Saturday, May 18, 2019
TEXT BY GAYLE ALLEYNE | BADMINTONPHOTO
Be they favourites, potential spoilers or underdogs, the 12 teams in Group 1 of the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2019 head into the tournament with comments perhaps belying their storylines.
From the lips of Denmark’s Mia Blichfeldt came the feisty declaration at this morning’s press conference: “I think we have a good chance to win our group if we play our best.”
Despite a squad in transition – according to head coach Kenneth Jonassen – and not figuring in the contenders’ conversation, Blichfeldt refused to write off the European champions’ chances of raising eyebrows in Nanning, China. The women’s singles spearhead vows to claim as many points as possible for her team who are drawn in Group 1B with Indonesia and England.
More conservative in his assessment, Jonassen noted the Danes “like being the underdogs” versus Asian opponents. He added that they can take inspiration from defending champions, Korea, who were the surprise winners in Gold Coast two years ago.
Yet again, the same tag has been bestowed on Korea – a unit beset by controversy in the past season and injuries in the lead-up to this event. The loss of both their men’s and women’s singles leaders – Son Wan Ho and Sung Ji Hyun respectively – has been significant just as the powerhouse is resurfacing from a coaching clear-out after last year’s poor Asian Games showing.
Nonetheless, head coach Ahn Jae Chang said Korea is experienced in team events and will be expecting a good result. Seated next to him, 17-year-old women’s singles prodigy An Se Young confirmed she is ready and raring to lead the way in Sung’s absence.
At the other end of the spectrum, joint favourites Japan and China are clearly intent on avoiding any early slip-ups as they eye a much-anticipated title showdown next Sunday. Both camps spoke somewhat cautiously, though acknowledging their star billing.
“We have prepared well but we know it will not be easy to beat China in China. There are also other strong teams such as Indonesia, Korea and Chinese Taipei,” said Japan’s head coach, Park Joo Bong.
Meanwhile, China’s women’s doubles star, Jia Yifan, reflected on the lessons from two years ago when she and Chen Qingchen lost their match in the final against Korea.
“Such experiences motivated me to train harder…It was the first time we were the top pair in the team competition… so when we faced on-court challenges I lacked the experience to solve them,” observed Jia, confident this time will be different.
China’s singles coach, Xia Xuanze, said the home team will focus on itself rather than on any opponents and will aim to turn the pressure of playing in front of legions of fans into motivation.
Potential spoilers like India, Indonesia and Thailand all fancy their chances of upsetting the China-Japan party.
“In the Gold Coast, we were the underdogs. Nobody expected us to reach the semifinals. This year we want to go further,” stated Thailand’s head coach, Rexy Mainaky.
Recalling Indonesia’s “nightmare” exit at the group stage in 2017, PBSI Secretary General Achmad Budiharto said the No. 3 seeds want to banish that memory and fulfil the expectations of their badminton-crazy supporters.