It’s time for Guangzhou, China, for the BWF World Tour Finals. This second incarnation of the competition follows the same format as last year and promises a feast of badminton to excite fans and pundits alike.
Let’s get it out of the way straight away; even if Momota does not win, he’s clearly still the best in the world. He has won eight tournaments over the past 12 months: two Super 1000s and three 750s included. A victory in China this week would simply be the icing on the 2019 cake for King Kento.
And we are confident he will come out on top. There are some strong players featuring in the Men’s Singles; Chou Tien Chen has had a solid year, certainly the latter 6 months; on his day, Anthony Ginting can beat any player on the circuit; and we have a soft spot for the Great Dane, Viktor Axelsen, who has pushed Momota close on a number of occasions, including the All England final in March.
And will the format suit Momota? He cruised through the tournament in 2018, not dropping a single set in either the Group stages or the Semi Finals – before this run came to an abrupt halt in the Final against Shi Yuqi. A lot depends on the draw of the Groups – his last year did not feature a single player who has qualified this time around. It appears a far stronger cast have reached Guangzhou this time around.
But don’t be surprised to see the King holding the trophy aloft come the 15th – he has effectively taken a stranglehold on the division this year, and it’s hard to see who can stop him.
Similarly, in the Men’s Doubles, there’s not many more previews I can write with different ways to say I think Kevin & Marcus will win. They have the same number of tournament wins as Momota, and a similar breakdown (two Super 1000s and 4 Super 750s). As our columnist Amanda Bloss put it in her In Depth piece, “Rivals must be playing at their peak to stand any chance of winning against them; they are the essence of what we love about badminton.” As their main rivals, the Daddies, have found out to their cost.
There is something quite incredible about the way Mohammad Ahsan & Hendra Setiawan keep attaining such an impressive set of results. Both are into their mid-30s, both are still passionate about achieving success in the game, and their victory in Birmingham in March was superb. Reaching nine Finals in a calendar year is no mean feat. The issue, of course, is that they faced the Minions in five of those.
Any other pairs to look out for? It’s a good division, and in other times a number of these pairings would be winning more competitions.
But this is the Minions era – we’re just living in it.
The Women’s Singles, however, is much more competitive. Chen Yufei has six tournament wins, including victory in Fuzhou last month and the All England title. However, a number of players have three titles to their name in Tai Tzu Ying and Akane Yamaguchi; whilst Ratchanok Intanon has two Super 500s under her belt; and this is without mentioning Nozomi Okuhara, who has reached five Finals in 2019 without winning one.
It’s very hard to pick a winner in this from one tournament to the next – if you’d asked me a year ago, I would have predicted TTY was going to embark on a Momota-esque domination of the Women’s circuit. Similarly, surely Chen Yufei will cement her place at the top of the tree? I’m not sure, and that is why I’m going slightly left field in my prediction. Intanon has not had the best of ends to the year; her last tournament win was in March and, although she reached the Final in Hong Kong last month, it has been a disappointing year for the Thai star.
And that is why I am backing her to triumph in Guangzhou. The old adage, form is temporary, class is permanent, applies here. She has not become a bad player overnight and she is still young; she won the World Championships, in Guangzhou incidentally, at just 18 in 2013. There’s still time for her – and it all starts next week.
Imagine not winning a tournament together for 20 months. The doubts must start creeping in. You’re both good players; the chemistry is there, and you’ve been close on a number of occasions. This was the case for my pick to win the Mixed Doubles, Praveen Jordan and Melati Daeva Oktavianti. Then, in Odense in mid-October, things clicked. They emerged triumphant there, and added the French Open a few weeks later. They are the form pair.
Hang on a second – “you’re ignoring Zheng Siwei & Huang Yaqiong, winners of all three Super 1000s this year?” I hear you shout. Yes, and for a very good reason – momentum.
Their last title came at the China Open in September. Since then they have lost the Finals in France (to Jordan & Oktavianti), Fuzhou and Korea. In this sport, momentum is such a key factor – look at Momota’s dominance this year; he has almost been relentless in his pursuit of victory and maintaining his levels.
That is why I am going in a different direction with my prediction – though if I am proved wrong, I will not be surprised.
Moving on to the Women’s Doubles, it’s such a hard one to call. Every single pairing featuring in Guangzhou have won at least one tournament this year. The Japanese teams, Yuki Fukushima & Sayaka Hirota and Mayu Matsumoto & Wakana Nagahara, have been the models of consistency, reaching the Semi Final stage of 11 and 10 tournaments respectively. South Koreans Kim So-yeong and Kon Hee-yong have had a solid year, without getting their hands on any of the Super 1000 trophies. The outsiders are Thailand’s Jongkolphan Kitiharakul & Rawinda Prajongjal, but don’t discount them entirely.
Our tip to be victorious are home favourites Chen Qingchen & Jia Yifan. Although they didn’t make it out of the Group stage 12 months ago, 2019 has been good for this team. Their two Super 1000s includes glory in Birmingham, and victory in Hong Kong means they have built up a head of steam moving in to the World Tour Finals.
And then? We all jump back on the bandwagon in Malaysia on the 7th of January, when the All England will be just two months away. These next few days in Guangzhou should give us a good indication of who to watch out for at the Greatest Classic of them all in March.
MS: Kento Momota
WS: Ratchanok Intanon
MD: Kevin Sukamuljo & Marcus Gideon
WD: Chen Qingchen & Jia Yifan
XD: Jordan & Oktavianti