PETALING JAYA: China badminton are in a tricky spot ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games.
They are the only top badminton nation who have yet to play in a competitive tournament since the All-England in Birmingham last year – that’s about 15 months ago.
The team powered by top men’s singles players Chen Long and Shi Yuqi; world No. 2 women’s singles player Chen Yufei; and world No. 1 mixed doubles pair Zheng Siwei-Huang Yaqiong were supposed to make their return at the Malaysian Open from May 25-30 in Bukit Jalil but the second last Olympics qualifying tournament has been postponed indefinitely, leaving the Chinese team in a lurch.
They have also entered for the Singapore Open from June 1-6 but the status of the last Olympics qualifiers is still uncertain as there are travel border issues, quarantine and government policies to deal with due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Without these tournaments, China will enter the Tokyo Olympics without having played in any major events for more than one and a half years and it has raised a question whether their players will be able to peak.
Two things can happen – their players may struggle to adapt after having been at home for the longest time or they may just bring out their best at the Games.
Past results have showed that some of the top players struggled in their first big event after taking long breaks.
Malaysia’s Lee Zii Jia for instance, suffered a low during the Thailand Open, his first in 10 months, but bounced back to win the All-England title.
Indonesia’s Jonatan Christie also struggled to find his footing during the Thai stint but he had looked good at the All-England after reaching the second round.
But through no fault of his, the whole Indonesia team were barred from playing in the tournament when one of the passengers in their flight to Birmingham was tested positive for Covid-19. Due to health and safety reasons, they had to be quarantined.
World No. 1 Kento Momota of Japan made it to the quarter-finals in his first tournament after more than a year at the All-England and went down to Zii Jia.
There were some exceptions though with Viktor Axelsen of Denmark being a good example.
He did not play in any tournaments for nine months but returned in style by winning the Thailand Open 1 and 2 and reached the final of the World Tour Finals in Bangkok in January.
In fact, he had been the most consistent player so far before Covid-19 floored him on the eve of his final against teammate Anders Antonsen in the European Championships in Ukraine.
Despite the inconsistency in some players, many however, believe that China will be stronger than ever when they compete in the Olympics as none will be able to gauge their true form.
So it is best to take them seriously even if they have not competed in the circuit for more than a year.