Two of the title favourites – Japan and Korea – are in Group D of the TotalEnergies BWF Sudirman Cup Finals 2023, and will be expected to sail through to the quarterfinals.
And while they can feel confident given the firepower they have, both teams will be particularly wary about France, who are one of two European teams in the group, along with England.
In Toma Junior Popov, Christo Popov and Alex Lanier, France have competitive men’s singles who can take the fight to both Japan and Korea. Christo’s last match against Kodai Naraoka, for instance, was a 76-minute affair that went the Japanese’s way, while Toma Junior did beat Naraoka when they were both juniors, but their last match was a more one-sided contest in favour of Naraoka.
The Popov brothers can also challenge the big names in men’s doubles – while their record on the circuit isn’t too impressive, the team format can favour the underdog. At the last Thomas Cup, for instance, France gave a battling display against China, with the Popov brothers nearly upsetting Liu Yu Chen/Ou Xuan Yi.
The aces in France’s pack will however be Thom Gicquel and Delphine Delrue, who, on their day, are capable of beating any pair. France will therefore go into the Sudirman Cup keen to pull off a giantkilling act or two, and with the attention on the team in the run-up to Paris 2024, a sensational result couldn’t be ruled out.
On the other hand, if Japan and Korea avoid any slip-ups in the group, they will sense an opportunity to go all the way. Japan’s troubles of the post-Olympic period, with injuries and lack of form, appear to have eased. Previously dependent on Kento Momota to deliver the point in men’s singles, Japan can now look to Naraoka, who has shot up to world No.3 on the back of solid performances over the last year.
While Japan had their worries in women’s doubles, the return to form of Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota at the Badminton Asia Championships recently will offer great relief. Overall, Japan, with the likes of Akane Yamaguchi, Takuro Hoki/Yugo Kobayashi, Yuta Watanabe/Arisa Higashino and others, can rely on a strong all-round squad.
Korea’s vulnerabilities, on the other hand, will be men’s singles – their top player Jeon Hyeok Jin hasn’t had notable results for a year.
While An Se Young is the spearhead of their campaign, the Koreans can depend on the adaptability of their top doubles players to play with different partners , offering the element of uncertainty to opponents. With Kang Min Hyuk, Kim Won Ho, Seo Seung Jae and Choi Sol Gyu, they can field strong men’s doubles, and the same goes for women’s doubles with the likes of Baek Ha Na, Jeong Na Eun, Kim Hye Jeong, Kim So Yeong, Kong Hee Yong and Lee So Hee.
That leaves England, who are the underdogs in the group. Their men’s singles players are Cholan Kayan (No.235) and Nadeem Dalvi (No.414), while Freya Redfearn (No.230) is likely to be fielded in women’s singles. Experienced pairs like Ben Lane/Sean Vendy (men’s doubles), Chloe Birch/Lauren Smith (women’s doubles) and Marcus Ellis/Lauren Smith (mixed doubles) will hope to inspire their younger colleagues into pulling off a surprise or two.