Checking out China’s Gen Next

Checking out China’s Gen Next

Badminton results tend to get schizophrenic in the period after the Olympics

Badminton results tend to get schizophrenic in the period after the Olympics. The down-year typically sees inconsistency of the sort displayed by top Chinese women these days — Olympic medallists losing in first rounds of Super Series,rankings allowed to slip as top players give long-ignored injuries due attention. From this flux,a new world order emerges.

It is in such a tepid season that the Indian Super Series this year finds itself grappling with the usual dozen-odd withdrawals,notably of Yanjiao Jiang — the most high-profile exit in women’s singles. Organisers and sponsors,though,needn’t fret. The women’s singles draw — since interest in India centres around Saina Nehwal — can boast of some of the biggest potential headliners of the coming years,including Thai sensation Intanon Ratchanok. Hong Kong’s Tsz Ka Chan is another name to spice up the draw,while the Japanese and Indonesians are determined to mount assaults of their own.

However,the ones to watch out for,bounding as they come from the Chinese stables are Yao Xue and Yu Sun — currently floating someplace outside the Top 50 of the world,lending them a deceptive air of non-recognition. Sparingly unleashed on world in short spurts of a few tournaments,these two have impressive runs in the limited travel opportunities given to them by Chinese coaching think-tank. Moreover,they are a realisation of the perennial Chinese dream of fielding tall,strapping,domineering shuttlers,like the ones that dominated the game globally half a decade ago.

National coach Zhang Ning,herself an Olympic champ,now shepherds this new flock of players,and in a significant move — a sort of hallowed induction — four Chinese — Han Li (who beat Nehwal at Korea),Sun Yu,Deng Xuan and Yao Xue,were called to start training with the senior women at the beginning of this year. This expansion of the senior squad to include the back-ups was a quiet signal to the world that a new pack of hungry shuttlers would soon be let loose on a world,that anyway never breathes easy with the presence of at least 4 Chinese in the Top 10 chart year after year.

With her first seniors title at Macau in December,Sun Yu unfurled her long-limbed elasticity and Yao Xue sent a few Top 20s packing earlier in Malaysia. These are the embryos of highly proficient technical games alongside blessed physiques that tower over the rest of the world. A PV Sindhu-Sun Yu clash then — the Indian now grazing 6 feet — could be the most prescient of matches at the Indian Open.

Shivani is special correspondent based in Mumbai.