The India Open this year will have the best field in its short history, for it is the final qualifying event for the Olympics. Indian fans will have a feast lined up through the week as some of the greats of the game arrive in Delhi to parade their wares.
As part of our build-up to the Games, we offer you pen portraits of the stars you must watch:
Lee Chong Wei: Feline brilliance
Malaysia, right-handed, world no.1
Chong Wei could have been one of the greatest of all time if he had not been in Lin Dan’s era. The world No.1 is forever haunted by his inability to beat Lin in the ones that really matter – the Olympics, the Asian Games and the World Championships. Apart from that, Chong Wei has won every Superseries title several times, and can beat any other player with a degree of comfort. His speed is so great that he sometimes toys around with top-ten opponents in the late stages of a match, allowing them to get close and then shutting them out.
The Malaysian is a wiry player with great all-court ability. His smash is accurate and sharp, but not thunderous. His defence is exceptional, and he moves with the ease of a cat to all corners of the court. He’s a gentleman on and off the court, and most badminton followers were left devastated when he blew a match point in the World Championships final earlier this year against his nemesis.
Check out these samples of Chong Wei’s play:
Peter Gade: Great Dane
Denmark, Right-handed, world no.4
Every time Peter Gade notches up another victory, badminton fans shake their heads in disbelief. The Dane is 35 – very senior by badminton standards, but he just seems to go on and on. He has carried the flag for Europe for a decade and a half, and is still the best European around. He arrived at the scene as a possible successor to Morten Frost, and although he hasn’t won a World Championship, he’s won several other majors. In Europe he is almost unchallenged; in Asia only the very best can beat him.
Gade at his best is a creature of fluid speed and power. His all-court ability is unquestionable, but he perhaps hasn’t achieved what he was capable of. He is a fine ambassador for the game, and is always patient with fans and media. The London Olympics will be his swansong. Can he end his long career on a magical note with a gold medal there?
Check out Peter Gade:
Taufik Hidayat: Wily Magician
Indonesia, world no.12
The magician of our generation. Taufik began as a child prodigy and by his mid-twenties, had achieved pretty much everything one would dream of: World Championship, Asian Games gold, Olympics gold. Taufik is a phenomenon – a great artist capable of doing anything with a shuttle. In the badminton-playing world he is God, and not even Lin Dan can inspire such a fan following, for Taufik’s stunning racket skills are unparalleled.
What makes Taufik so attractive is his wild mood swings that go hand-in-hand with his talent. While he is in the mood he can make badminton seem like music; but he is equally susceptible to bad moods that see him throw away matches to rank journeyman. No longer at his best physically.
Chen Long: All Power
China, right-handed, world no.3
Chen Long is part of China’s new generation, and will probably dominate badminton after Lin Dan. The former world junior champion is tall and muscular, and brings those attributes to his badminton as well. A fearsome hitter, he has won three Superseries titles this year and constantly troubled world no.1 Lee Chong Wei. China will look to him to prevent Chong Wei from challenging for gold at the Olympics.
Check out Chen Long:
Sho Sasaki: Samurai warrior
Japan, world No.6
Quick-moving, intelligent and powerful, his left-handedness gives him a great advantage. Hasn’t been able to win the majors because of the presence of greats like Lin Dan and Chong Wei, but will become one of the dominant players after the London Olympics. Sasaki is able to hold his own against formidable rivals, but is usually unable to close it out in his favour. Alongside Kenichi Tago, has been holding fort for Japan in the men’s singles. Has won 16 out of 22 matches this year.
Watch Sho Sasaki play Lin Dan:
Jan O Jorgensen: Heart for a challenge
Denmark, world No.13
Was early on marked as a future champion by the legendary Morten Frost. Jan O was seen as the successor to Peter Gade, but has yet to fully blossom. At times he has been in red-hot form, as he showed earlier this year when he dumped Lin Dan at the Malaysia Open, but consistency has been a problem. Has been unable to string together a sequence of big wins, but Jan O is a determined and intense player and will never stop aiming for the top. His Denmark Open win in 2010 against Taufik Hidayat will be among his most cherished memories.
Watch Jan O Jorgensen: