Relishing its elevation from a Grand Prix Gold event, the Australian Open has heralded the arrival of the Oceania family into the sport’s big league, joining Asia and Europe as continental hosts of the MetLife BWF World Superseries – an elite 12 tournaments featuring the sport’s most popular and talented stars in action.
In a sports-mad country like Australia – especially amid the busy bright lights of Sydney – badminton’s new-found status could well be a game-changer for the sport. The rich “Aussie” sporting culture makes the newest stop on the World Superseries tour particularly enticing as a prospect for growth.
It certainly helps to have some of the world’s biggest badminton names – plus a prize jackpot of US$750,000 – competing in the newly-promoted Australian Open and this should draw the attention of the public and local media. The importance of the occasion – and capitalising on it – is not lost on those close to this milestone.
CEO of Badminton Australia, Paul Brettell, acknowledged this is a big day for badminton in his country.
“It’s a very big event. We were delighted when our application to be made into a Superseries was accepted. Long-term, this will help us in building a profile and in building credibility with government and sponsors. The entries are excellent and we’ve got more publicity than usual.
“The presence of (two-time Olympic champion) Lin Dan has been a big boost. He was very popular at the press conference yesterday. There have been a number of media requests for interviews.”
Brettell added this interest has translated into heartening ticket sales.
“We have a seating capacity of a couple of thousands. The semis and finals are pre-sold and it’s likely Friday will be sold out as well.”
While some big names are missing in Men’s Singles, such as No.1 Lee Chong Wei (Malaysia), No.2 Chen Long (China) and recent BCA Indonesia Open winner Jan O Jorgensen (Denmark), it does have a star cast. Five-time World champion Lin Dan (left) of China started garnering attention when he arrived in Sydney; a local report stating he was mobbed during a walk around Darling Harbour. Lin’s charisma and on-court brilliance are likely to give proceedings even more traction as they progress.
Lin should have a fairly easy first round against Israel’s Misha Zilberman. Thai veteran Boonsak Ponsana is a likely second-round opponent at the State Sports Centre in Sydney Olympic Park. Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen or Korea’s Son Wan Ho could loom large in the quarter-finals, before a possible meeting against defending champion and compatriot Tian Houwei or another Chinese, Wang Zhengming, in the semi-finals.
The lower half of the draw looks evenly matched with Tommy Sugiarto of Indonesia a strong contender to make the final. His compatriot and Singapore Open champion, Simon Santoso, Denmark’s Hans-Kristian Vittinghus, Germany’s Marc Zwiebler and Japan’s Kento Momota are among those expected to challenge him for the final place. Vittinghus and Momota face off in what should be a close first-round fixture.
Australia’s Oon Hoe Keat qualified with a three-game win over compatriot Michael Fariman, 10-21 21-16 21-14, joining Mohamad Arif Abdul Latif (below), Chiang Jiann Shiarng (both Malaysia) and Japan’s Riichi Takeshita in the main draw.
Fariman qualified in Men’s Doubles with Indonesia’s Moses Tulaar Reyhan, alongside Malaysian pairs Chan Kwong Beng/Chiang Jiann Shiarng and Lim Khim Wah/Ow Yao Han. Chang and Chiang prevailed in a tough three-setter against Australians Anthony Joe (BWF home page) and Low Pit Seng.
Two Indian pairs qualified in Mixed Doubles: Akshay Dewalkar/Pradnya Gadre and Manu Attri/Siki Reddy. The other qualifiers were Nipitphon Puangpuapech/Puttita Supajirakul (Thailand) and Kenta Kazuno/Yui Miyauchi (Japan).
In Women’s Singles, top billing goes to Wang Shixian of China and World champion, Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand. Intanon has not won a major title since winning the BWF World Championships last August and might see this as an ideal opportunity to rectify that, particularly having been runner-up in Indonesia. Her toughest early challenge could come from defending Australian Open champion Sayaka Takahashi (Japan) in the quarter-finals, followed by the likes of compatriot Nichaon Jindapon, India’s PV Sindhu or Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun in the semi-finals.
Sixth seed Saina Nehwal, in search of her first World Superseries title since the 2012 Denmark Open, is a likely semi-finalist against top seed Wang Shixian, assuming she overcomes Wang’s compatriot Yu Sun in opening action.
* Men’s Doubles has a top-quality draw, with the red-hot Lee Yong Dae/Yoo Yeon Seong (Korea, 4) seeking their third straight World Superseries trophy. Defending champions Angga Pratama/Ryan Agung Saputra (Indonesia), one of the few pairs to beat Lee/Yoo, are in the lower half of the draw. Australian fans will keep their hopes pinned on Raymond Tam/Glenn Warfe, who have a tough first-round against Malaysia’s Hoon Thien How/Tan Boon Heong.
* The top two seeds in Women’s Doubles, Christinna Pedersen/Kamilla Rytter Juhl (Denmark) and Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi (Japan), are likely to be challenged by China’s Tian Qing/Zhao Yunlei; sisters Luo Ying/Luo Yu; and strong Korean pairs such as Jung Kyung Eun/Kim Ha Na and Jang Ye Na/Kim So Young. Australian fans will hope their local pair Renuga Veeran/Tang He Tian can spring a surprise over the Luo twins in the first round. Local attention will also be on Gronya Somerville (above) and Jacqueline Guan in their first round against Chinese Taipei's Cheng Wen Hsing/Hsieh Pei Chen. Defending champions Vita Marissa/Aprilsasi Putri are not in the fray.
* Familiar foes Tontowi Ahmad/Liliyana Natsir (Indonesia) and China’s Xu Chen/Ma Jin head the opposite ends of the Mixed Doubles draw. One of the exciting first-round matches is likely to be Indonesia Open champions Joachim Fischer Nielsen/Christinna Pedersen (Denmark) against Japan Open runners-up Michael Fuchs/Birgit Michels (Germany). Defending champions Irfan Fadhilah/Weni Anggraini (Indonesia) have skipped this event.