The Malaysian athlete will be hoping to get over his latest Olympic heartbreak in the men’s competition, while a home favourite fancies her chances of a second successive women's title at the YONEX Japan Open, writes Gruffudd Owen
Now that the chance of Olympic glory has been and gone for another four years, the minds of badminton’s top stars are once again focused on the regular season, starting on Tuesday with the YONEX Japan Open – the latest leg of the BWF World Superseries which culminates in the Dubai Finals at the end of the year.
The six-day tournament at Tokyo’s Metropolitan Gymnasium comes at a crucial period for those competing. As well as being the first Superseries event since the Rio Games, the Open also marks the halfway point in the season; with ranking points becoming increasingly valuable as the Dubai World Superseries Finals near ever closer, the sport’s leading shuttlers will be determined to make it far in the Japanese capital.
Top of the seeds among the men is world no. 1 Lee Chong Wei who, despite his lofty position in the game, has suffered some particularly galling setbacks. His defeat at the hands of China’s world no. 2 Chen Long in the men’s singles gold medal match at Rio was his third successive Olympic final loss and, at the age of 33, he is unlikely to get another chance to reach the top of the podium.
Nevertheless, the Malaysian remains a formidable player, and has experienced a lot more joy at the Japan Open during his career. Since 2007 he has claimed the title no fewer than five times (the latest coming in 2014), and with world no. 3 and defending champion Lin Dan opting to sit out of the tournament along with compatriot Chen Long, Wei will be the leading contender for another triumph as he looks to consign his disappointment at Rio firmly to the past.
His main rivals are likely to be Danish duo Viktor Axelsen and Jan Ø. Jorgensen, ranked fourth and fifth in the world respectively, with the former regarded as a rising star in the game having clinched Olympic bronze this summer at 22 years of age.
If Lee Chong Wei’s mastery of the court has rendered the men’s competition at the Japan Open somewhat predictable in recent years, then the women’s game has been anything but.
The past six editions have produced six different victors, although no. 2 seed and home favourite Nozomi Okuhara will be a strong contender to retain her crown after world no.1 Carolina Marín and India’s PV Sindhu – the two finalists in the women's singles at the Olympics – both pulled out of the tournament.
The BWF YONEX Japan Open runs from 20 to 25 September.