The year’s end means I can assemble some of my favourite memories of 2022 and reflect on the dramas that have unfolded on court. The passion and commitment of the players has given us plenty of highs and lows to enjoy and/or endure.
This sector has yielded a lot of the big stories this year; one of the most joyous has been Aaron Chia & SOH Wooi Yik clinching the World Championship in August. There had been occasions in 2022 when they seemed powerless to force the big wins but this time, they grabbed their chance with intelligence and desire. In the preliminary stages of the match, it seemed certain they were heading for silver as they could not equal Ahsan & Setiawan’s tempo. Their change of tactics and success at prolonging the rallies whilst probing their opponent’s defences was decisive and they triumphed in straight sets. Astonishingly the first players from Malaysia to win Gold at the World Championships. A standout achievement.
The winners of the BWF Most Improved Players of the Year are also the new World #1 pair: Fajar Alfian & Muhammad Rian Ardianto. Their partnership this year has been getting better and better and yielded 4 titles (SO, IM, MM, DO). Gideon and Sukamuljo will be focusing on regaining their competitive edge after a tricky year disrupted by injury. One of the shocks of the year was Fikri and Maulana’s victory at the All-England. Out of nowhere, they were unstoppable. I watched most of their games at the arena in Birmingham and I loved the way they rode their momentum to the final.
The new pairing of LIU Yu Chen with OU Xuan Yi looks full of potential. I think that the Chinese coaches can mould these two into an extremely dangerous unit on the road to the Paris Olympics. Their World Tour Finals success was a little unexpected; there were times when OU was nervy, however we can expect to see them on the podium more in 2023.
Rankireddy & Shetty can look back on 2022 with satisfaction at their achievements. They played a significant part in the Thomas Cup win against Indonesia. Their defeat of Kevin and Ahsan was an immense psychological boost to their teammates and a grave blow to their opponent’s ambitions. Commonwealth Gold, plus the French and India Open titles all add to an impressive year.
This year has all been about Akane Yamaguchi and her bounce back from a disappointing Olympics. Her play has been outstanding. She is indefatigable on court with a speed of movement and thought that is hard to equal. Her award of BWF Player of the Year is a well-deserved accolade for an athlete who makes no secret of the fact that she plays because she enjoys the game. Korea’s AN Se Young enjoyed an 80%-win rate in 2022 (Stats courtesy of twitter account @Statminton). Although she won three individual trophies, I think the magnificent Korean triumph over China in the Uber cup will be a memory she will cherish over the years. I frequently debate her style of play and whether she is resilient enough to be a ‘pure’ retriever because she often seems to suffer from cramp towards the end of a tournament. Eventually, she may consider a more blended approach; as a young player she was more attack-minded and this may be the solution to the physical demands of tournament success. Her 90-minute marathon against CHEN YuFei in the final of the Uber Cup was astonishing but did end in defeat.
Women’s singles continue to be the most competitive sector. CHEN YuFei did not dominate 2022 (1 title) and in fact her compatriot – HE Bing Jiao – has had a more notable year ending a long trophy drought and cultivating a winning habit. TAI Tzu Ying ended the year second in the world rankings and a consistent presence on the podium with the best win rate amongst her peers (82%). Her musings about retirement have gone to the back burner for a while although chronic injuries do seem to resurface once she goes deep into a tournament. All her fans have their fingers crossed that she can continue to compete at this level for the near future.
Indisputably the world #1 pair CHEN Qing Chen and JIA Yi Fan are still the players to beat in any tournament. Once they get into their rhythm, they are hard to keep at bay; I love their merciless drive for victory, and they will surely dominate podiums again over the next twelve months.
However, this is the sector experiencing the biggest generational shift. 2023 will be a crucial year for the up-and-coming pairs to hone their skills. Apriyani Rahayu’s new partnership with Siti Fadia Silva Ramadhanti is already looking menacing; there is still work to do to develop that intuitive understanding that is at the heart of all successful pairs, but they could be serious contenders in Paris 2024 if they stay fit and keep working. Pearly Tan & Thinaah Muralitharan – current world ranking 9 – are another couple whose aggressive style is helping to ring the changes in WD. Their victory at the French Open plus Commonwealth Gold only hints at what they could achieve over the next couple of years. The other pair who have caught my eye recently are the Aimsaard sisters representing Thailand. They performed well at their first WTF and should be looking forward to the challenges ahead with confidence.
After the end of the Olympic cycle the Japanese – except for Shida/Matsuyama who are good at winning S1000 titles – are not so dominant in the rankings. Korea has three pairs in the top ten and so we’ll watch with interest to see who can really challenge the Chinese #1.
Viktor Axelsen has been incredible in 2022 and deserves all his success. His invincible aura has only been pricked three times this year: the defeats to LOH Kean Yew, Lakshya Sen and H S Prannoy were rare blips in his dominance of his sector. It seemed to me that the only disappointment that hurt him was Denmark’s loss in the Thomas Cup; I am sure he longs for a Gold team medal.
The million-dollar question is “Can he sustain these levels of success?” because the focus for the rest of the athletes in Men’s Singles must be to discover the chinks in his armour and to find ways to stifle Axelsen’s natural game. LOH Kean Yew is quicksilver fast so if the shuttles are flying fast, he gives Viktor serious problems. Prannoy’s strategy was to reduce Viktor’s chances to use his height advantage, try to control the net and just a refusal to concede however dire his situation.
LEE Zii Jia has had a year full of upheaval not to mention some minor injuries. A more tranquil, settled team around him must be the aspiration for 2023. He has all the talent to challenge the best but he must find that extra 5% from somewhere that will strengthen his resilience and help to seize wins in tight games. He lost in the final of the Denmark Open to SHI Yuqi and that win for the returning Chinese maestro gladdened many hearts. Not because anyone wanted LZJ to lose but because SYQ is a brilliant talent who will enrich the sector. Anthony Ginting’s year ended better than it started although it is time he unveiled a Plan B for those games against Axelsen. Lastly Kento Momota has fallen out of the ranking top ten; his long painful slump after the car accident in Malaysia is proving tough to break out of. His recent All Japan triumph is a glint of light, but it remains to be seen if he can use this as a springboard into the new year.
After the dream team of ZHENG Si Wei and HUANG Ya Qiong were split up to a background shriek of disbelief and horror from their fans there was a strange limbo period. Happily, they reassembled in time for the Badminton Asia Championships and have gone on to exert total dominance of mixed doubles. It is arguable that HYQ should have won the BWF Female Player of the Year because that was the first of ten titles in 2022. HYQ’s brief liaison with OU Xian Yi was not bad and I am glad he seems to have found his forever home with LIU in MD, but it is painful to consider what the world of badminton nearly lost.
There have been some epic games, plenty of shocks and lots of talking points. Raking over the ashes of the old year is always interesting, but now we can anticipate 2023. I can’t wait to see who will win the titles on finals day at the Malaysia Open. Lets hope for brilliant play, some surprises and maybe a home winner.
Thanks to all my friends on Twitter who have swapped ideas and opinions with me the last year. A special mention to @Statminton for letting me use their figures in this article.
©2023 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved
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