On the eve of the 2016 Dubai World Superseries Finals, who are the players to look out for in the singles competitions? Gruffudd Owen is live in Dubai to find out
A season that began in March, thrilled crowds in 12 venues across three continents and saw new Olympic champions crowned in Rio will culminate this week at the 2016 Dubai World Superseries Finals in Dubai. Here, we make our predictions for the men’s and women’s singles events…
You know you stand a good chance of winning a tournament when even the top-ranked player says you’re the man to beat. “My name isn’t the first one you’d pick if you had to choose a winner here,” no. 1 seed Jan O Jorgensen said at Monday’s draw. “I think that would be the guy from Malaysia.” The guy in question is Lee Chong Wei. Don’t be fooled by the no. 7 seeding – his lowly position is down to the 34-year-old pulling out of half the Superseries events this season. Of the six in which he competed, the world no. 1 was champion in three of them.
If the men’s draw has a clear favourite, then the women’s competition is the complete opposite. Theirs is a remarkably even playing field, but it is India’s Olympic silver medallist PV Sindhu who heads into the Finals on the best run of form, winning in China and then reaching the final in Hong Kong last month. A surprise choice perhaps – what with top seed Tai Tzu Ying enjoying a fine season – but in such an unpredictable draw, momentum could see Sindhu triumph.
The Dark Horse
It will take something special to topple Lee Chong Wei this week, but Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen could be a player to watch in Dubai. The promising 22-year-old failed to win a Superseries event in the regular season, but did make it to the final in India, as well as the last four of the China Open. He certainly doesn’t lack confidence: “I feel ready, and I’m excited to get started. My goal is to win; let’s see what happens.”
Another talented young shuttler is Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi, who caught the attention of many by winning back-to-back women’s singles titles in Korea and Denmark. “The other three players in my group are all much taller than me, so it might be challenging,” she revealed on the eve of the tournament. “However, I think my chances are good. I’m happy with the draw, and I am very motivated too.”
The Rank Outsider
Hong Kong’s Hu Yun was a last-minute entrant into the Finals after Olympic men’s singles champion Chen Long turned down a wildcard invitation. It would be quite the upset if the 35-year-old goes all the way in Dubai; the highlight of his season was a semi-final appearance in his home event at the Hong Kong Open.
As for the women, Sung Ji Hyun of Korea will find it hard to get through a group containing world no. 1 and top seed Tai Tzu Ying, Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon – winner of three Superseries events this season – and the rising Chinese star He Bingjiao, who was victorious in both Japan and France.
Play begins at the first day of the 2016 Dubai World Superseries Finals at 09:00 (UAE time) on Wednesday 14 December. The tournament takes place at the Hamdan Sports Complex in Dubai.
Gruffudd Owen will be reporting live from the event - go to www.vision.ae or @visionsportae on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook for more updates