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100 Days Countdown: World Champions Eye Dubai Finale

Badminton lovers might be suffering from post-World Championships blues, but the resumption of the MetLife BWF World Superseries circuit next week promises to revive their spirits.

The lull after the TOTAL BWF World Championships will not last for long as the race for the Dubai World Superseries Finals, due to start in 100 days, will be reignited at the Yonex Open Japan (8 to 13 September), the first Superseries to be held in three months.

The MetLife BWF World Superseries circuit is at its halfway stage with six Superseries completed. The Yonex Open Japan, seventh in the circuit, will be followed by the Victor Korea Open (15 to 20 September) before the circuit moves to Europe for the Yonex Denmark Open and Yonex French Open in October. November will see the season head to a climactic finish with the Thaihot China Open and Yonex-Sunrise Hong Kong Open; the top eight finishers of the year’s 12 Superseries will then head to Dubai for the season-ending finale.

While the TOTAL BWF World Championships has no bearing on the Dubai World Superseries Finals in terms of ranking points, there is little doubt that those who performed well in Jakarta would have gained momentum in their quest to qualify. A classic instance would be that of Women’s Singles World champion Carolina Marin: the Spaniard, after winning her first World title last year, was afflicted by injury and failed to qualify for last year’s Dubai World Superseries Finals. This year, having shaken off her injury troubles, Marin has been in stunning form with three Superseries titles and the World Championships gold medal. Placed No.1 in the Destination Dubai Rankings, the Spaniard is well on her way to Dubai; should she maintain her form of the first eight months, she would surely be the top contender for her maiden victory of the year-ending event.

Marin (BWF home page) is followed in the Destination Dubai Rankings by Saina Nehwal (India), Ratchanok Intanon (Thailand), Wang Shixian, Wang Yihan, Sun Yu (all China), Yui Hashimoto (Japan), defending champion Tai Tzu Ying (Chinese Taipei; left), Nozomi Okuhara (Japan) and Sung Ji Hyun (Korea).

Nehwal (No.2), having finished runner-up to Marin in the World Championships, can take heart from her performances over the last 12 months; the Indian is a crowd favourite in Dubai and will want to ensure her presence there in December.

Meanwhile, in Men’s Singles, Chen Long’s (above) successful World title defence means the Chinese star will be riding high on confidence for the rest of the season. Chen (No.1) has an 18-2 win-loss record in Superseries so far, and with three Superseries titles under his belt, will be the man to beat in Dubai, where he will be defending his title.

Last year’s runner-up, Hans-Kristian Vittinghus (Denmark) has had a disappointing season and is currently 25th in the Destination Dubai Rankings. However, his compatriots Jan O Jorgensen (No.2) and Viktor Axelsen (No.4) have been among the top contenders; Jorgensen achieved a bronze medal finish at the Worlds, while Axelsen had his chances against eventual champion Chen in their quarter-final. If their form holds they will be among Chen’s main threats. Axelsen in particular has come of age lately and has appeared the likeliest to upstage Chen in recent times.

Kento Momota (No.3), who became Japan’s first ever Men’s Singles medallist at the World Championships, has become increasingly steady, while India’s Kidambi Srikanth (No.5) has been off the rails since his Yonex Sunrise India Open triumph at home in March. Srikanth fell in the third round at the Worlds and will have to revive his form in the upcoming Superseries events if he has to qualify.

Indonesia’s Mohammad Ahsan/Hendra Setiawan (No.5; right) played sublime badminton in the semi-finals and final of the World Championships and proved their status as the best Men’s Doubles combination of the moment. If they hold their form for the rest of the season, and with defending Dubai titlists Lee Yong Dae/Yoo Yeon Seong (Korea, No.4) itching to prove a point or two, the category is likely to witness intense battles.

The top ranking is occupied by Japan’s Hiroyuki Endo/Kenichi Hayakawa, who were close to making the final at the Worlds, and are still searching for the first major title. China’s Fu Haifeng/Zhang Nan (No.2), Chai Biao/Hong Wei (No.3), Denmark’s Mathias Boe/Carsten Mogensen (No.7) and World Championships finalists Liu Xiaolong/Qiu Zihan (China, No.9) are among others in the reckoning.

In Women’s Doubles, Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei, despite their lack of tournament appearances as a pair since March, once again showcased their class with the World Championships title. It remains to be seen if they are persisted with as a combination for the rest of the year. They are ranked a lowly No.37 in the Destination Dubai Rankings, but they will be the pair to beat if they continue as a pair over the next six Superseries. With China experimenting with different combinations, there are only two Chinese pairs in the top ten. Last year’s Dubai titlists Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi (Japan; below) head the rankings ahead of Luo Ying/Luo Yu (China) and Christinna Pedersen/Kamilla Rytter Juhl (Denmark).

Zhao Yunlei also claimed the Mixed Doubles World title with Zhang Nan (below), adding to her illustrious list of major titles. The Olympic and World champions showed exactly why they are so difficult to beat when they reversed the tide from being two match points down in the World Championships semi-finals against Indonesia’s Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir. With a 19-1 win-loss record in Superseries, the Chinese pair are ahead of Ahmad/Natsir (No.2) and compatriots Liu Cheng/Bao Yixin (No.3) and Xu Chen/Ma Jin (No.4).

All factors point to exciting times ahead in the remaining months of Superseries action in the run-up to the second Dubai World Superseries Finals!

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