China has the top two in this sector and should be confident of the glory – the question is, who can disrupt their plans to dominate this part of the competition? Japan has a home advantage and great rivals in Watanabe and Higashino, the challenge of Thai Bass and Popor is likely to be strong while Jordan and Octaviante have made no secret of their focus on gold.
The competition consists of 16 pairs but only four are seeded. Each seeded pair heads up a group (A, B, C, or D) and the tournament begins with a robin match to determine the first pair in each group who will then advance to the knockout stages.
The first group: Zheng / Huang (#1), Tabeling / Piek, Seo / Chae, Elgamel / Hany
ZHENG Si Wei and HUANG Ya Qiong are top seeders and millions of their fans in China are expecting them to win the tournament – perhaps with a final victory over fellow countrymen WANG/HUANG. The pressure, energy and technical skills they put on competitors combine to make them regular winners. Zheng’s spatial awareness – especially his use of debris across pitches or driving – means that he scores points for his partner to fling over the net. The main threat in their group is the Korean Seo Seung-jae / Chae Yujung who were strong in the Thailand bubble (two-time silver medalists) so I think these two will qualify for the playoffs. SSJ also competes in MD so there may be issues around fatigue for him. If Tabeling/Piek can force a win on the Koreans, the rest of the matches will be more important but they have a tough task ahead.
Group II: Puavaranukroh/Taerattanachai (#3), Gicquel/Delrue, Ellis/Smith, Hurlburt-Yu/Wu.
Bass/Baubor was sensational on home soil in January – undefeated in all three tournaments – and that raised hopes for a good Olympic career. They are hungry for success and the past two years have seen them challenge them for titles in all the major tournaments. This is a very difficult group though. Thom Gicquel and Delphine Delrue are attracting more and more fan reviews and it’s clear that they have been working hard during the pandemic. I have a feeling they have their eyes on the title in their home Olympics and this competition is part of the ongoing project. Marcus Ellis and Lauren Smith should have enough experience to negotiate this part of the competition and enter the knockout stages. If they can make it to QF, the British are potential dark horses for a medal. Their opening match is against the French and both pairs must win.
Group C: Jordan / Octaviante (No. 4), Watanabe / Higashino, Christiansen / Boji, Wing Hang Leong / Somerville.
Gold is the goal of the Indonesian fourth seed and they have what it takes to deny their rivals as long as Pravin Jordan can consistently find his level. His fearsome presence, violent crush, and all-around play make him a complex opponent; Melati is an excellent foil for him. If PraMel starts slow, the Japanese pair can top the group. The current All-England Champions are looking forward to making it to the podium, but since Yuta Watanabe is also competing in the MD, I’m curious about how to manage his physical and emotional demands. I’m a huge fan of Arisa Higashino; Playing it from the back court frees Yuta from conquest at the front and this is one of the main advantages over many competitors. Can the Danes or the Australians seize the lead in this group and grab one of the first and second places? It’s a pretty big demand, so let’s see who starts smart and gets some momentum as the pressure goes up.
Group 4: Wang/Huang (#2), Lamphos/Hertrich, Tang/Tse, Chan/Goh.
Wang Yi Liu and Huang Dongping would most likely lead this group. HDP is always an eye-catching internet player who has a reliable touch and good strategic vision while her partner can constantly drive away opportunities. Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying – the Rio silver medalists – are expected to exit the group along with the Chinese pair.
Can any of these pairs stop the top seed winning gold? On paper, their compatriots are likely to be their compatriots but we’ve all seen unexpected results in the Olympic theater. Pravin Jordan is a bit moody and this can be turned in his favour; It is a useful strategy to be unpredictable especially against opponents such as the Chinese who tend to be “punctured”. It is essential that he compete at a consistent level though; Otherwise, PraMel will miss opportunities to win. There were whispers about a possible injury to Jordan but he refused and said it was inevitable aches and pains after hard training. The Thai duo, Puavaranukruh/Tiratanachai are becoming serious contenders and the Korean duo in Group A may be battling for a medal but – as with Utah – I am concerned about the risk of overworking Seo Seung-jae. As for Watanabe and Higashino; I’m a little nervous about Arisa’s defense if she’s under constant pressure, so as a team they should avoid situations that allow their opponents to turn the screw. Malaysians Chan/Goh knows how to win an Olympic medal as well as Marcus Ellis who might challenge with Lauren Smith for the honor at the end.
It’s realistically difficult to see beyond Zheng Si Wei and Huang Ya Qiong. Although we haven’t been able to watch them in international competition for a while, there is no doubt that they have been preparing in earnest and will be excited to confirm their dominance. The Chinese badminton community always treats the Olympics with the highest expectations, in this case it is justified in expecting two medals
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