Para World Champs: Ukrainians’ Home Away From Home
Ukraine’s Oksana Kozyna was a picture of concentration on the eve of the HULIC DAIHATSU BWF Para Badminton World Championships 2022, but it wasn’t only for her game the following day.
She was trying to master the #ShuttleBalanceChallenge made viral on social media over the past few weeks.
Kozyna, who competes in the women’s SL3 category, is one of three Ukrainian Para badminton players on show at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium in Tokyo.
Her country has been in the news due to the ongoing war, which forced Kozyna and her colleagues to find refuge in France, in the northern town of Lille.
“At the moment our Para badminton team is based in France,” Kozyna says. “I do want to go back to Ukraine but it depends on the situation there.”
Her teammate Oleksandr Chyrkov, taking part in the men’s SL3 class, made a strong impression with a victory over three games in his opening singles match. He returned to the familiar surroundings of Tokyo where he participated in the Paralympics, albeit under very different circumstances.
“I was playing on the same court as I was last year during the Paralympics,” Chyrkov said.
“We came to France in May this year. The situation is a bit better now back home but we don’t have the resources there to to train.”
The pair, along with Nina Kozlova competing in the women’s SH6 events, are in Tokyo with coach Zozulia Dmytro, and have found support from the French Parabadminton team as well as the Ukrainian community living there over the past five months.
“They were worried about us because we didn’t have much when we came over here, money, gas, food,” Kozyna said.
“When you come to France, it is difficult because you don’t know the language, you cannot do work and it is not easy.
“But the people have helped us. The Ukrainian people who have been living in France for a long time have given us a lot of kindness and support.”
For Chyrkov, these World Championships mean a whole lot more than the thrill of the competition.
“These World Championships are very important for all Ukrainians because we have a lot of workers and staff who have been commissioned by the military,” Chyrkov said.
“They are out there, so we can be here.”
Kozyna echoes those sentiments.
“I’m here because this is what I’m meant to do (play badminton). Even though there is a war on in Ukraine, I have God with me.”
The challenges of living and training away from home notwithstanding, both Kozyna and Chyrkov are determined to prosper in Tokyo.
“I would like to get the gold medal,” Kozyna said, not mincing any words.
Fans seeking to watch the TotalEnergies BWF World Championships 2023 live in Copenhagen can celebrate soon with Early Bird tickets going on sale from 18-23 October during the Denmark Open 2022 presented by VICTOR.
Copenhagen has a special association with the World Championships. This is the fifth time that the Danish capital will be hosting the event.
As one might expect, there is no better-informed badminton audience than in Denmark, as they combine their appreciation of history with their day-to-day involvement in their local badminton clubs, which are an essential part of Danish community life.
A Badminton Powerhouse
For a country of the size and population of Denmark, the Scandinavian country punches above its weight in badminton. The Danes are third overall among the successful teams at the World Championships, having won nearly a dozen gold medals. With three gold medals at the inaugural edition, they were off to a great start, and they did maintain their edge over the decades.
At the third edition, which was held in Copenhagen, men’s doubles duo Steen Fladberg/Jesper Helledie achieved the memorable feat of winning the gold on their home turf. Other Danish winners over the years were Thomas Lund (1993 & 1995)/Marlene Thomsen (1995), Peter Rasmussen (1997), Camilla Martin (1999), Lars Paaske/Jonas Rasmussen (2003), Thomas Laybourn/Kamilla Rytter Juhl (2009), and Viktor Axelsen (2017 & 2022). Of them, Camilla Martin matched Fladberg/Helledie’s feat of winning the gold at home.
Man of the Moment
Of particular interest to Danish fans in Copenhagen 2023 will be the presence of Viktor Axelsen, the most dominant player over the last two years. The tall Dane will be gunning for his third world title. The last time the World Championships were held in Denmark – in 2014 – Axelsen had won a bronze.
For fans from overseas, the TotalEnergies BWF World Championships 2023 will be a lavish spread of great badminton. Besides the action, of course, fans can delight in the tourist attractions of Denmark.
A Crucial Year
The World Championships 2023 is poised at a crucial juncture for those aiming to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. With a year to go for Paris 2024, the contenders will be looking not just for a morale-boosting performance in Copenhagen, but vital ranking points. Copenhagen 2023 is set to be the highlight of the season!
And so, 27 years since Korea last had a women’s singles champion at the All England, An Se Young replicated the feat of her illustrious predecessor Bang Soo Hyun.
The 21-year-old’s third title from her fifth successive final this year was achieved with a composed takedown of Olympic champion Chen Yu Fei. In a contest between two of the most stable defensive players in the world, An showed the virtues of having added to her attacking repertoire, injecting pace at the right moments to gain critical shifts in momentum.
Chen made a sensational recovery from 13-17 to 17-all in the third and then saved two match points, before An’s smash to the body made her only the fourth Korean women’s singles winner of the championships.
