Destination Dubai: He Bingjiao sparks Chinese revival

The talented teen recorded her second BWF World Superseries title of the season in Paris last week – drawing interesting comparisons with another current badminton prodigy. Gruffudd Owen reports

For most countries competing in badminton at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, a final tally of three medals – two golds, one bronze – from five events and top spot in the rankings table would have constituted an undoubted success.

Not for China. So long the dominant force in the game, its medals count in Rio was its lowest since badminton made its Olympic debut in 1992. For many, this was a sign that this once-mighty force was on the wane.

Try telling that to He Bingjiao. Just 19 years old, the Chinese youngster won the YONEX French Open women’s singles title in Paris last week, overcoming strong – and seeded – competitors such as India’s PV Sindhu and South Korea’s Sung Ji-hyun on the way to an eventual 21-9, 21-9 triumph over Zhang Beiwen of the USA in the final.

For all the talk of China’s dwindling status in badminton, Bingjiao’s recent performances represent a compelling rebuttal to such claims. She may still trail her compatriots Li Xuerui and Sun Yu in the world rankings, but if the teenager can continue to perform as she did at the Stade Pierre de Coubertin, then a rise up the table seems inevitable.

Significantly, her first BWF World Superseries win of the season came against Sun Yu at the YONEX Japan Open in September, the first Superseries tournament since the Olympics.

Whether that landmark victory signals the start of Bingjiao’s push to become her country’s best player remains to be seen. What is undisputable, however, is that the world no. 11 has now won two of the last four Superseries events.

That the other two have gone to the Japanese prodigy Akane Yamaguchi – a 19-year-old tipped to go far, much like Bingjiao – also opens up the possibility of a potentially fascinating rivalry at the top of the women’s game in the future, with the pair currently on course to qualify for the season-ending Dubai World Superseries Finals in December.

It was in fact a clean sweep in the singles events for China at the French Open as 20-year-old Shi Yuqi – another promising shuttler and a gold medallist at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games – clinched the men’s crown, his maiden Superseries title.  

With two starlets registering important victories in one of the biggest tournaments of the season – and the THAIHOT China Open to come next in mid-November – the message from the country is clear: don’t write us off just yet.