China signalled yet again that a tectonic shift is continuing in world badminton after failing to win either singles titles in the China Open Superseries event on Sunday.
India’s PV Sindhu slayed her second Chinese opponent in the draw by wearing out Sun Yu in the women’s singles final. But world No 1 Chen Long’s defeat against Denmark’s Jan O Jorgensen in the men’s singles final meant the giants and hosts ended up without any of the five titles.
China’s waning prowess was visible in the build-up to the Rio Olympics and a world which had been in awe of the red dragon was provided further proof when I failed to win a medal in the women’s singles and doubles.
Chen Long and men’s doubles pair Zhang Nan and Fu Haifeng won gold medals with the only other medal a mixed doubles bronze.
There is no doubt that competition, particularly against their women players, is getting stronger by the day. The rankings provide evidence. The world ranking list headed by Spain’s Carolina Marin has seven non-Chinese in the top 10. While Li Xuerui, the 2012 Olympic champion, is only ranked fourth,
Sun Yu and He Bingjiao are ninth and 10th respectively.
It is a remarkable decline considering that China swept to all five titles in the London Games, winning seven medals in all.
In Rio, China was pushed to the third spot overall in the medals tally, behind the US and UK, following the flop show in badminton and gymnastics, both their preserve. In gymnastics, China won just two bronze medals.
Two top women players retired after Rio, Wang Yihan following a poor show and Wang Shixian after being omitted for the Games as Yihan and Xuerui filled the quota.
Wang Yihan has won the most number of Super Series, 19, besides silver in the London Games. Wang has 12 Superseries titles, including two All England wins and one 2010 Superseries Finals triumph.
The poor show in the Olympics raised questions about China’s renowned state-sponsored sports programme.
The failures could also be a reflection of changing priorities in China, which once saw sports as a display of soft power, a great platform to boost its image. It no longer needs that thanks to its rapid rise as a global economic giant.
It will be interesting to see how China turn things around.