Particularly impressive was that had been no dip in physical intensity, despite having spent 82 minutes on court Saturday evening in a tense thriller against Tai Tzu Ying.
An said she surprised herself given the physical condition she was in during the final.
“I was surprised today, because I felt my body was heavy. But then I thought I should endure the moment and seize the opportunity. Today I wanted to have fun and play with confidence. I still cannot believe what happened. It’s giving me the chills.”
Chen was a gracious loser, admitting that she’d been outplayed. At important moments the Olympic champion was not her usual consistent self, easing the pressure on her opponent with imprecise shots.
“An played very well, she was very calm on court. Throughout the match I was down more than I was leading, and that gave me the pressure. But this whole week, I performed quite well,” said Chen.
“Those two points at the end, I was nervous and in a rush. My opponent pushed the pace up. Looking back at those two points, I feel I should have been calm. She’s very stable on court, makes no mistakes, she has a very good rhythm and is very hard to score off.”
Li Triumphs as Shi Crumbles
The men’s singles final will perhaps be remembered for the unusual capitulation of 2018 champion Shi Yu Qi to younger compatriot Li Shi Feng. Having featured in a sizzling opening game, in which he had two game points, Shi suffered a stunning meltdown, earning just five points in the second.
“I’m amazed by this outcome. I never even expected to reach the final,” said the winner. “The key was to never give up. Obviously there was pressure, but I’d aimed really high. I found that whenever I sensed less pressure, I could perform better.
To his credit, Shi didn’t offer any excuses.
“I fell behind quickly in the second and I couldn’t catch up,” Shi said. “I felt fine physically. The gap had widened between us and I wasn’t sure what I could do. I made a few mistakes and the gap got too wide.
“But I made the final. Even though I lost, it means I’m still there.”
The all-Korean women’s doubles final was won by Kim So Yeong and Kong Hee Yong in a one-sided affair over Baek Ha Na/Lee So Hee. With Baek showing signs of a troubled right shoulder, it was one-way traffic for Kim and Kong: 21-5 21-12.
The all-Indonesian men’s doubles final ended on a sad note. Mohammad Ahsan suffered an injury to his left meniscus at 14-19 in the second game and fell to the floor, but insisted on finishing the match on court, giving Fajar Alfian/Muhammad Rian Ardianto a 21-17 21-14 victory for their first All England title. After the medal ceremony Ahsan was wheeled off the arena.
Hendra Setiawan is 38 and Mohammad Ahsan 35, but there was no trace of age in either their sprightliness or the reserves of composure they could summon. The upshot was that, after 78 minutes of one of the most thrilling men’s doubles matches this year, the ‘Daddies’ marched into their fourth All England final, continuing the dreamlike story they have been crafting over the years.
At the receiving end of their craftiness were Liang Wei Keng/Wang Chang, India Open and Japan Open champions, whose combined age was 30 years less than the Daddies.
The semifinal was a match of extremes, with brilliant play, errors, and missed opportunities on either side. It all came to a boil after the interval in the third game, and when Ahsan blew a kill on first match point with Wang facing him with a broken racket, it appeared like the Indonesians had let the Chinese off the hook.
Yet, the Indonesians proved how masterly they are at avoiding the frustration of missed chances, as they gained two more match points, both denied. The Chinese earned three opportunities of their own; Liang squandered two with faulty serves, and then Setiawan played an exquisite return to set up sixth match point. Liang finally made the fatal error, for the Daddies to prevail 21-15 19-21 29-27.
The distraught Chinese couldn’t process what had happened. “My mind is blank,” said Liang.
As for Setiawan and Ahsan, there wasn’t much to express in words.
“Just try, try, try,” said Setiawan, explaining the secret.
“We are happy we can win today, it was so tough. Every time we made a mistake, we tried to forget it and keep the focus on the next point.”
“The All England is such an important tournament, we’re so happy to reach the final again,” added Ahsan. “We don’t think of winning or losing, we just keep the focus on the next point.”
Chen Yu Fei’s 21-17 21-8 victory over a strangely subdued Akane Yamaguchi meant that the Japanese had fallen before the final for the first time in five tournaments.
Shi Yu Qi will have a shot at regaining his 2018 title, after a relatively comfortable 21-19 21-13 result over 2021 champion Lee Zii Jia.
“I was thinking in there at times that I’ve never played a better player in my life, he was so solid. Crazy high pace, and how I managed to come back is even crazier.” – Anders Antonsen, after losing to Li Shi Feng
“I thought if I move one step more than Tai, that could lead to a win. The biggest contributors to my win is my confidence and youth. I always believe it’s not over until it’s over.” – An Se Young, after beating Tai Tzu Ying
“I didn’t think about winning or losing, but I have improved in playing against such a stable player. Although the result wasn’t what I hoped for, I think I did really well.” – Tai
“Ahsan and Hendra are extraordinary players, but we are not intimidated and we will give a good fight.” – Fajar Alfian, on the upcoming final
Anders Antonsen celebrated the biggest result in his comeback from injury, as the Dane made the YONEX All England semifinals for the third time.
