After another memorable week of competition at the 2016 Dubai World Superseries Finals, Gruffudd Owen picks his highlights from this year’s tournament
Player of the tournament: Chen Qingchen
Who else but the 19-year-old Chinese sensation? Qingchen made a mockery of the idea that competing in two categories at the Finals would prove too demanding by strutting her way to women’s doubles glory before repeating the trick in the mixed doubles just a couple of hours later.
The teenager’s achievement makes her only the second player in Finals history to win two titles in two different categories during the same tournament.
“I’m so grateful to both my partners,” she said after her mixed doubles victory.
“They’ve really motivated and helped me a lot. Because I’m small, they have to cover more space on the court for me.”
Such modesty at such a young age will only further endear Qingchen to her fans back in China. A long and successful career is certain.
Match of the tournament: Viktor Axelsen vs Lee Chong Wei (men's singles)
When it comes to the Finals, Viktor Axelsen is a player who seems incapable of competing in uneventful matches. Once again, the Dane brought tension and drama to the Hamdan Sports Complex, with his exhilarating group stage win over Lee Chong Wei just about edging his defeat of Tian Houwei in the final as the match of the tournament.
Soundly beaten in the first game 14-21 and facing elimination from the competition, Axelsen turned it around to win the second by the same scoreline before somehow finding the energy to better his rival and prevail in the third 21-19 to seal a thrilling career-first triumph over the world no. 1.
Credit must also go to Lee Chong Wei, whose mastery of the shuttlecock and scarcely believable reflexes were a joy to watch, showing all those in attendance why he has ruled for so long over men’s singles badminton.
But the day belonged to the youngster from Denmark, not the Malaysian master – a potential ‘changing of the guard’ victory and a perfect advert for the sport.
Biggest disappointment: Carolina Marin
“I’m the player everyone wants to defeat,” Olympic gold medallist Carolina Marin claimed on the eve of the tournament. Unfortunately for the Spaniard, such a prediction was simple enough for her rivals to carry out as the world no. 2 crashed out at the group stage of the women’s singles competition without winning a match.
While Marin will argue that several decisions went against her at the Finals – and in truth she never looked entirely comfortable on the court during her brief stay in Dubai – she must ultimately take responsibility for her substandard performances.
A largely excellent year that included a triumph in Rio and her reaching the top of the world rankings has ended on a sour note. The 23-year-old has her work cut out for her if she is to displace the new world no. 1 Tai Tzu Ying, who unlike Marin was in unstoppable form at the Hamdan Sports Complex.
Biggest surprise: Chen Qingchen/Jia Yifan women’s doubles victory
Given her twin success on the court, it is only apt that Chen Qingchen is also honoured twice here, this time for playing her part in the shock women’s doubles victory over Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi of Japan.
Despite entering the match as underdogs – and rightly so, given their world no. 1 opponents’ dominance over the past year which has included Olympic gold and four Superseries titles – Qingchen and her playing partner Jia Yifan utterly outclassed the top seeds, deservedly lifting the first of two trophies won by China on finals day.
Conversely, Japan left the tournament empty-handed; their prized women’s doubles pairing will have to be on their guard for this emergent Chinese threat when the new season begins in 2017.