We are in the fag end of 2019 and the badminton year-ender is here. The BWF World Tour Finals 2019 begins on Wednesday with the best shuttlers from across the globe competing for the prestigious title in the season finale. Indian badminton fans would remember that it was in the World Tour Finals last year that 'golden girl' PV Sindhu created history for her nation as she became the first Indian to win the season-ending competition.
Last year, Sameer Verma gave company to Sindhu in the competition but this year the Hyderabad shuttler is the lone Indian in the competition. That, however, does little to take shine off the contest which will be a gala of best of the bests.
As usual, top eight players or pairs " in case of doubles and mixed doubles " will be split in two groups of four each where they will be required to play the other three opponents once. The top two from each group will qualify for semi-finals. The winner of Group A will play runners-up from Group B and vice versa, followed by the final.
Defending champion Sindhu has her task cut out, especially with her poor recent form. The Rio Olympics silver medallist would not have been part of the 'elite eight' had it not have been for her World Championships win earlier this year. However, she will quickly need to step up her game as she walks into the tournament on the back of a streak of dismal results.
Half the field in the women's singles have won the season-ending championships before.
" BWF (@bwfmedia) December 10, 2019
Her badminton journey since conquering gold at World Championships has been littered with first and second round exits with only one quarter-finals appearance which came during French Open. But if Sindhu's brief yet extremely successful career has taught us anything, it's that she always keeps her best for bigger tournaments. And hence, one can only rule her out of contention at their own peril. She has a tough challenge ahead of her, no doubt. She has Japan's Akane Yamaguchi, China's Chen Yufei and He Bingjiao in her group. Yufei, in particular, will be a tough nut to crack for any of the participants. The Chinese shuttler has won all six of her finals this year.
Ladies and Gentleman! The TOP 8 Women Single's shuttlers during the opening ceremony of the #BWFWorldTourFinals2019 in China including 2018 Champion @Pvsindhu1. All the best #pvsindhu. #IndiaontheRise#badminton#WorldTourFinals2019 pic.twitter.com/Y7nffpryEh " BAI Media (@BAI_Media) December 9, 2019
Group B has Ratchanok Intanon, Nozomi Okuhara, Busanan Ongbamrungphan and another favourite and World No 1 Tai Tzu Ying who has won the tournament on two previous occasions. She has three titles to her name this year but the only concern would be her fitness. She was forced out of Fuzhou China Open semi-finals due to knee injury and will be making a comeback in Guangzhou. Yamaguchi has been having a decent year after a bad start while Okuhara would be looking to make a mark in 2019 after having a year where she has collected too many silver medals for her liking.
Kento Momota is men's singles' unstoppable force in badminton and without a doubt the favourite to clinch the gold medal at the Finals. But wise men do not count their eggs before they hatch and Momota is very wise, after all he was the favourite last year as well but China's Shi Yuqi handed him a bitter defeat in the summit clash. Yuqi has failed to qualify for this year and Momota would have redemption on his mind.
Jonatan Christie, Wang Tzu Wei and Anders Antonsen give company to Momota in Group A. All worthy men for the title but Momota's biggest challenge should come from Chou Tien Chen who is part of Group B with Chen Long, Viktor Axelsen and Anthony Ginting. Chou Tien Chen was the only one to win a Super 1000 title this year apart from Momota as he clinched gold at Indonesia open. He also came very close to beating Momotoa in Fuzhou China Open final.
MS on stage
" Badminton Talk (@BadmintonTalk) December 9, 2019
Apart from him, Axelsen and Antonsen are always a good bet. Axelsen was out for long with injury so may not be at his best but Antonsen had victory at Indonesia Masters and would present tough challenge. Jonatan Christie has two titles to show this year while Chen Long has experience and wins behind him. But before we close this, let's us just mention that Momota has won 10 titles this year.
Doubles and mixed doubles
Top seeds and 'minions' Marcus Fernaldi Gideon/Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo are in Group A with Takeshi Kamura/Keigo Sonoda, defending champions Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen, and Asian champions Hiroyuki Endo/Yuta Watanabe.
Group B includes world champions Mohammad Ahsan/Hendra Setiawan, Lee Yang/Wang Chi-Lin, Lu Ching Yao/Yang Po Han and Aaron Chia/Soh Wooi Yik.
The 'minions' have eight titles win this season and are heavy favourites. They should face toughest resistance from former champions Mohammad Ahsan/Hendra Setiawan who also collected three titles in 2019. On the other hand, defending champions Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen have home comfort to bank upon.
In women's doubles, China's Chen Qinchen/Jia Yifan, Du Yue/Li Yinhui are in Group A with Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota and Greysia Polii/Apriyani Rahayu.
Group B has world champions Mayu Matsumoto/Wakana Nagahara, Kim So Yeong/Kong Hee Yong, Jongkolphan Kititharakul/Rawinda Prajongjai and Lee So Hee/Shin Seung Chan.
Mayu Matsumoto/Wakana Nagahara made it to semi-finals last time and will be determined to go a step further after their world title win. Their compatriots and biggest prospective challengers Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota would also hope for the same.
Zheng Siwei/Huang Yaqiong are the first pair to think of in mixed doubles after winning world title and all three Super 1000 gold medals in 2019. They have Super Grand Slam to aim for. The other favourites include Praveen Jordan/Melati Daeva Oktavianti and Wang Yilyu/Huang Dongping.