Sports Desk, Mar 11 (efe-epa).- China’s highest-ranked male and female shuttlers notched first-round victories Wednesday at the All England Open, one of the most prestigious events on the annual badminton calendar.
The world No. 1 in women’s singles, Chen Yufei, had arguably the toughest opening match of any seeded player in that category, but she recovered well after dropping the opening game to defeat rising South Korean star An Se-young 14-21, 21-14, 21-15.
An, a gifted 18-year-old player who can at times be a bit too risk-averse, benefited from unforced errors off of Chen’s racket but also attacked effectively en route to taking the opening game at Arena Birmingham in Birmingham, England.
The ninth-ranked South Korean also showcased her outstanding defense to stay close through the halfway point of the second game.
But Chen then started using her superior array of weapons to take control, stretching her 13-11 lead into an 18-12 advantage and wrapping up the game a few points later.
In the decider, An remained neck-and-neck until 5-5 but then saw her chances slip away when Chen went on a 10-3 run.
The world No. 1 eventually finished off her victory in one hour and seven minutes with a short smash winner and will next take on Thailand’s Busanan Ongbamrungphan in the second round.
Although Chen ascended to the top of the rankings late last year and will be one of the favorites at the Tokyo Olympics, she will face stiff competition from several of her rivals, starting with Spanish three-time world champion and reigning Olympic gold medalist Carolina Marin.
Marin, the world No. 7, said recently that her form is not currently at the level she expects, but she got off to a good start at the All England Open with a 21-13, 21-14 victory Wednesday over China’s Zhang Yi Man to set up a second-round clash against China’s Wang Zhi Yi.
In men’s singles action, reigning Olympic champion Chen Long, the world No. 5, also had a tricky first-round match but took care of business in a 21-15, 21-16 win over India’s Kidambi Srikanth.
That category is wide open at this year’s tournament due to the absence of Japanese world No. 1 and defending champion Kento Momota, who sustained an eye-socket fracture in a car accident in January in Malaysia in which the driver of the vehicle was killed.
Momota’s vision has apparently fully recovered, although he has precious little time to get back to tournament play and prepare for the Tokyo Olympics, where he will be one of his country’s biggest gold-medal hopefuls.
China’s No. 2 men’s singles player, the ninth-ranked Shi Yuqi, is looking to recover his form in time for Tokyo and showed good strides Wednesday evening in a 21-17, 17-21, 21-7 win over Indonesia’s Tommy Sugiarto. He will next take on countryman Zhao Jun Peng in the second round.
Chinese all-time great Lin Dan, the world No. 19, also is in action in Birmingham.
The 36-year old two-time Olympic gold medalist and five-time men’s singles world champion narrowly avoided defeat in a 13-21, 22-20, 21-10 first-round victory Wednesday over Thailand’s Kunlavut Vitidsarn, having to rally from a 21-13, 18-13 deficit and save two match points in the second game.
Lin’s chances of qualifying for this year’s Olympics appear remote because a maximum of two players per country are allowed to compete in Tokyo. He will next take on his countryman Chen in a clash pitting the winners of the past three Olympic gold medals in men’s singles.
The All England Open is being held as scheduled despite concerns about the novel coronavirus in the United Kingdom, where thus far nearly 400 confirmed cases and six deaths have been reported.
Last week’s German Open was postponed due to the Covid-19 outbreak in that country, where so far there have been more than 1,600 confirmed cases and three deaths. EFE-EPA