An increasingly competitive global playing field, and two world no. 1s showcasing their superiority in the singles competitions – Gruffudd Owen takes stock of the events at the YONEX All England Open as the world’s top badminton players once again set out on the road to Dubai
The (short) wait is over. Just three months after the crowning of the 2016 BWF Superseries champions, the new season is up and running with the culmination of the YONEX All England Open in Birmingham on Sunday – the first of 12 Superseries events on the road to Dubai, where the Finals will once again be taking place at the end of the year.
Early days though they may be, there was still plenty to take away from the action at the world’s oldest badminton tournament. Here are three things we learned…
A level playing field?
There were five winners from five different countries at the All England Open this year – the first time this has happened since 1999.
The fact that the victorious quintet all hailed from Asian countries – Malaysia, Chinese Taipei, Indonesia, South Korea and China – tells us that the continent remains the dominant force in world badminton, however there is no denying that there is a greater degree of unpredictability in the game today.
China are not the superpower they used to be – failing to win at least one of the All England singles titles for only the second time in the past 21 years – while the traditional heavyweights of Europe are slowly but surely beginning to hold their own against their eastern rivals, with Denmark’s Kamilla Rytter Juhl and Christinna Pedersen reaching the women’s doubles final and home favourites Chris and Gabby Adcock unfortunate to lose in the last four of the mixed doubles.
Tai Tzu Ying the one to beat
While we may be witnessing the gradual eroding of the established order in a national context, one individual is conquering all in the women’s singles.
World no. 1 Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei was the deserved 2016 Superseries champion in Dubai and her supreme will to win shows no sign of abating, with the diminutive 22-year-old defeating Ratchanok Intanon 21-16, 22-20 in Sunday’s final to claim her first All England Open win.
“The score was always quite close. During the second half I fell behind a couple of times, but I kept telling myself not to give up,” she said after the victory.
If Tai Tzu Ying’s impressive start is a sign of how she means to go on, it will take an almighty effort from her rivals on the circuit to prevent this resilient fighter from capturing a second successive Finals title in Dubai.
Lee Chong Wei’s majesty belies his advancing years
Another singles competition, another world no. 1 walking away with the trophy.
For all the talk prior to the men’s singles of Viktor Axelsen building on his triumph in Dubai and the return of Chen Long, it was up to Lee Chong Wei to remind the badminton world why he is widely regarded as one of the greatest shuttlers in the history of the sport.
Despite the presence of several talented – and younger – opponents in the draw, the Malaysian waltzed rather than battled his way to a fourth All England Open title, dropping just one game throughout the entire tournament.
Following his disappointing exit at the 2016 Finals in Dubai, there were mutterings that at 34 years of age, Lee Chong Wei’s days at the summit of the men’s game were numbered.
With this latest glorious performance, it is clear that such predictions were ludicrously premature.