China still searching for invincible pairs

When it comes to women’s doubles, it seems that neither winning a Superseries nor being ranked #2 in the world can keep a Chinese pair together as the shuffling continues […]

When it comes to women’s doubles, it seems that neither winning a Superseries nor being ranked #2 in the world can keep a Chinese pair together as the shuffling continues at the top in the search for unbeatable combinations.

Photos: Badmintonphoto

There was a time when Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang (pictured below) seemed invincible.  They were paired up five years ago after Yu Yang was taken from another nearly invincible partnership.  Yu and Du Jing had just won the 2010 World Championships in Paris, their third title in three outings in a year when they were beaten exactly once, in the Uber Cup final.

After Paris, Yu took up with Wang and the duo promptly nabbed two Superseries titles.  They did lose their first two to another fledgling Chinese pair, a certain World and Olympic Champion Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei, but for a full 17 months, that was the only pair from anywhere in the world that was able to beat them.  They retired from two matches in that period, but also consolidated their edge over Tian Qing and went all the way to January 2012 without losing once in a complete match.  In fact, they had been together for nearly two years before a third pair finally figured out a way to beat them.

Now, five years into their partnership, Wang and Yu have accumulated 23 Superseries titles – helping Yu Yang to become the all-time Superseries leader with 40 – as well as two Asian and two World Championships.  They currently stand at #2 in the world rankings and are preparing to defend their title at the 2015 Denmark Open Superseries Premier.  And then it will be all over.

All indications are that Wang and Yu will be split up after Denmark.  They have been withdrawn from the French Open the following week and the week after that, the Bitburger Open will see the re-initiation of the actually undefeated pair of Yu Yang and Tang Yuanting (pictured top).

Once the tour makes it back around to Asia, Wang Xiaoli too will get her debut with a new partner in Huang Yaqiong (pictured below) at the China Open, where Yu and Tang will continue to play together.

Invincible may seem like a strong word.  However, it is tempting to use it when it seems as if the Chinese team can put certain players with anyone and they can win a title.  Zhao Yunlei is so far unbeaten with both Wang Xiaoli and Zhong Qianxin.  Yu Yang was not beaten with Tian Qing back in 2010, nor has she been with Tang Yuanting.  Granted, these examples involve sample sizes of no more than one tournament, but considering how long it takes most players to adapt to a new partner, the fact that the Chinese ladies can get it right on the first try so often is all the more amazing.

What’s more, you have to wonder whether the Chinese coaches are willing to settle for anything less than invincibility when they split up so many pairs that have managed to come together, play one tournament, and beat the world’s best. True: the recent Korea Open was the fourth time in Superseries history that China tried and failed to place a pair in the women’s doubles final.  But still, China has won six of the eight Superseries titles in 2015, as well as the World and Asian titles.  And yet the shuffling continues, with only one of the six Superseries winners slated to be fielded in each of the upcoming three events.

Time running out?

Both Korea and China have let their pair-shuffling go on much later than usual, eating way into the Olympic qualifying period.  The Koreans have done it in both women’s and mixed doubles but they had basically finished by the World Championship break or before.  China’s situation is not quite as dire as they have shown that they can produce winners from virtually any combination.  However, whatever pair they decide to stick with will still have to make the top 8 if they are to become a second pair in Rio.

At this point, it seems likely that China will have only one pair at the Superseries Finals in Dubai.  The Luo twins are atop the standings and are entered in the next three events.  Current #7 Wang/Yu would certainly help their Dubai cause with a win in Denmark but it likely won’t be enough.  Ma Jin and Tang Yuanting might still be able to stay in the Superseries top 8 with a pair of wins in their last two events together but they also have more ground to make up as they are presently sitting down in 13th position.  Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei have been reunited for at least the next 3 Superseries events and if their success at the Worlds is any indication, they could just qualify on the strength of four consecutive wins to end the series.

As for Rio, Tian and Zhao seem safely on the road.  They already have 12,000 points from the Worlds and they have eight more Superseries before the cutoff to accumulate the points to stay in the top 8.  Luo and Luo have been in the top 8 throughout the past year so it seems they will stay.  As for the new pairings, none of them have any points in the Olympic qualifying period.  For Wang Xiaoli and Huang Yaqiong, in particular, starting in China with only six Superseries events until May and no chance at Dubai means that Rio is exceedingly doubtful.

Meanwhile, Bao Yixin and Ma Jin are both out of women’s doubles for the China Open.  Their former partner Zhong Qianxin, who reached world #2 with Bao, will continue to bounce around from partner to partner.  The Japan Open title she recently won with the great Zhao Yunlei came after a string of three Grand Prix Gold victories with three different partners.  Of these, Tang Jinhua will compete with her in China, but only after Zhong’s brief reunion with Bao Yixin in Europe.

China ready for the home stretch

There is little doubt that the Chinese will emerge all the stronger from the current confusion.  It may seem late in the game to be making such changes but women’s doubles has certainly changed in recent years.  Ten years ago, the Chinese had their way and only seemed vulnerable a few times a year to the best Koreans.  These days, pairs from Denmark, Japan, and Malaysia have joined in, Indonesia has seen a resurgence, and the Koreans – though also in disarray so far this year – have been upsetting the Chinese with a greater variety of pairings.

Olympic gold medallists and two-time World Champions Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei (pictured) are overwhelming favourites for the next two European events.  Tang Yuanting and Yu Yang will be keen to show that their India Open victory last year was an omen, not a fluke.  Put them together with a pair of powerful twins and the Race to Rio in women’s doubles is sure to heat up very soon.

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 @