Olympics Women’s Singles – The ifs, buts and maybes.

Posted: June 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

Li Xuerui – Arguably the best in the world on form

With the Olympics just around the corner as of late I have found myself being drawn towards the happenings in the women’s singles more so than any other of the four badminton disciplines. I cannot quiet put my finger on the reason why but maybe it is something to do with the fact that I believe this to be the discipline that the rest of the world has the most opportunity to take victory away from China come the 5th of August. With the help of Germany’s singles specialist Olga Konon I will attempt to give some insight into the women’s singles competition in London and examine the likely medalists and see can anyone beat the Chinese?

First and foremost it has baffled me how China somehow managed to miscalculate the arrival of Li Xuerui on the scene with the All England champion missing out on qualification for the Olympics in fourth spot. The Chinese have become world renowned for their painstakingly accurate calculation of points, and some would say results, in Olympic qualification year and not having the best player in the world in the last year on your Olympic team appears to me to go against all that China stands for.

Maybe I am completely mistaken and the Chinese wonder kid just blossomed two weeks two late as she pole-vaulted her way up the world rankings but not to have her in their Olympic ranks is somewhat unfortunate or maybe the Chinese just feel so confident that their experienced trio of Wangs have exactly what it takes to bring home gold for China and the youthful Li Xuerui will be held on ice until Rio. But Li Xuerui has come off the back of 30 straight wins and had not lost a match since January and in the process won four straight titles in a row, that to me is a big gamble.

Looking at the trio of Wang’s, it’s Yihan who looks the biggest threat to the top step of the Olympic Podium. Wang Yihan has been simple the best and most consistent singles player on tour over the past 3 years. On Paper Wang Yihan is the one everyone has to beat. She has a superior win loss ratio over both Wang Shixian and Wang Xin but that is assuming the biggest threat will come from her compatriots. I am not

Tine – Timing it just right

so sure this is the case!

It is clear from recent tournament form that world number 5 Saina Nehwal has got the bit firmly between her teeth as she heads towards London.

In Indonesia recently Nehwal literally ran Wang Shixian into the ground displaying a new found level of fitness that had the Chinese buckled over in exhaustion for many of the concluding rallies of that match. Nehwals fitness levels were always her Achilles heel in top level tight matches but a visibly trimmed down and fighting fit Nehwal looks to have really taken the meaning of match fitness to a uber high new level. It has been reported that she has shed up to 5.5kg’s of weight in her Olympic preparation but more important lost none of that power in doing so.In Indonesia Saina beat Wang Shixian and more important ended the run of Li Xuerui on her march to a fifth straight title. Li Xuerui had already beaten Wang Yihan so all the evidence would suggest that India’s Saina Nehwal is a real force to be reckoned with for Olympic gold.

Olga’s View: To compete with the Chinese is often a mental block as well as being purely a question of talent. But to compete with the Chinese you need to have to have a minimum standard like being in worlds top 16 and having the mental capabilities to match them on court. Also many players have played in previous Olympics and one way or the other they will generally have memories of defeat. It is important for all the non Chinese players to remember to bring positive thoughts to the games. The Olympics adds extra pressure even more than the worlds or any other tournament that is why a mentally strong athlete will most likely perform better. One thing is clear and that is Saina Newhal is mentally tough and ready to take on the challenge at the Olympics.

The Indonesian Open threw up another spanner in the Chinese works in the form of Tine Baun. The great Danes struggle with injury over the past 18 months has been well documented. She has had to suffer through the pain barrier just to compete and really over the course of this Olympic campaign has been a shadow of her former self. That was until the Europeans in Sweden a few months ago I saw a new and revived Tine Baun in Karlskrona and in an interview she explained the reasons why.

Wang Yihan – Can she be the new Zhang Ning

“It is really great for me to come to a tournament at last and be pain free. To be able to go on court and be confident in my physical shape again is a major relief. I now feel I can play my shots and compete again and yes it has put a smile on my face”

Hearing this of course was one thing seeing the results was always going to be another. Tine cruised to that European title and in the Indonesian Open just gone even in defeat in two very close sets, to her long standing rival Wang Yihan, Baun has started to shown signs of her former self and all just at the right time. Tine has always misfired at the majors and this will be her last chance to shine and like Nehwal she will leave no stone unturned in her quest for a medal.

