The current era is possibly the most exciting in women’s singles badminton. Instead of a couple of Chinese players dominating the division, there are more than half-a-dozen shuttlers, belonging to various countries, battling it out in the top tier.
All these players are highly-capable and can beat anybody on their day. As a result, every tournament in the cramped up BWF calendar presents exciting prospects. This year was full of dramatic events. We saw top players getting injured, then making extraordinary comebacks, players slumping into bad form, then returning to it with a bang, and much more.
Sindhu finally breaks the jinx
Last year, PV Sindhu broke the succession of losses in major finals to win the World Tour Finals. In 2019, she entered the final of World Championships for the third straight year and on this occasion, her smash was so strong as to put away both Chen Yu Fei in the semis and Nozomi Okuhara in the final.
It can be said with some certainty that the match that gave her the title was the epic quarterfinal against Tai Tzu Ying. Sindhu battled harder and with more tenacity than she had ever done before to win that match. After it, one got the feeling she won’t be stopped.
She became the first Indian ever to become the World Champion. This was another evidence of that mysterious quality possessed by her of coming up with her A-game in big events. Sindhu was hopelessly out of form for most of the year, before and after the World Championship. But cometh the hour, cometh the champion.
However, the year ended on a sour note with her ascendancy in major tournaments finally ending with a first-round exit from World Tour Finals. She was the defending champion and had also reached the final of the precursor to this event – Super Series Finals in 2017.
This disappointment was compounded by the emergence of a dispute between her ex-coach who led her to the World Title and her. Still, her achievement far outshines her failures of the last 12 months.
The start of the year, however, was very bad from a neutral fans’ point of view. Reigning Olympic and World Champion Carolina Marin tore her ACL during the final of a World Tour event in January. This ruled her out of action for many months and also prevented her from taking part in the World Championship.
The Spaniard is a delight to watch when she is in full flow. The most physically intense player in the circuit, she plays at such a fast pace and with such power that her opponents could often look helpless.
Her long absence from the competition was a big loss. But the 3-time World Champion was determined to recover as quickly as possible. Though she missed the World Championship, she returned soon after to top-level action and stunned everyone by winning the China Open. She won one more title in the year and remained one of the top performers. Marin is certainly, back in business.
Re-rise of China
For all those people who thought the age of Chinese domination in women’s badminton is over, this year was one of a reality check. Chen Yu Fei emerged as a top performer in 2019 and ended the year as the best women’s singles player in the circuit.
Her rise began in 2018 when she won the Fuzhou China Open. This year, she took her success to another level by winning the All England Championships. But there was a stutter in the middle of the year as she suffered an injury and also lost her form.
But right at the end of 2019, she roared back to win the same tournament that kick-started her rise to the top – Fuzhou China Open. She finished the year by winning the BWF World Tour Finals.
What distinguishes this young shuttler is her complete game. While most other players in this division have one distinguishing quality, she is strong in all departments – retrieving, shot-making, stamina, etc.
As she went to another level, her compatriot He Bing Jiao managed to finally end her title drought by winning the Korea Open. Though she couldn’t follow it up with more such performances, she too can’t be ignored.
Tai struggles to remain supreme
2018 was a year that belonged to Tai Tzu Ying. However, the wizard-like player from Taiwan struggled to maintain her hold on the top of the rankings. Her game tightened up a little bit and she continued to play those dazzling shots which take badminton to another level of aesthetic brilliance. But she faced growing challenges from her competitors.
Unfortunately, her struggle to win major titles continued. She lost the World Championship quarterfinal to the eventual winner PV Sindhu and was the runner-up in the World Tour Final. One wonders whether too much badminton has taken a toll on her. Still, she needs to raise her game a level higher to regain her supremacy.
Rise of a new superstar
2019 may be remembered in future as the year that a new star emerged on the badminton sky – An Se Young of South Korea. Only 17 at the time, she stunned the world by defeating players such as PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and Akane Yamaguchi in Denmark and French Open.
But the biggest moment came when she stunned Olympic Champion Carolina Marin in the final of French Open to seal the title. This win was an undeniable proof of the massive potential this lady possesses.
Armed with a great defence, Se Young also possesses huge reserves of stamina and is excellent in retrieving. Her killer move is the cross-court smash from a round-the-head position which she used to great effect against Marin. Another strength of the teenager is her solid net-play.
With all these qualities and age on her side, she is certain to emerge as one of the top players. It would be very surprising if she isn’t one of the leading competitors by the time Tokyo Olympics come around.