Olympic champions, world champions and future champions will all be travelling thousands of miles to take part in the All England – one of the most prestigious and coveted titles in the badminton world.
Seeded to win the trophy and returning as defending champion Akane Yamaguchi knows what it takes to be successful in this tournament. Endless resilience and faultless court coverage is baked into her game. Her speed and tactical nous give her a significant edge, so who can push her to her limits?
Akane’s top half of the draw is peppered with formidable adversaries. CHEN Yu Fei is seeded 4 and is slated to clash with her in a SF. She was outclassed in straight sets in their SF at the recent German Open so she will be reevaluating her strategies over the next couple of days. Sometimes her weakness can be caution and I think she will have to offer far more than her standard patient game if she wants to get on the podium. Nevertheless she must be travelling to Birmingham knowing that she can win it again. There are five Chinese women in the draw with WANG Zhi Yi and HAN Yue also in the top half. HE Bing Jiao is seeded 5 and was only stopped by injury at last year’s tournament. This year her harsh draw means that she could have to face Sindhu then TAI Tzu Ying during the early stages.
I am fascinated to see if Gregoria Mariska Tunjung can impose herself on this year’s competition. Her skills tend towards the flair end of the spectrum and over the past year or so she has worked hard to produce good results against top players. Unseeded, in the top half of the draw, Ratchanok Intanon or Pornpawee will be early tests of her resolve.
Ratchanok Intanon’s adventurous style of play can result in unfavourable outcomes when she faces a determined opponent who tempts her into taking risky shots. CYF and AY are those opponents, and they will be waiting for her if she goes deep into the tournament. Despite that May can unpick rivals’ strategies with her inventive shots so her skills could take her past them if the stars align in her favour.
AN Se Young has had an impressive start to 2023 with two golds and one silver from January’s contests (& is about to contest the final of the German Open). She’s the second seed and so long as she stays injury free, she must be anticipating yet another final. If that turns out to be one more battle with Akane then I think the result will depend on how hard her journey to the last day is. The Head-to-head stats are strongly in favour of the Japanese but recently it appears that the power dynamics are shifting.
Three-time winner TAI Tzu Ying has eschewed the possible benefits of a warm-up in Germany and decided to plunge straight into the S1000. Her mind-blowing skills bring a touch of magic to any match but her mental resilience is below the level of some rivals. If she can get her ‘A’ game flowing early on without escalating injury niggles she can quite legitimately be looking at a fourth title even though she will potentially have to negotiate matches against HE Bing Jiao and AN Se Young to get to the final.
I wonder what Carolina Marin could achieve this year? She has the experience to derail ASY if they meet in a QF and if she passes that test she has to be the contender that everyone is wary of. Under sustained physical pressure there is the risk that she will be dismantled so her tactics should reflect this. PV Sindhu is a consistent medalist at the highest levels. I can’t reconcile this with the absence of a podium finish at the AE. She is unseeded this year in the bottom half of the draw and I’m not sure what we can expect from her, then again last time she competed in Brum was her successful Gold medal match at the CWG so she is well-known for getting her motivation from the big games.
The progression of WS tactics seems to favour the athletes with the toughness to accelerate in the third set. As the hall in Birmingham is usually slow it’s hard to look beyond the top two seeds for the eventual winner.
We are in the middle of a generational shift in WD with more emphasis on attack rather than the attritional play of a few years ago. The idea of a showdown between the more traditional and the newer pairs is mouthwatering.
CHEN Qing Chen and JIA Yi Fan are consistent winners of tournaments and must be favourites to secure this trophy for a second time. Their strategy of attacking aggressively and exerting a steady stream of pressure subdues their rivals quite effectively; they are skillful defenders, so the challenge is where to find their weak spot. Their compatriots ZHANG Shu Xian & ZHENG Yu are seeded 3 and they could meet in the QF if results go their way.
Defending champions Nami Matsuyama & Chiharu Shida are part of the new wave of pairs who want to seize control of matches through pacey attacking play. Their exhilarating speed and Shida’s adventurous shots are so dynamic that they can often overwhelm the opposition; once they are in control they are very difficult to beat.
Pearly TAN & Thinaah Muralitharan are also part of the emerging group of WD players who approach matches with bolder strategies. Pearly is capable of audacious shots from the front court and as a pair they have a lot of grit. One of their big strengths is that they persevere and stay positive when they face setbacks together.
Apriyani Rahayu enjoyed glory as part of GreyAp and was able to defend diligently in that framework but the new partnership with Siti Fadia Silva Ramadhanti has uncaged two attack-minded players who thrive on a more assertive style. They are seeded 8 so if they get to the QF and face ShidaMatsu there will be fireworks for the spectators to enjoy.
The quality of the WD competition is superb this year and there are multiple pairs who have the potential to make it to the finals weekend. The Aimsaard sisters had a great 2022 and are now acknowledged as emerging talent. Japan’s past winners, FukuHiro and NagaMatsu understand how to negotiate the early rounds of big competitions. Kitiharakul/Prajongjai (seeded 7) and the three Korea pairs are expected to do well. Nevertheless owing to the slow hall conditions I think the eventual winners will have to be wily as well as offensive; there will be some long matches leading up to the final so staying injury-free will also be crucial. Taking all these factors into account it’s hard to look far beyond the first and second seeds but I would love PriFad or PearThin to still be fighting at the weekend.
I always include XD in my ‘women’s’ previews because it is the skill of the female partner that cements the success of the pair. One of the most talented players in the whole sport at the moment is HUANG Yaqiong and along with her partner – ZHENG Siwei – is seeded 1. She’s an exceptional competitor who has won this competition twice with different partner each time; most recently in 2019 with Siwei when they beat the 2022 champions Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino. The Japanese pair are seeded 2 this year and are looking to secure their third title in a row (fourth overall). So, who can stop the top two seeds facing off for the trophy on March 19th?
Thom Gicquel and Delphine Delrue have been knocking on the door of a major trophy for the last year or so. They are fourth seeds and if things go smoothly they could potentially have a SF against the Chinese number ones. It’s clear that all the French badminton players are looking to build for their home Olympics in 2024 so they will have a little way yet to peak. Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taeranttanachai (seeded 3) will be looking to improve on their silver in 2020 when they lost in three sets to Praveen Jordan and Melati Octavianti who have returned after quite a long injury related absence. As they haven’t been on court for a while they are unseeded and they could face Bass/Popor in round 2. The Chinese fifth seeds – FENG Yan Zhe and HUANG Dong Ping – could be contenders too. HUANG is the Olympic champion and this new partnership is steadily making progress.
A spectacular event awaits. The best players will be testing themselves at the highest level. The winners will have to battle hard and stay focused on the prize. Go Girls!
If you enjoyed this take a look at my article about TAI Tzu Ying at the All England https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2022/03/02/tai-tzu-ying-at-the-all-england/
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