Olga’s View:  One of the biggest things that gets in the way of top players fulfilling their real potential is of course Injury. But in the case of Tine Baun I think the series of injures she has had can actually motivate her and makes her the great athlete she is. There is no escaping injury at the top level, I can personally vouch for that but I do believe it makes you stronger. I fully expect Tine to be in great shape physically and more so mentally come the Olympics. She has a proven record and has a lot to prove at major championship level. I think we have seen a new Tine in last few months and she is the one to watch in my opinon.What about the rest, well it is clear that on her day Juliane Schenk of Germany has the power to trouble any of the top players. The German is renowned for her superior levels of fitness and her power is her main weapon. A recent win at The Singapore Super Series, her maiden Super Series win, is sure to have pushed the German to the next level mentally and the Chinese will need to be fully prepared and aware of this. However, Schenk needs firstly to find a good draw and then be fully concentrated in the early rounds as sometimes she finds it difficult to play her top game against lesser ranked players.

Following on behind we have the young brigade of pretenders to the throne. The likes of Inthanon Ratchanok, Sung Ji Hyun and Carolina Marin are all

Nehwal – A new woman with a new focus

capable of upsets but will really have to find a string of performances like never before to reach the podium.

Olga’s View: Great form for me does not count for much when the Olympics comes around. Yes Juliane has had a great win in Singapore but to me the Olympics is more about the mental side of a players game. I think Schenk, Inthanon and Sung Ji Hyun have the capabilities to combine all the attributes needed to bring it all together at the Olympics and I really think this women’s singles will be very interesting but a lot will depend on the draw. I do expect a big battle for the medals and there is a chance for a non Chinese to step on the podium but as always the Chinese will be ready and they will expect a tough battle.

The truth been known the Olympics is not the greatest tournament to be played all year but it does give the opportunity for one of those once off fairytale upsets and a lot really can boil down to the draw. A good first round draw allows the top players to ease into the competition and find their feet; this is something the likes of Tine Baun needs after her Beijing disaster. A tough draw can result in a top player heading home early as even the best of the best can find it hard to get to grips with the mental challenge that is the Olympics.

All in all it promises to be a fascinating event and one I am looking forward to witnessing. Can anyone knock the Chinese off their Olympic throne? There is a real possibility for sure but don’t be surprised if the great Chinese badminton juggernaut rolls home to Beijing with another 5 gold medals.

(All opinions expressed are purely that of the author unless otherwise stated) Photo 1 by Badminton Photo, Photo 2,  3 & 4 Mark Phelan private collection

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Comments
  1. Ross McNiven says:

    Another good article Mark!

    Ladies singles is indeed a great draw at the moment. Commentator Gill Clarke described the Indonesian Open quarter final match between Sania Newhal and Wang Shixian as probably the best ladies singles match she had ever seen. For anyone that didn’t see it, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OnuVo7DViD8. The first singles match in the final of the Uber Cup between Wang Yihan and Sung Ji Hyun was also an epic, with so much at stake, particularly for Yihan. For anyone that didn’t see this match, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4VFe4pq3vnU.

    These matches show that although the ladies may not have the power of the men, they have supreme skill, poise, athleticism, speed, strength and agility as well as mental strength and determination – they are prepared to fight, almost to the death! Come the Olympics, I’m sure these ladies will push themselves even further, and that, I fear, will take them beyond the reach of any Europeans, including Tina Baun and Julianna Shenk, and any ‘pretenders’, including Sung Ji Hyun.

    You mention the draw a couple of times in the article. I’ve heard that the Olympics will not be a knock out draw, but the first round will be played in groups/pools. Do you have any news or views on this?

    Ross

    • Mark Phelan says:

      Hi Ross, You are 100% correct there will be a sort of a round robin type draw that I did know about when writing the piece but completely slipped my mind when writing of the draws in the article.

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