Li Xuerui: A great at 21?
When Li Xuerui won the season-ending BWF World Superseries Finals on Sunday, she had won, astonishingly, her eighth title of 2012. The Chinese girl stood head and shoulders above the competition, in a Lin Dan-esque space and on the way to becoming a legend of world badminton.
To anoint someone as a legend when she is just in her third year of Superseries badminton might seem premature, but if Li continues the way she is going, there is no doubt that she will challenge every record. Consider the statistics: 56 wins out of 65 matches; a sequence of 30 wins from February to July – until she was beaten by Saina Nehwal in the Indonesia Open final; and then again another unbeaten sequence of 15 wins, culminating in the World Superseries Finals – one of the few titles she has not won.
There is a context to even the defeats she suffered: one was early in the year to top-ten player Bae Yeon Ju; the others were to No. 1 Wang Yihan (Malaysia Open), Saina Nehwal (Indonesia Open); PV Sindhu (China Masters), and Juliane Schenk (Denmark Open). The loss to Saina came after she held two match points in the second game; the one to Schenk after her victorious campaign at the Olympics, when the whole Chinese team were still
In other words, Li Xuerui was as near as unbeatable through the year, and she’s just 21.
Ever since she first served notice of her potential at the Asian Championships in New Delhi, 2010 (she beat Saina in the semifinals), Li Xuerui has progressed from strength to strength. Along this journey she has pocketed nearly every major title: the Badminton Asia Championships, the All England, most of the Premier Superseries, the Uber Cup, and – most tellingly – the Olympics. (The only majors missing are the Asian Games gold and the World Championships.) What’s most impressive about her dominance is her record against her closest competitors: against World Champion Wang Yihan she is up 5-4; against Saina Nehwal 5-2; against Juliane Schenk 5-1, and against Wang Shixian 2-2. She has become world No. 1 Wang Yihan’s nemesis: Wang won their first four encounters, but since then, Xuerui has stamped her dominance, winning each of their five matches this year, including at the All England and the Olympics.
The Chongqing native, who stands at 174cm and derives much of her advantage from her steep smashes and long reach, says she would have preferred to be a teacher if she wasn’t a badminton player. By the look of things, she is already teaching the others a thing or two about badminton.