Japan’s statement of intent, an unlikely hero in the men’s singles and the ongoing conundrum that is Carolina Marín – Gruffudd Owen reviews the Australian Open, the latest stop in the 2017 BWF Superseries season
The culmination of the Crown Group Australian Open on Sunday marked the halfway point of the regular BWF Superseries season, and with a lengthy break until the next tournament in the series – September’s VICTOR Korea Open – the Sydney spectacle was a useful opportunity for the players to score valuable Destination Dubai ranking points before the mid-season hiatus. Here, we take a look at the key talking points from the week of action in Australia…
1. Triple joy for Japan
Japan harbours ambitious plans to usurp the Chinese as the dominant badminton nation by the time they host the Olympic Games in 2020. If the results of the Australian Open are anything to go by, such aims may not be as fanciful as once thought.
The Japanese emerged victorious in no fewer than three categories in Sydney: world no. 1 pairing Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi won their first Superseries event of the season in the women’s doubles, Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda were crowned men’s doubles champions, while the country’s superiority was no more apparent than in the women’s singles, where Nozomi Okuhara defeated Akane Yamaguchi in an all-Japanese final.
The Chinese shuttlers may still pose a serious threat – not to mention those from Denmark, India and Korea – but the stunning returns made by the Japanese in Australia bodes very well for a country set to welcome the biggest sporting spectacle on the planet to Tokyo in three years’ time.
2. Super Srikanth makes it two
As the man himself would likely admit, Srikanth Kidambi’s 2016 BWF Superseries campaign hardly set the world alight.
Apart from a semi-final finish at the Australian Open, there was not a great deal for the Indian to cheer about as he finished in 25th place in the Destination Dubai rankings – a long way behind the top eight players who would go on to compete in the season-ending Dubai Finals.
This year, however, the 24-year-old’s fortunes have taken a dramatic turn for the better. First came a run to the final of the OUE Singapore Open in April in which he narrowly lost to compatriot B. Sai Praneeth. Then came his first Superseries title of the season at the BCA Indonesia Open, while just a few days later he made it two championships in a row by beating China’s Chen Long in Australia.
Kidambi now finds himself in a very strong position in the Destination Dubai rankings – by reaching three finals and winning two, he has most likely done enough already to secure his place at the Dubai Superseries Finals in December. The question is: for how long can he maintain this fine run of form?
3. Despair Down Under for Marín
If Kidambi deserves all the praise that comes his way for his recent stunning performances, spare a thought for Carolina Marín in the women’s singles.
Last summer the Spaniard had the world at her feet, winning Olympic gold in Rio and reaching the top of the BWF world rankings.
Since then, however, Marín has struggled badly to reach the same heights. Following a disappointing first round loss at the Indonesia Open earlier this month, she once again fell at the first hurdle in Australia, losing in straight games to Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara, the eventual winner of the tournament.
Granted, Marín had reached three successive Superseries finals prior to the Indonesia Open. But the 24-year-old lost each one of them, and to her closest rivals PV Sindhu and Tai Tzu-ying to boot.
Couple this with the fact that she has slipped to third in the world rankings, and for Marín there is a real worry that her adversaries have gained a crucial psychological edge over her. She will need to address this – and urgently – if she is to return to the top of the pile.