If there is one category that is essentially China versus the Rest of the World, it’s Women’s Doubles. At least ten top-class players are at the superpower’s disposal, giving China the luxury of testing various combinations in the past year and, despite experimentation, returning with most of the major titles. Few would bet against similar Chinese domination in 2014 too.
The surest measure of China’s dominance in Women’s Doubles was that, since January 2013, it won all but two of 15 Superseries, plus the BWF World Championships and the Badminton Asia Championships. Even more impressively, it was a victorious run that did not depend entirely on established stars such as Olympic champions Tian Qing/Zhao Yunlei or World champions Yu Yang/Wang Xiaoli.
Instead, the past season saw the emergence of a powerful new combination: Bao Yixin and Tang Jinhua (BWF home page). Since teaming up at the Dutch Open in mid-October, Bao and Tang have gone on a spree of 35 matches without being beaten, pocketing five Superseries and two GP Gold. Although she is just 21 years old, Bao has quickly turned into one of the best in the business, achieving success with three partners. One of Bao’s big triumphs was the Indonesia Open. Bao and Cheng Shu derailed the express run of senior compatriots and world No. 1 pair Yu Yang/Wang Xiaoli – their first loss after a 27-match winning streak.
Other young Chinese, such as Zhong Qianxin, Cheng Shu, Ou Dongni and Tang Yuanting too have made their presence felt. Given big team events such as the Uber Cup and Asian Games on the calendar, it will be interesting to see the choice of China’s frontline pairs.
Of the non-Chinese pairs, Denmark’s Christinna Pedersen/Kamilla Rytter Juhl (No. 2) and Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi (Japan; left) were the most successful. Pedersen and Rytter Juhl (above) were spectacular at the season-ending BWF World Superseries Finals in December 2013, playing unbeaten, including a rare defeat of Yu Yang/Wang Xiaoli.
Takahashi and Matsutomo had several impressive results to their credit, although they couldn’t quite nail a major title. Their compatriots Miyuki Maeda/Satoko Suetsuna were luckier, winning the India Open, shortly before Suetsuna announced her retirement in her home Yonex Open Japan, leaving Maeda to partner Reika Kakiiwa. The most striking feature of Japan’s Women’s Doubles teams has been their exceptional defence, which they use to frustrate bigger-hitting opponents.
Korea too has a strong presence in Women’s Doubles. However, the Koreans have also been experimenting with various combinations. Eom Hye Won and Jang Ye Na, who had a brilliant run into the final of the BWF World Championships, were split soon after and paired with other players such as Shin Seung Chan and Kim So Young. Having two pairs in the top ten – Jung Kyung Eun/Kim Ha Na and Jang Ye Na/Kim So Young (above) – and others such as Shin Seung Chan, Lee So Hee, Ko A Ra and Yoo Hae Won waiting in the wings, Korea has strength in numbers.
The same cannot be said of Indonesia, which is dependent on two pairs – Greysia Polii/Nitya Krishinda Maheswari (left) and Rizki Amelia Pradipta/Pia Zebadiah Bernadeth – to deliver the goods. As far as the other nations are concerned, Poon Lok Yan/Tse Ying Suet (Hong Kong), Line Damkjaer Kruse/Marie Roepke, Vivian Hoo/Woon Khe Wei (Malaysia) and the recently re-united Indian pair Ashwini Ponnappa/Jwala Gutta (India) might be worth keeping an eye on.
Those expecting a shift in the narrative of Chinese dominance are likely to be disappointed. However, to the neutral fan, Women’s Doubles will continue to impress for women doubles’ players have in recent times become ever more athletic, powerful and aggressive.
The big question is: will Bao Yixin/Tang Jinhua emerge from the shadows of their more illustrious seniors or do the latter have more tricks up their sleeves?