Badminton: Being away from the competition for too long can be good for China
PETALING JAYA: Chinese badminton is in a tight spot ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
They are the only badminton nation that has yet to play in a competitive tournament since the All-England in Birmingham last year – that was about 15 months ago.
The team powered by top men’s singles players Chen Long and Shi Yuqi; world No. 2 player in women’s singles, Chen Yufei; and world number 1 mixed doubles pair Zheng Siwei-Huang Yaqiong were slated to return to the Malaysian Open May 25-30 in Bukit Jalil, but the penultimate Olympic qualifying tournament has been postponed indefinitely, leaving the Chinese team at an impasse.
They also registered for the Singapore Open from June 1-6, but the status of the final Olympics qualifiers is still uncertain as there are border, quarantine and government policy issues to be addressed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Without these tournaments, China will compete in the Tokyo Olympics without participating in major events for more than a year and a half and has raised the question of whether its players will be able to peak.
Two things can happen: their players may have trouble adjusting after being home for the longest time, or they may just be doing their best at the Games.
Past results have shown that some of the top players struggled in their first big event after taking long breaks.
Malaysia’s Lee Zii Jia, for example, suffered a low at the Thailand Open, his first in 10 months, but rebounded to win the All-England title.
Indonesian Jonatan Christie also struggled to find his place during the Thai relay, but he looked good to the All-England after reaching the second round.
But through his fault, the entire Indonesian team was not allowed to participate in the tournament when one of the passengers on their flight to Birmingham tested positive for Covid-19. For health and safety reasons, they had to be quarantined.
World No.1 Kento Momota of Japan advanced to the quarter-finals of his first tournament after more than a year at All-England and came down to Zii Jia.
There were a few exceptions though, with Viktor Axelsen from Denmark being a good example.
He didn’t play any tournaments for nine months but came back on a high by winning the Thailand Open 1 and 2 and reached the final of the World Tour finals in Bangkok in January.
In fact, he had been the most consistent player so far before Covid-19 knocked him out on the eve of his final against teammate Anders Antonsen at the European Championships in Ukraine.
Despite the inconsistency of some players, however, many believe that China will be stronger than ever when it comes to the Olympics, as none will be able to assess its true form.
It is therefore better to take them seriously even if they have not been on the circuit for more than a year.