A Japanese team recovering from their modest show at Tokyo 2020 face their first post-Olympics test when they take on Malaysia, England and Egypt in Group D of the TotalEnergies BWF Sudirman Cup Finals 2021.
With just one bronze medal, it wasn’t a bright Olympics for the home team. At the last Sudirman Cup they were among the favourites and finished runners-up, but going into this edition, they haven’t had the most favourable of circumstances.
Top women’s doubles player Sayaka Hirota is yet to make a comeback from the knee injury that she sustained before the Olympics. Another blow was the withdrawal of their top three men’s doubles players – Takeshi Kamura, Keigo Sonoda and Hiroyuki Endo.
The withdrawals mean that Japan don’t sport the formidable look of the recent past; yet, with the depth that they have, they are still one of the teams to beat. If they can go far despite the setbacks, they would have proved a point or two.
Leading the charge will be Kento Momota, who will be keen to shake off his below-par performances of recent months. Much will depend on his form, for Momota has been critical to Japan’s successes at team events.
In the absence of their top two men’s doubles pairs, Japan will call upon World Championships runners-up Takuro Hoki/Yugo Kobayashi and Akira Koga/Taichi Saito.
The other categories pose less of a problem, with Japan able to call upon Nozomi Okuhara, Akane Yamaguchi, Sayaka Takahashi (women’s singles) and world champions Mayu Matsumoto/Wakana Nagahara and No.10 duo Nami Matsuyama/Chiharu Shida (women’s doubles). All England 2021 winners Yuta Watanabe/Arisa Higashino and runners-up Yuki Kaneko/Misaki Matsutomo add solidity in mixed doubles.
Malaysia sport a youthful look, with several players spearheading their categories for the first time at a major team event. A generational change is evident as Kisona Selvaduray (women’s singles), Pearly Tan/Thinaah Muralitharan (women’s doubles) and Hoo Pang Ron/Cheah Yee See and Chen Tang Jie/Peck Yen Wei (mixed doubles) shoulder responsibilities in the absence of their seniors.
Even Lee Zii Jia (men’s singles) and Aaron Chia/Soh Wooi Yik (men’s doubles) have emerged only in recent years and given their form – Lee won the All England, while Chia/Soh were bronze medallists at Tokyo 2020 – look set to lead Malaysia to impressive results.
England Bank on Doubles
England will have to bank on their strength in doubles, with Ben Lane/Sean Vendy (men’s doubles), Chloe Birch/Lauren Smith (women’s doubles) and Marcus Ellis/Lauren Smith (mixed doubles) the backbone of the squad.
Toby Penty isn’t on the team, and England will depend on 22-year-old Johnnie Torjussen and 18-year-old Ethan Rose in men’s singles.
Chloe Birch will be first choice in women’s singles, with Abigail Holden on standby. Others in the squad are 16-year-old Estelle Van Leeuwen (women’s singles), and doubles players Callum Hemming, Jessica Hopton, Jessica Pugh and Steven Stallwood.
Egypt have just four players: Nour Ahmed Youssri, Adham Hatem Elgamel, Doha Hany and Ahmed Salah. Hany, who had qualified in three events at Tokyo 2020, could be seen in multiple roles, while 18-year-old Youssri, winner at the All Africa Under 19 Individual Championships in September, could get her opportunity in women’s singles.