China to start as favourites in Sudirman Cup again

PETALING JAYA: Can the mighty China show their dominant form again when they kick off their Sudirman Cup title defence in Vantaa, Finland today?

Former doubles great Tan Boon Heong believes so if China’s overwhelming success at the Tokyo Olympics last month was anything to go by.

They did not send any of their players out for 16 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic but in Tokyo, they stamped their class by having six finallists, with two of them winning the golds.

China, the 11-time Sudirman Cup winners, have arrived for the world mixed team event without their silver medal winners Chen Long (men’s singles) and Li Junhui-Liu Yuchen (men’s doubles) but they will be parading their women’s singles and mixed doubles gold medallists Chen Yufei and Wang Yilyu-Huang Dongping respectively. They also have women’s doubles silver medallists Chen Qingchen-Jia Yifan on board.

Boon Heong said China would be the team to beat but was quick to point out that Indonesia and 2019 runners-up Japan would be their main challengers.

“Following their great Tokyo Olympics campaign, China will undoubtedly start as the favourite again,” said Boon Heong, who will once again act as the sports pundit for Astro Arena after gaining prominence with his energetic commentary during the Tokyo Olympics.

“China can expect a stiff competition especially from Indonesia. The Indonesian team have sent a full force and they have depth in their squad.

“Besides, Indonesia are always good and extra focused when it comes to team event because of their strong camaraderie.

“Team spirit can make a huge difference and a strong team on paper may not necessary win.

“Japan, meanwhile, will be eager to make amends for their dismal showing at the Olympics. Their strength may be affected by the retirement of several senior doubles players, but they are still very competitive across the board.”

Boon Heong, who was in the team when Malaysia won their only Sudirman Cup medal in Guangzhou 2009, said Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) have made the right decision by setting a modest quarter-final target for their youthful side.

Malaysia have also reached the last eight in all the previous three editions.

“BAM are playing it safe by targeting a last eight finish but that’s understandable given that we have only a few established players such as Lee Zii Jia,” said Boon Heong.

“It will be considered a very successful campaign if we return with a medal.

“I was part of the team when we won bronze in 2009, that’s 12 years already.

“Hopefully our young team can spring a surprise.”

In Nanning two years ago, Malaysia were ousted 3-0 by Japan in the quarter-finals.