TALKING POINTS FROM THE EUROPEAN TOUR


INDONESIA’S CHANGE OF GUARD

Indonesia reigned supreme in the men’s doubles with new players making a mark. After being banned from playing at last year’s All-England, Indonesia dominated play at this year’s edition by occupying three out of the four semi-final spots. Shohibul Fikri-Maulana Bagas showed they were the new stars for the nation after winning the title in their debut.

They were not prominent in the German Open as they only had one representative and that was Fajar Alfian-Rian Ardianto, who lost out in the second round.

ERA OF INDEPENDENT PLAYERS

Viktor Axelsen of Denmark, Lee Zii Jia of Malaysia, Lakshya Sen of India and Loh Kean Yew of Singapore have been breaking the norms. Axelsen, Lakshya and Kean Yew have trained together in Dubai while Zii Jia turned independent in January. They have made special arrangements with their respective national bodies.

Most of them stand on their own on a full-time basis and they have been delivering results. Out of the four, Lakshya and Axelsen stole the show in Europe. Lakshya made the German Open final before losing to Kunlavut Vitidsarn of Thailand and also became the first Indian to reach the All-England final in 21 years before losing to Axelsen. Expect the four and several other independent players to add more spice to the upcoming competitions.

INDIA ROCK WITH MORE STARS

The women shuttlers like Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu used to hold the fort and occasionally, there would be one or two men shuttlers who will make their mark. Now, India showed they have the talents in every department, except for the mixed doubles. They have a bigger pool of talents and quality players. The Indian Open champion Lakshya was prominent in the German Open and All-England while H.S. Prannoy reached the Swiss Open final. Sindhu continued to be a force to be reckoned with by lifting the Swiss Open title.

They have world No. 7 Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty, who are even ranked higher than the Malaysians pairs. Even the young Kiran George, only 22, has emerged as the Polish Open men’s singles champion on Sunday.

THOMAS CUP BOOST FOR MALAYSIA

The rise of Goh Sze Fei-Nur Izzuddin Rumsani has come at the right time. The duo won the German Open and were the Swiss Open runners-up. With them stepping up, Malaysia can now have a solid men’s doubles team for the Thomas Cup Finals in Bangkok in May. Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik and Ong Yew Sin-Teo Ee Yi did not win any titles but they did make life difficult for their opponents before losing. It was unfortunate that Wooi Yik was down with Covid-19 before the start of the Europe Tour. They can also count on a determined Lee Zii Jia to make his presence felt. With their standard and talents, Malaysia can hope to give a strong showing.

MIXED FORTUNES FOR CHINA

Women players did well to win two titles in the German Open through He Bingjiao (singles) and Chen Qingchen-Jia Yifan (doubles). But for the third year in a row, China returned home without a singles title in the All-England. It’s a huge drop in status, considering they were dominant in 2019 by sweeping three titles in Birmingham. Last week, China did not take part in the Swiss Open but they still made the news for the wrong reasons when four of their top doubles players – world champions and Olympics silver medallists Li Junhui-Liu Yuchen and their current No. 1 He Jiting-Tan Qiang were found guilty for match-fixing during the 2018 Fuzhou China Open.

YUTA WATANABE-ARISA HIGASHINO A CLASS ABOVE

Trained by Malaysia’s Jeremy Gan, Watanabe-Higashino continued to add colour to the mixed doubles event.

The way they defended the All-England title in Birmingham oozed class. In a final that set tongues wagging, they showed extraordinary effort to beat Olympic Games champions Wang Yilyu-Huang Dongping for the title. The manner in which Watanabe complemented Higashino was outstanding, considering he had just returned from a knee injury. Japan only sent a full team for the All-England and they went home smiling with three titles.

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