Badminton World Championships Preview Part 1: The Men

The annual battle for the title of World Champion is about to get underway in Tokyo. I’m anticipating some exhilarating triumphs, a few shocks and plenty of fun along the way.  Grab your popcorn and get ready to enjoy the best badminton on the planet.

bwc logo 2022
Graphic courtesy BWF

Men’s Doubles

With no clear frontrunner for Gold this promises to be a compelling contest. Speed Kings beware! the playing hall is likely to be slow and they must have a Plan B or a Plan C if opponents give them a bumpy ride.

The draw is difficult for the three highest ranked Indonesian pairs – they are all in the top half – so there is real risk they will be toe-to-toe towards the end of the tournament. If it unwinds as per seedings then world #1 Kevin Sukamuljo and Marcus Gideon could face Fajar Alfian & Muhammad Rian Ardianto  in the QF. Whoever controls the tempo, and the net has the best chance of making the SF. When Kevin unleashes his creative energy anchored by Marcus they are unstoppable. I hope to see Sukamuljo back to his irrepressible self – that cheeky, annoying, talented athlete who can do anything with a shuttle, seemingly without trying. The sky’s the limit so long as these two get into their flow. Nevertheless FajRi have a great chance of Gold, they live under less under the microscope than the Minions and have had an uneventful build-up – unlike Marcus who is recovering from surgery and Kevin who is celebrating his engagement to Valencia. All four players must minimise errors and get comfortable with the drift early on to build a winning momentum.

Two of the most successful players ever at the WC are Hendra Setiawan (4 Golds) and Mohammad Ahsan (3 Golds) seeded 3 with a bye in R1; lets see how their old bones hold up to sustained physical pressure over successive days. If they avoid injury, they are the equal of any pair and I would love to see them on the podium.

If Indonesia misses out on the title, then it could be coming to India’s Rankireddy/Shetty.  They won Commonwealth Gold without dropping a set so will arrive in Tokyo full of self-belief. There is a strong Danish influence in their camp, and they credit Boe with giving them a more tactical approach to matches. They will need to raise their game at this event, but they were also part of India’s victorious Thomas Cup team and have proven that they can seize wins under pressure. A QF against defending champions Hoki/Kobayashi is on the horizon and there is no way they will be dismissed in two sets.

Plenty has been written about Aaron Chia and SOH Wooi Yik and the semi-final hoodoo. They have fallen at that hurdle 6 times recently and according to their seeding the likelihood is that the pattern will repeat. There were occasions at the Commonwealth Games when the partnership looked flat so the challenge for them is to reignite their spark in the course of the early rounds to advance. LEE Yang and WANG Chi-Lin have suffered the classic dip in focus that is often experienced by Olympic champions. They too must revitalise their all-energy style if they want to get beyond a QF with the Malaysians.

At the opposite end of the scale in terms of intensity are the Danish duo Kim Astrup & Anders Skaarup Rasmussen. Their passion drives them onwards and I think they will blaze their way through the early rounds until they run out of steam. I’m ready for a possible semi-final with Kevin and Marcus or FajRi and it’s not impossible to see them as outsiders for a medal.

Men’s Singles: Viktor Rules OK?

Owing to the dominance of Viktor Axelsen some dismiss this sector as boring and repetitive but I completely disagree. Nothing stays the same in sport, eventually someone will find a weakness to exploit. There’s an excitement around all his matches as we wait to see who will dare to trespass upon his unbeatable aura. Badminton Insight analysed Axelsen’s play on their YouTube channel and they explain how he closes out results so successfully.

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Viktor is on an incredible winning streak but rivals can take heart from the fact that he was outperformed by LOH Kean Yew in the first round last year. It’s possible to unsettle him but who has the nerve and the patience to do it?

LEE Zii Jia sacrificed Commonwealth Games participation to recuperate from his hip injury and focus on preparation for this tournament. He is like a human hand grenade with sudden explosive power that he can detonate anywhere on court. I’m sure that he has the desire and stamina to get to the final and win. I’m nervous about a possible QF against Momota or Sen though because they are both very canny players. If he is allowed to rampage he can demolish an opponent but they are capable of containing and frustrating him.

Over the past 18 months Lakshya Sen has consistently shown that he can beat anyone on the tour. Training in Dubai with Viktor had a huge impact on his game. He’s removed impetuous errors that could derail a game and replaced them with patience and tactical nous. He is astute at his game management, really good at balancing attack with defence and reduces opponents options for victory. He’s the newly anointed Commonwealth champion and India’s best chance of the title.

Anthony Ginting has the most horrific draw of any of the top seeds; it’s so bad it’s hardly worth being seeded. I hope he can progress but he will probably have to overcome Rasmus Gemke and SHI YuQui to earn the right to face Viktor in a QF. His form has been steadily improving so perhaps he can fight his way through. Jonatan Christie looks to have a smoother path in the early stages and is slated to face CHOU Tien Chen in a QF.

The random variable in this competition is SHI YuQui. None of us know what to expect from this lovable, enigmatic player after his enforced break. He has struggled to hit previous heights since the ankle injury back in 2019 but he’s back, no-ones played him for a while so he might spring some surprises. If things go well for him (and badly for Ginting) he could face Viktor in the QF. An appearance in the final would be the stuff of dreams.

Three players who at present seem to be struggling with focus or form are defending champion LOH Kean Yew, Kento Momota (winner 2018 & 2019) and Anders Antonsen. All three of them could put together a good run of results and be on the podium; the most likely being Momota who competed well at the Malaysia Open.

So, who can beat Viktor?

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