Korean pair, reigning World Champions Ko Sung Hyun / Shin Baek Cheol.

The following day, on the other half of the draw, it is one half an Indonesia Olympic-World Champion meeting his equivalent Chinese quantity in Round 2. Markis Kido / Agripinna Prima Rahmanto Putra face seventh seeded Fu Haifeng / Zhang Nan. Yesterday’s World Champions duel begets another when the winners play Cai Yun and new partner Kang Jun.

Let me entertain you

Statistics aside, entertainment value is what really counts. An Australia-England tussle never fails to get the locals’ blood rushing. And the best Round 1 women’s singles match, possibly between Canada and Japan, might fly under the radar because both are unseeded but likely not too far under because these two players are as beautiful as they are hugely talented. Even having never followed badminton, your eyes will know better than to trust only the seedings. It’s just a pity the two dark horses must meet each other this early in the competition.

Badminton aficionados wouldn’t have bet on ever again witnessing these two legendary entities due to retirements from competition, and in Lee Hyun Il’s case thrice. The Korean’s fourth re-entry from oblivion into the world’s top 20 is exceptional but Sydney’s first opportunity to catch a glimpse is something rarer than a Chen-Lin final. Malaysia’s Koo Kien Keat (pictured below) making a comeback after coaching as well as deliberately reigniting the partnership with Tan Boon Heong is unexpected because their body language was terribly negative when they disbanded.

XD – Setyana Mapasa / Sawan Serasinghe (AUS) vs. Gabrielle Adcock / Chris Adcock (ENG) [6]
WS – Michelle Li (CAN) vs. Nozomi Okuhara (JPN) (pictured above)
MD – Koo Kien Keat / Tan Boon Heong (MAS) vs. Kamura Takeshi / Sonoda Keigo (JPN) – likely

Get with the times

Clearly, the is the most exciting it’s ever been because of the buzz of who’s coming.

Who shall win is an altogether separate matter from seedings and past glories. The Singapore Superseries just prior, where new victors stood forward across all event categories, illustrates the trend.

The badminton world is hardly static and sweeping statements about domination by one country or another is passé. What proof have I? Well, spare a thought for the guy who had to re-typeset 33 of the 46 world rankings in the Australian Open souvenir program a day before going to press after entering the numbers barely more than a fortnight earlier.

Click here to see the complete draws for The Star Australian Open Superseries 2015

Click here to visit the official tournament website

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 @