COVID 19 is unfortunately still rampaging all over the world, but luckily a bubble was set up in Birmingham to host the prestigious All England Championships once again. So we were treated to some fine badminton once again, which has happened so rarely recently.
With China, Korea and Chinese Taipeh absent, the focus was certainly on Indonesia returning with a strong team. Who wasnt looking forward to see the Minions back in action? But an unfortunate incident forced the whole Indonesian team to retreat from the competition. A passenger on the same flight was tested positive for COVID, leaving the health department no choice but to forbid Kevin, Marcus & Co to participate in the tournament.
Hendra Setiawan and Mohamad Ahsan had even won their first round match already (very narrowly 21-19 in the decider) and also had to make their way home. So quite a few top players were suddenly out, giving some younger unknown players the chance to go far. Especially the Danes used this to their advantage. But in the end the Japanese team made a very strong comeback and allowed only three players of other nations in the finals. So how did these turn out on Sundays?
Malaysian Lee Zii Jia interferes in Japanese National Championships
Hiroyuki Endo/Yuta Watanabe def. Takeshi Kamura/Keigo Sonoda
21-15 17-21 21-11
Kamura/Sonoda played strong this week but certainly benefitted from the absence of Gideon/Sukamuljo. I doubt they would have made the finals otherwise. In the end it was quite an easy path to the trophy throughout the week for Watanabe/Endo. They had some close games and the final went to a third, but they were never really in danger of losing a match. Too good their defence, very patient and decisive on the attack. Still a favourite for Olympic gold in my book!
Mayu Matsumoto/Wakana Nagahara def. Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota
Matsumoto/Nagahara turned around the result of their last meeting in the Denmark Open 2020. As expected very very long rallies dominated the scene, could certainly have gone to the decider. But Mayu and Wakana just a touch steadier today.
Nozomi Okuhara def. Pornpawee Chochuwong
It was close to being an All-Thai final, because Ratchanok Intanon was so close to the finish line in her semi final against Okuhara. But the Japanese girl prevailed and was too much for Chochuwong as well. The Thai girl improved immensely over the last two years and has arrived in the top class of womens singles discipline. But Nozomi came through with her experience and pace, gave her opponent hardly any unforced errors. A well deserved win.
Lee Zii Jia def. Viktor Axelsen
30-29 20-22 21-9
Without a doubt the highlight of the tournament! Malaysia has found Lee Chong Weis successor. Young Lee Zii Jia played a brillant match with very solid defense, incredible athleticism, nerves of steel (most of the time) and powerful smashes. Axelsen probably has the finer technique and is more creative, but the Malaysians superior fitness was crucial in the end.
The first two games were amazing badminton from both, but around 14-11 in favour of Viktor in game 2, you could see the tall Dane running out of gas. So although he somehow made it to game 3, that was just a formality for Lee Zii Jia on the way to his first big title. And I am absolutely convinced, he will win many more.
Yuta Watanabe/Arisa Higashino def. Yuki Kaneko/Misaki Matsutomo
Quite simply the expected result, because Watanabe/Higashino are the better pair. Kaneko played a great week and Womens Doubles Olympic Champion Misaki Matsumoto showed that she can be a force in mixed doubles as well.
In fact I think the difference between them was mostly the quality of the male players. Higashino seems to have improved her defence and was very agressive and successful at the front court today, but Matsumotos defence is even better and she will improve her attack surely. So just a slight advantage to the seeded pair here, but Watanabe is just miles ahead of Kaneko. Yuki wasnt able to hit through the opponents defence, while Yutas creativity, speed and precision made the difference. He has now won 4 All England titles at the age of 23, what an amazing feat. I am looking forward to them playing the best Chinese pairs, because thats whats important for them.