In just a few weeks, we will be welcoming the world to Birmingham for the YONEX All England Open Badminton Championships 202 - a HSBC BWF World Tour Super 1000 event.
Showcasing the very best athletes within our sport since 1899, including many outstanding performances and rivalries, 2021 provides an exciting opportunity for athletes ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Wednesday 17th to Sunday 21st March sees the world’s oldest and most prestigious badminton tournament, now in its 111th year, played out at the Utilita Arena Birmingham.
There are 32 entries in each discipline of the sport for the main draw.
2019 Champion Kento Momota leads the men’s singles draw, followed by the 2020 winner Viktor Axelsen. Two more Danes, Anders Antonsen and Rasmus Gemke, ranked three and eight respectively, make Denmark the most represented nation in the men’s singles top eight.
Two Indonesians, Anthony Ginting and Jonatan Christie may well be the two athletes who suffer from the lack of fans most of all, as all visitors to the YONEX All England in recent years will know ‘In-do-ne-sia’ is a vociferously shouted refrain that echoes any match involving an Indonesian player.
In this Olympic year, two other Japanese shuttlers join Momota in the top 10 ranked players. Kanta Tsuneyama and Kenta Nishimoto sitting ninth and tenth respectively.
Englishman Toby Penty could make his first YONEX All England appearance - a great sign for the host country, especially in the absence of the recently retired, England coach Rajiv Ouseph.
With last year’s champion in the women’s singles, Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying, having withdrawn, Carolina Marin now tops the women’s singles seedings.
Star of a recent Amazon Prime series about her great comeback from injury, the Spaniard lost to Ying in a three-set semi-final at the All England last year so will want to go further in 2021.
Like the men’s singles draw, three Japanese ladies make up the top 10. Nozomi Okuhara, Akane Yamaguchi and Sayaka Takahashi are all desperate to be at their best in front of a home crowd at the Olympics later this year.
Arguably more famous than the Indonesians Ginting and Christie, are ‘the minions’ Marcus Gideon and Kevin Sukamuljo. These two incredibly exciting, fast and energetic shuttlers should have won more in recent years by the high standards they expect of themselves.
They lead a strong men’s doubles field ahead of compatriots Hendra Setiawan and Mohammad Ahsan and of course the 2020 men’s doubles winners from Japan Hiroyuki Endo and Yuta Watanabe who are ranked second and fifth respectively.
Even further evidence of Japanese badminton strength in their (delayed) Olympic hosting year comes in the women’s doubles discipline. Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota beat compatriots Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi in last year’s semi-final on their way to taking the All England title.
Lauren Smith finds herself impressively in the top eight of two draws-ranked eighth with Chloe Birch in the women’s doubles and then sixth with on and off-field partner Marcus Ellis in the mixed doubles.
After a history making January for Sapsiree Taerattanachai and Dechapol Puavaranukroh, their hat-trick of Super 1000 titles in three weeks has ensured they top the mixed doubles seedings for the All England next month. The Thai pair have even climbed above last year’s champions Praveen Jordan and Melati Daeva Oktavianti from Indonesia.
Of course, we must be aware that the global position is ever changing, so further amendments within the draw may be inevitable.
Despite this, world class players will be competing in Birmingham in just a few weeks’ time, and we will be so grateful to witness some top-level badminton once again.