Testing Young Blood – TAHOE China Open 2017: Preview
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO

Last year’s China Open ended with history being made – for the first time since its inception 30 years ago, there was no Chinese winner.

Denmark’s Jan O Jorgensen (Men’s Singles), India’s Pusarla V Sindhu (Women’s Singles), Korea’s Chang Ye Na/Lee So Hee (Women’s Doubles) and Indonesia’s Tontowi Ahmad/Liliyana Natsir (Mixed Doubles) denied Chinese opponents the gold medal in the final, while Indonesia’s Marcus Fernaldi Gideon/Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo picked up their career’s third World Superseries title beating Denmark’s Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen in the Men’s Doubles final.

The results indicated the dramatic changes that badminton has undergone in recent years, with formerly dominant nations having to fend off challengers in all categories. Moreover, with several stalwarts retiring after the Olympics, China had the task of developing a new generation of elite shuttlers.

That situation still holds for the hosts as the TAHOE China Open began today in Fuzhou. Apart from Men’s Singles, in which China have Lin Dan – who first won this tournament 14 years ago – and Olympic champion Chen Long, the other four categories either feature a clutch of relatively new names or new partnerships. The hosts will hope for their young stars to prevent a repeat of 2016.

In Mixed Doubles, for instance, two of their strongest pairs – Zheng Siwei/Chen Qingchen and Lu Kai/Huang Yaqiong – have been split. Zheng Siwei will partner Huang Yaqiong, with whom he won the Macau Open on Sunday, while Lu Kai will take the court with Tang Jinhua.

Doubles great Zhang Nan, who lost the final here last year with Li Yinhui, is partnering newcomer Liu Xuanxuan, and they face top seeds Praveen Jordan/Debby Susanto (Indonesia) in the first round.

China can also call upon young pairs like last year’s World Junior champions He Jiting/Du Yue and qualifiers Wang Zekang/Xu Ya as they seek to recover the spell they held not so long ago through Zhang Nan/Zhao Yunlei and Xu Chen/Ma Jin.

Tang Jinhua will start with a new partner in Women’s Doubles – Chen Lu – following the retirement of Bao Yixin, with whom she had struck up a fruitful combination. Other new combinations that will be seen are Du Yue/Li Yinhui, Huang Dongping/Li Wenmei and Liu Xuanxuan/Xu Ya.

TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup champions Korea too are experimenting with their Women’s Doubles pairs, with Denmark Open champions Lee So Hee/Shin Seung Chan split and paired up with younger compatriots. Shin will play with Lee Yu Rim, while Lee partners Kim Hye Rin.

In Men’s Doubles, the hosts have a few stable combinations in Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen, World champions Liu Cheng/Zhang Nan and Wang Yilyu/Huang Kaixiang. Still, two new combinations – He Jiting/Zheng Siwei and Lu Kai/Tan Qiang – will be seen in action.

China are better placed in Men’s Singles than in Women’s Singles, with Lin Dan, Chen Long and Tian Houwei backed up by the likes of Shi Yuqi, Qiao Bin, Zhao Junpeng and Huang Yuxiang. In Women’s Singles, however, the hosts will be depending on a young crop, led by He Bingjiao and Chen Yufei. Macau Open winner Cai Yanyan – who takes on Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi – and Zhang Yiman – who faces Canada’s Michelle Li – are among the young prospects who will be tested here.

Men’s Singles top seed Viktor Axelsen, who has had a sensational year winning the World Championships and two Superseries, faces local lad Zhao Junpeng in his opening round. A possible semi-final against either Lin Dan or Lee Chong Wei (Malaysia) looms ahead.

In Women’s Singles, top seed Tai Tzu Ying (Chinese Taipei) faces a difficult opponent in her opener – Chen Yufei. A quarter-final against Denmark Open champion Ratchanok Intanon (Thailand) is a possibility.

Some close first round matches are expected, with Olympic champion Carolina Marin (Spain) facing Japan’s Minatsu Mitani; defending champion Pusarla V Sindhu taking on Japan’s Sayaka Sato; and 2014 champion Saina Nehwal (India) up against USA’s Beiwen Zhang.

Qualifiers:

Men’s Singles: Ren Pengbo (featured image), Zhou Zeqi, Guo Kai (all China), Lee Dong Keun (Korea)

Women’s Singles: Li Yun, Ji Shuting, Gao Fangjie, Han Yue (all China)

Men’s Doubles: Han Chengkai/Zhou Haodong, Chai Biao/Wang Zekang (both China); Chun Eui Seok/Kim Dukyoung (Korea); Chang Ko-Chi/Lu Chia Pin (Chinese Taipei)

Mixed Doubles: Anders Skaarup Rasmussen/Line Kjaersfeldt (Denmark); Satwiksairaj Rankireddy/Ashwini Ponnappa (India); Han Chengkai/Chen Lu, Wang Zekang/Xu Ya (both China)

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