After the intriguing 2019 season of BWF World Tour, it’s time that the roller coaster starts again. Considering 2020 is the Olympic year, World Tour events will gain additional importance. The new season kicks off with the Super 500 Malaysia Masters.
This tournament would see the leading names in men’s singles fighting it out amongst themselves in Kuala Lumpur. There is also going to be a good representation from India. Since many of these players will also be taking part in the Premier Badminton League (PBL), putting up a good show becomes even more important.
Let’s take a close look at the men’s singles division and the top contenders.
Can anyone take on Momota?
In 2019, it was Kento Momota who reigned supreme among men through the year and captured 12 titles. Will his ascendancy be challenged in 2020?
He will start his campaign in Kuala Lumpur against Parupalli Kashyap as the top seed. Kashyap hasn’t been very successful since his return from injury in 2017. Momota, having ended the year with a hard-fought victory in the World Tour Finals, will be returning after a much-deserved rest.
It’s quite possible that he may take some time to get going. This would give Kashyap an opportunity but still, Momota will be the favourite to win this tournament also.
Chou takes on Srikanth
Chou Tien Chen remains the second-seed for this tournament also. Having given Momota a real fright in the Fuzhou China Open Final, he would be hoping for another solid performance. He too would be facing an Indian – Kidambi Srikanth in the first round.
Since reaching the high of winning four Super Series titles in 2017, Srikanth hasn’t been able to replicate that success. Last year was quite disappointing for him. This explains his low ranking. But he has genuine quality. A surprise result can’t be ruled out.
Ginting – Possible antidote to Momota
Fans should keep an eye on Anthony Sinisuka Ginting. Last year, he came very close to winning two titles towards the end of the season – Hong Kong Open and World Tour Finals. He is outrageously talented and is clearly an opponent who causes most trouble to Momota. In this tournament, he is likely to face the World Champion in the quarter-final. That would be a great contest to watch.
Fast on his feet and skillful, the only thing that Ginting needs to add to his game in order to be more successful is stamina. It was the lack of this quality that lost him the World Tour Finals. If he can increase his reserves of energy, he will enter the Olympics as a top contender.
Get the full Malaysia Masters 2020 Schedule
This tournament will also hold great importance for Shi Yuqi. After the high of winning both the All England Championship and the World Tour Finals in 2018, he had plenty of setbacks in 2019. Injuries have played a big part in his regression. Though he did seem to slightly recover his form towards the end of the year, the Chinese player is still far from being at the top of his game.
Shi has a tough first-round game against Wang Tzu Wei of Chinese Taipei. In a way, this could be good for the former All England Champion. It would force him to get into top gear right at the start.
Shi Yuqi’s form becomes all the more important as his two great compatriots are looking hopelessly out of form. Chen Long and Lin Dan have, together, won the last three Olympic Golds and seven World Championships. Chen enters this tournament seeded fourth while the legendary Lin Dan is unseeded.
Since the Olympic only allows a country to have two representatives in one division, both these former champions would be battling to prove themselves better than the other since Shi is clearly ahead. Chen may have the upper hand but not by much.
While the five-time World Champion may face Anthony Ginting in the second round in Kuala Lumpur, Chen will have to take on another former World Champion – Viktor Axelsen in the quarters. It’s not going to be easy for these two to progress beyond last-8.
The Great Danes
Talking of Danes, Anders Antonsen would be keen to continue his run of success from last year. Having reached the Final of the World Championship, he took another step in his journey to being considered a top player. Seeded third, he has to now take the next step of winning some major World Tour events to build up a head of steam going towards the Olympics.
His more accomplished but lower-seeded compatriot Viktor Axelsen had a mixed year in 2019. In fact, after having great success in 2017, including winning the World Championship, Viktor has struggled to regain those heights of success. He also has a peculiarly bad record against Momota, something he needs to fix in order to have a shot at Olympic glory.
Luckily for him, he has a relatively easy draw as Chen Long is the toughest opponent he could face in the last-8 stage. After that, he may come across Asian Games champion Jonatan Christie or Chou Tien Chen in the semis. He should fancy his chances of getting to the final.
Lastly, India has two other key players set to take part in the first round. B Sai Praneeth emerged as India’s biggest hope last year as he managed to win the bronze medal in the World Championship. Joining him in the main draw are two more Indians – HS Prannoy and Sameer Verma.
It was Prannoy who enjoyed the better year in 2018 while Sameer Verma managed to qualify for the World Tour Finals the same year. It’s hard to say who among these five Indians will perform the best. At the moment, they are all underdogs. Hopefully, one of them will be able to pull out a surprise win or two.Published 04 Jan 2020, 19:36 IST