Total domination! That’s how one can view China’s iron grip on women’s badminton. It can be compared to other reigns in world of sport like Manchester United’s in the English Premier League, Boston Celtics’ in the National Basketball Association and New York Yankees’ in the Major League Baseball among others.
No has come close to challenging The Dragon’s hold on the women’s game, especially since the turn of the century. They have won every Olympic title since 2000 Sydney Olympics, eight out of 11 World Championships and 10 out of 17 Badminton Asia Championships.
But going into Rio Games, their grip seems to have loosened with the emergence of new talent like Spain’s world No 1 Carolina Marin, Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon, Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara, Taiwan’s Tai Tzu-ying, our very own Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu and South Korea’s Sung ji-Hung.
Never before the women’s game was so closely fought as it has been currently. All placed in the top-10, they are capable of beating each other on their day.
The Chinese challenge at the quadrennial event will be shouldered by Wang Yihan and Li Xuerui, placed second and third in the rankings behind Spaniard Marin but they are finding it tougher to get over the line ever than before.
Since the 2012 Olympics the tide seems to have turned against the Chinese. That year they won eight Superseries titles, which have dwindled with every passing year. Last year, they managed to clinch only three, two of them by Xuerui. This year, they haven’t opened their account even though their players have made it to five finals of six Superseries events played so far.
They haven’t won the World Championships since London Games. While the 2013 edition was clinched by Intanon, 2014 and 2015 were won by southpaw Marin. They haven’t had anyone at the top of the rankings since Xuerui in June 2015. Since then, Marin has made the spot her own and only relinquished it briefly to Inanton when the Thai had won three-straight Superseries titles earlier in the year.
In the Asia Championships as well they had a winner in 2016 after a lull of two years when Yihan beat Xuerui in an all-Chinese final. The 2014 and 2015 edition were won by Korean Sung and Intanon respectively. Before that they had won seven on the trot since 2007.
When this correspondent spoke to Marin during the first edition of the Premier Badminton League (previously Indian Badminton League) in 2013, she said the new crop on the block doesn’t fear reputation the Chinese carried into the tournament and are confident of putting up a good show. She was still an unknown quantity till that time before shooting into limelight by winning the 2014 world title.
Indian national coach, Pullela Gopichand, also aired similar views when he was in Mumbai for a promotional event couple of years back.
While it will be difficult to ignore the Chinese when the Rio Olympics kicks off on August 5, it won’t be an easy ride for them either.