Thursday, May 2, 2019
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO
Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo’s second-game meltdown in the Badminton Asia Championships 2019 on Sunday might have caused a few furrowed brows in the Indonesian team in the run-up to the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2019.
It has been 30 years since the Indonesians won the Sudirman Cup – the last was in 1989, when the tournament debuted in Jakarta – and Indonesia can nurse hopes of a strong performance given their strength in the various disciplines. But they will know that success in men’s doubles will be crucial.
Gideon and Sukamuljo have been their most consistent performers over the last two years or more – but this season has been a different story.
The Minions, who won back to back titles at the Malaysia Masters and the Indonesia Masters, crashed out in the opening round of the All England, suffered a quarterfinal exit at the Malaysia Open, and a semifinal loss at the Singapore Open. They redeemed themselves somewhat by making the final in Wuhan, but the manner of their defeat – a 21-3 hammering in the second game by Japan’s Hiroyuki Endo/Yuta Watanabe – wouldn’t have inspired confidence in the team’s brains trust.
They beat their renowned compatriots Gideon/Sukamuljo on the way to the semifinals of the Malaysia Open, and have grown as a strong and dependable pair.
For Japan, in Group 1A with Thailand and Russia, Takeshi Kamura/Keigo Sonoda have had a stellar season, culminating in the Singapore Open title victory. Their consistency has stood out, as they made three finals in four tournaments, and the semifinals of the All England and the Badminton Asia Championships.
Japan will also be pleased with the form of Hiroyuki Endo/Yuta Watanabe, who won the Badminton Asia Championships last week and the Yonex German Open earlier this year.
China (Group 1D) have a number of top men’s doubles pairs, but the ones who will lead the challenge will be Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen. The world No.3 duo have the ability to peak for the big tournaments, as they proved at the Thomas Cup, the World Championships and the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals last year.
They haven’t had a great start to the year, with a first round exit at the All England, and quarterfinal losses at the Indonesia Masters and the BAC, but will be hard to beat if they are close to their best form.
Chinese Taipei (1C) have some strong doubles pairs, with the men’s doubles responsibilities likely to be taken up by Wang Chi-Lin/Lee Yang. The No.32 pair have been in sparkling form, winning the Barcelona Spain Masters and then reaching three straight finals – Switzerland, Orleans and India – of which they won the last two.
Japan’s challenge in men’s doubles in their group is likely to come from Bodin Isara/Maneepong Jongjit or Tinn Isriyanet/Kittisak Namdash. Isara/Jongjit have crossed the first round of only one of their last six tournaments, while Isriyanet/Namdash have only barely done better.
Russia’s best card is its men’s doubles pair of Vladimir Ivanov/Ivan Sozonov. While they aren’t in the kind of form that saw them win the All England in 2016, they can be a difficult pair to beat on their day.
Denmark and England will challenge Indonesia in Group 1B. Denmark, missing their women’s doubles and mixed doubles stalwarts of recent years, will bank heavily on men’s singles and men’s doubles. World No.9 duo Kim Astrup/Anders Skaarup Rasmussen are expected to lead their challenge; they reached a couple of semifinals this year, but haven’t found the kind of form that saw them claim the Victor China Open last year – their biggest victory to date.
England will bank on Marcus Ellis/Chris Langridge to deliver a point. The England duo had a profitable late season last year, winning the SaarLorLux Open and the Scottish Open, while this year they were in the semifinals of the Swiss Open.
Defending champions Korea and Hong Kong are in Group 1C with Chinese Taipei. Korea didn’t have much luck in men’s doubles – Lee Yong Dae/Kim Gi Jung and Shin Baek Cheol/Ko Sung Hyun are independent players – but Kang Min Hyuk/Kim Won Ho’s semifinal appearance at the BAC might be the boost they needed. The young Koreans beat China’s Zhang Nan/Liu Cheng and Malaysia’s Aaron Chia/Soh Wooi Yik on their way to the last-four, and they lost to eventual champions Endo/Watanabe in a thriller, 27-25 in the third.
Quite significantly, Hong Kong don’t have a men’s doubles pair in the top 60 of the world rankings. It will be interesting to see what combinations they go with, for they do have a few experienced players who are currently focussing on mixed doubles.
The battle in Group 1D is expected to boil down to the tie between India and Malaysia, although China will be wary of both.
For India, much will depend on whether Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, who injured his sternum earlier this year, is back to full fitness. Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty are a top pair and give India a sharp edge in men’s doubles; but in their absence Manu Attri/Sumeeth Reddy – semifinalists at the India Open – might lead the charge.
Malaysia can look to some exciting young names in men’s doubles. Aaron Chia/Soh Wooi Yik were sensational at the All England – where they reached the final; the Malaysians can also count on Ong Yew Sin/Teo Ee Yi who were runners-up at the Malaysia Masters.