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BADMINTON WORLD TOUR REVIEW By Richard Eaton

11/11/2009
Badminton may soon adopt measures similar to those taken in tennis by the WTA World Tour to deal with a growing threat to the health of the Super Series, the Badminton World Federation's shop-window series of tournaments.
 
A wave of player withdrawals hit the final stages of the 2009 Super Series, turning the promotion of at least two major tournaments into a farce, and placing sponsorship, television and ticket sales at risk.
 
With the BWF's new Chief Operating Officer Thomas Lund still very much occupied with a fresh business plan and re-shaping Super Series contracts, it was not the worst time to be saddled with something as important as this.
 
Lund nevertheless made clear his sentiments. “It's very unfortunate to see so many withdrawals,” he said. “I can't give a solution. But we can look at other sports, to see how they do it. It's possible that such rules should be implemented in badminton as well.”
 
If they are, badminton could one day adopt a scheme which mixes rules on minimum commitment to events with ranking points incentives to play in specific tournaments, and zero points penalties for missing them.
 
There were hints of trouble at the China Masters in Guangzhou in mid-September. The Men’s Singles required a re-draw following the withdrawal of Wacha Przemyslaw, the World No.20 from Poland.
 
That wasn't exactly a disaster, but it could conceivably have affected the outcome of the Men’s Singles. According to one report it “may have taken away the smile from the face Lee Chong Wei, the World No.1 from Malaysia, who now found himself in the same half as Lin Dan, the Olympic champion.”
 
Much worse followed. The following week the Japan Open Super Series was abandoned by Xie Xingfang, Xu Chen, Lu Lan, Chen Jin, Zhao Yunlei, Shen Ye, Du Jing, Yu Yang, He Hanbin, Chen Zhiben, Guo Zhendong, Xie Zhongbo, and  Zhang Yawen - the larger part of a very large Chinese squad, and including some very famous names.
 
Many of these preferred to prepare for China's National Championships, giving an impression that their domestic tournament is more important than a Super Series in Tokyo. It sent a bad signal to the commercial and media world. 
 
In fact, it couldn't be worse. Could it? It could.
 
The very next Super Series, the Denmark Open in Odense, saw the Chinese Federation take the unprecedented step of withdrawing its entire squad of twenty-six players.
 
“On the good side, even Chinese players can be tired!” said Finn Traerup, Denmark’s Director of Badminton, trying to extract humour from depression. “On the bad side, how are we ever going to be able to promote a badminton tournament, and badminton in general?”
 
Although the redraw did include a scaled-down squad from China, with one player only in four disciplines and three in the Men’s Doubles, it was also missing Korea's top players. They were apparently at the 90th National Sports Festival in Daejeon.
 
“It's a very serious thing,” said Lund. “We have to look at it. It's damaging for tournaments with their commercial partners and spectators. The whole set-up is badly hit by withdrawals when they are as massive as this.
 
“Of course it's the nature of sport, unfortunately, that players do get injured. But the amount of withdrawals in some of these tournaments is in many ways unacceptable.
 
“There are also other reasons. It is not good to have withdrawals when the real reason is not injury.
 
“Generally players do pull out because of injuries – and we need to analyse whether they are doing too much.  It is also a responsibility of every single country and coach to plan in a responsible and good way.
 
“We have to expect a certain amount of responsibility from all countries. Especially when it is a top player, they have a special responsibility.
 
“I can't give a solution. We can look at other sports, how they do it. It's a possibility
such rules should be implemented in badminton as well, “ he concluded.                                      
 
Asked if it were possible some countries did not understood what was at stake, Lund
replied: “I can't believe that there is any country which doesn't understand the importance of being able to promote the best players, especially big countries with a big number of players.
 
“They are also often very often the same associations which are having one or more big events going on each year,” he said, making it clear who he had in mind. “Everyone understands the importance of being able to promote players.”
 
In Guangzhou the Chinese players swept the board, with Lin Dan brushing aside Boonsak Ponsana of Thailand 21-17 21-17 in the Men’s Singles final. It was the only one of the five contested by a non-Chinese player.
 
Wang Shixian, a 19-year-old ranked only 64 in the world, won the Women’s Singles with a stunning victory over world number two Wang Lin, by 21-14 14-21 21-14. Previously  Wang had overcome the world champion, Lu Lan, and the All England champion, Wang Yihan.
 
The following week the already stricken Japan Open suffered further loss when its two top singles seeds departed early on.
 
Lee Chong Wei, the World No.1 from Malaysia, lost in the second round to Simon Santoso of Indonesia; Zhou Mi, the Super Series Masters Women’s Singles titleholder, lost first round to Adriyanti Firdasan of Indonesia.
 
Even with the great depletion of entries, a Chinese player still won the Men’s Singles - Bao Chunlai, a top five player before injury problems dragged him down, who beat former Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat, 21-15 21-12.
 
He also overcame a group of Indonesians residing in Japan, bellowing out the song 'Garuda di dadaku' (Eagle on my chest), and attempting to energize Hidayat not only in Indonesian and Japanese but also in Mandarin - maybe to distract Bao.
 
Wang Yihan, the All England Champion, won the Women’s Singles, overwhelming Wang Xin, a qualifier, 21-8 21-9, in one of the most one-sided finals ever seen in a front line event. Wang Xin tried hard, encouraged by the Chinese audience, but even when she had some inspired moments it made little difference. Wang Yihan, fast, strong and tall, was always there.
 
"In general I'm not really superior to her,” Wang Yihan said. “It's just that today I was able to beat her." She could have fooled most people.
 
Though the season was almost over before the venue and dates of the Super Series finals were known – infuriatingly, once again - there were reasons for optimism. Exciting possibilities were rumoured for the 2010 Super Series.
 
The BWF was said to be considering a revamp of the format, with four Grand Slams, in addition to 12 Super Series tournaments, similar to tennis. According to The Star, the Malaysian newspaper, the BWF's Deputy Vice President Paisan Rangsikitpho hinted that the All England Open might be one of the big four.
 
BWF officials have also reportedly suggested that the annual World Championships could revert to its previous biennial format, rather than being held every year. This could happen from 2013, as the 2010 and 2011 World Championships have already been awarded to Paris and London.
 
Ever since Pi Hongyan left China and began representing France a few years ago, there has been a higher profile for this badminton enigma – one of the earliest affiliated nations, but never associated for any length of time with the highest levels. The great Paris highlight could further help change that.
 
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