Monday, August 14, 2017
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO
With a wealth of talent, Japan are in an enviable position in the Women’s Doubles category at the TOTAL BWF World Championships 2017 in Glasgow.
All four of their pairs have been in form this season, and luckily for the Japanese, they don’t run into each other in the early rounds. The four pairs have been distributed in three quarters, so an all-Japanese final is a possibility. However, with other strong contenders in the draw – notably from China, Korea and Denmark – the outcome is still anybody’s guess.
What will give the Japanese a spring in their steps is that three of their pairs – two of them relatively fresh to elite competition – won World Superseries events this year. Shiho Tanaka and Koharu Yonemoto made their first Superseries final at the Yonex-Sunrise India Open against compatriots Naoko Fukuman/Kurumi Yonao, but made light of their lack of experience as they ground out a three-game victory.
A week later a similar scenario played out at the Celcom Axiata Malaysia Open, with Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota (featured image) punching beyond their weight in bringing down their far more experienced compatriots Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi in the semi-finals and their Chinese opponents Huang Yaqiong/Tang Jinhua in the final.
These two victories proved that the lack of experience at the highest level was no deterrent for the emerging Japanese – they displayed typical solidity and an unerring sense of occasion.
Matsutomo and Takahashi had been overshadowed by their younger compatriots, but it wasn’t long before they showed the stuff they were made of. They shot to the final in Singapore, falling in three games to Denmark’s Christinna Pedersen/Kamilla Rytter Juhl; defended their crown at the Badminton Asia Championships; helped Japan to the semi-finals of the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup, and despite a first-round loss at the BCA Indonesia Open, were back at their sparkling best at the Crown Group Australian Open. Their straight-games demolition of Pedersen/Rytter Juhl in the final in Sydney was an emphatic statement of their return to form.
The top seeds have drawn Fukuman/Yonao in the third round of the World Championships; the victors likely to face China’s Bao Yixin/Yu Xiaohan or Luo Ying/Luo Yu for a place in the semi-finals.
Apart from these two pairs, China’s hopes will be shouldered by Chen Qingchen/Jia Yifan and Huang Dongping/Li Yinhui. Chen/Jia were China’s only Superseries winners this season in Women’s Doubles – they won the Indonesia Open – and would be keen to wrest the narrative back for their country which hasn’t been as dominant in recent times as it used to be. China have been the predominant power in Women’s Doubles in the World Championships – with 19 titles in the last 20 editions – and Chen/Jia and their compatriots will want to keep that tradition intact.
Fourth seeds Chen /Jia are likely to run into Korea’s Jung Kyung Eun/Shin Seung Chan in the quarter-finals, while Huang/Li, in the third quarter, are likely to run into Fukushima/Hirota in the third round before the winners face off against Korea’s Yonex All England champions Chang Ye Na/Lee So Hee or Chae Yoo Jung/Kim So Yeong for a place in the last four.
Chang/Lee are Korea’s best bet to claim a title the country last won 22 years ago. Having led their team to the Sudirman Cup crown, and with strong results this season starting with the All England win, Chang/Lee are top contenders for their first world crown.
Denmark’s Pedersen/Rytter Juhl can also take plenty of positives from the season and may well believe that, after finishing runners-up at the last World Championships and the Rio Olympics, this might finally be their year. The Danes were in five finals this year, winning the Syed Modi International (GPG), the Singapore Open and the European Championships, and finishing runners-up at the All England and the Australian Open. Given the form they’re in, it would surprise many if the Danes stumbled before the semi-finals, but they will be wary of a likely second round clash against India’s Ashwini Ponnappa/Sikki Reddy, before a possible third round face-off against Korea’s Kim Hye Rin/Yoo Hae Won. Up next could be Japan’s Tanaka/Yonemoto or Bulgaria’s Gabriela Stoeva/Stefani Stoeva.
While the pairs from Japan, Korea, China and Denmark have the reputations and the results going in to the World Championships, a few other pairs might upset their calculations. Eefje Muskens/Selena Piek (Netherlands), Gronya Somerville/Setyana Mapasa (Australia) and Ashwini Ponnappa/Sikki Reddy (India) are among those who could cause some ripples in the draw.