China’s new fe­male won­ders have big shoes to fill

New Straits Times - - Sport - AP

China re­main the pow­er­house in bad­minton, though a di­min­ished one.

Even af­ter a bunch of re­tire­ments fol­low­ing the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, the num­bers are still there. Across the world top-10 rank­ings in sin­gles, dou­bles, and mixed dou­bles, China have 14 en­tries. The next best are Den­mark with six.

China still qual­ify more play­ers for tour­na­ments than any other. They’re just not win­ning as of­ten as they used to, es­pe­cially the women, who could be re­lied upon to win the big ones.

Un­like the Chi­nese men, the women en­joyed a dy­nasty.

At the world cham­pi­onships, they have held the dou­bles ti­tle for 20 years. But the sin­gles ti­tle was taken from their grasp in 2011, and in 2015 they failed to medal in sin­gles for the first time.

Even so, China have failed to top the gold medal count at the worlds only four times in 40 years, and not in 22 years.

At the Olympics, they owned the sin­gles for four straight Games, and the dou­bles for five straight. But the women left Rio fail­ing to medal in sin­gles for the first time in 20 years, and in dou­bles for the first time ever. And yet China still fin­ished with the most bad­minton gold for the fifth Olympics in a row.

Af­ter Rio, women stal­warts Wang Yi­han, Wang Shix­ian, Zhao Yun­lei, Tian Qing, Yu Yang, and Ma Jin re­tired. Be­tween them, they won eight Olympic medals, four of them gold. They won nu­mer­ous medals at the worlds, and all were No 1.

But Chi­nese fans spoiled by the Lon­don Olympics sweep and ac­cus­tomed to out­right dom­i­na­tion vented their dis­may with the Rio re­sults on long-time na­tional coach Li Yongbo.

Yongbo took it in stride. Fill­ing the void left by the re­tirees will be dif­fi­cult, he noted, but that was nor­mal. He wasn’t con­cerned about the rest of the world catch­ing them up be­cause China had the de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes in place to sus­tain its ex­cel­lence.

“Our next gen­er­a­tion will be strong,” he promised.

And there’s much to like about the new women sin­gles play­ers: World No 4 Sun Yu, No 9 He Bingjiao, and No 15 Chen Yufei.

Sun Yu, 23, made the fi­nals of four Su­per­series tour­na­ments and two other big events last year. Each fi­nal went the dis­tance. She doesn’t give up.

He Bingjiao turns 20 this month. She’s al­ready won two Su­per­series events and beaten Olympic run­ner-up P.V. Sindhu of In­dia.

Chen Yufei turned 19 last week. The reign­ing ju­nior world cham­pion, she beat for­mer world champ Ratchanok In­tanon in Septem­ber and won the Ma­cau Open in De­cem­ber.

All three won their first-round matches at the All Eng­land Open on Wed­nes­day.

“We are go­ing through a tough time but mark my words, China will rise again (in women’s sin­gles),” the re­tired Wang Yi­han said re­cently.

She ex­pects the Chi­nese women to be spear­headed by Sun Yu and, when she’s fit again, 2012 Olympic cham­pion Li Xuerui, who tore a left knee lig­a­ment in the Rio semi-fi­nals, played on and lost, and had to for­feit the bronze-medal match.

But Wang Yi­han was more ex­cited about He Bingjiao and Chen Yufei.

“They are way more tal­ented and bet­ter than us (her and Wang Shix­ian) when we were at their same age,” Wang Yi­han said re­cently. “They will soon be among the world’s best.”

Ong Yew Sin (left) and Teo Ee Yi lost to Tai­wan’s Lu Ching Yao-Yang Po Han in the first round of the All Eng­land on Wed­nes­day.

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