The Dane, whose last major semifinal was the DAIHATSU YONEX Japan Open in September 2022, was a picture of steadiness, in contrast to his opponent Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, who was by turns brilliant and erratic.
It was an emotional comeback for the Dane, who has battled months of chronic pain due to a persistent groin injury.
“It was emotional in the end,” said Antonsen. “I could sense tears in my coaches’ eyes. It was big for all of us. I’m not easy to work with. So it’s amazing. I’m so happy to experience this.
“It means a lot. To be back playing well, beating very strong opponents in all three rounds, I’m so satisfied. I’ve been through quite a lot, with injuries and tough times, and so to finally experience something like this is big for me.
“I’ve always been quite confident in my own abilities. But I have also doubted myself more than I’ve ever done before, for the last year or so. With a bunch of lesser results and injuries and stuff I started to doubt myself a little bit. But I’ve proven that I am still able to play with the absolute best.”
The children of two former All England champions made the semifinals. Kim Won Ho, son of Gil Young Ah, and Gayatri Gopichand Pullela, daughter of Pullela Gopichand, made the last four in mixed doubles and women’s doubles respectively.
“It’s a special moment for me. The start of the year was tough for me and I finally got through for the first quarterfinals and I did it again through the semifinals. I’m quite happy and excited, but only for today. I have to start all over again.” – Lee Zii Jia
“It’s obviously not easy to play a teammate, because we know each other’s style. With other opponents, it’s easier to take advantage of weaknesses, but your teammate can anticipate your attack.” – Shi Yu Qi, after beating compatriotWeng Hong Yang
“I’m so pleased we played such a match. This is one of the best wins of our career. It’s hard to pick one as the very best, but I’d say this was among the top five.” – Kim So Yeong, after a thrilling semifinal win over Chen/Jia.
“It was a pretty smooth victory today. Emotionally I feel normal, and I hope I can make less mistakes in the semifinal.” – Tai Tzu Ying
Having reached only their second major semifinal, Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand Pullela aren’t reining in their expectations. “We’re going for the title,” said Pullela; that feat would help her emulate the title-winning accomplishment of her father in 2001.
The Indians, who caused a stir last year by making the semifinals after being promoted from the reserves list, haven’t matched that performance over the last 12 months, having fallen in the early rounds of nine of their last 10 HSBC BWF World Tour tournaments. Their best was a semifinal at the HYLO Open last November, and Pullela acknowledged that there was something about the All England that helped raise their game.
Today, in the quarterfinals of the YONEX All England 2023, the Indians looked very much a top pair as they dismantled Li Wen Mei/Liu Xuan Xuan, with Jolly being the standout player as she peppered the Chinese with big smashes that broke through their defences. Pullela held her end up pretty well, capitalising on all the openings that came her way.
“They were very clear about their tactics. One of them controlled the net and the other was smashing really hard. Our defence wasn’t good enough, and they could score a lot of points,” said Li Wen Mei.
The Indians sought to draw lessons from last year, when they’d gone in as rank outsiders. This time the preparation would be different, asserted Jolly.
“Last time the excitement was so high. We hadn’t even qualified, we were in the reserves list. We wanted to play the All England at least once. But this time we knew we’d get an entry for this tournament, and we’d prepared well. Last year we just couldn’t sleep as we were so excited. But this time feels normal.”
The world No.17 duo are just two wins away from achieving India’s biggest triumph in women’s doubles, and Pullela is confident that they can hold their own against the very best pairs.
“We’re confident that we’re as good as any of the top pairs, definitely,” said the soft-spoken Pullela. “We’re going to give our 100 per cent no matter what, and we’re going to keep fighting till the end. Let’s see what happens.”
All England: Lee Hopes to Discover Lost Confidence
Lee Zii Jia hasn’t had the easiest time over the last few months, on and off the court. A cryptic social media post last week added to the speculation around what he was going through, and he’d arrived at the YONEX All England 2023 with more questions than answers.
Some of the trademark swagger was back during his second round against Kenta Nishimoto on Thursday, but the fourth seed was cautious about reading too much into his performance, having made his first quarterfinal in seven events.
“The feel is getting better. Hopefully I can get better with every match,” said Lee. “This did mean a lot to me.
“Everyone knows the All England is a big tournament. I just want to get back my confidence, and I think I did pretty well.”
On Tuesday, after his first round, Lee had admitted to facing a crisis of confidence, given the challenges he was going through.
“Being an independent player is a new challenge and it seems like it’s a tough challenge for me now,” he said. “I have chosen it and I have to face it now.
“I’m trying my best to regain my confidence, to find what I’ve lost, which is character and confidence. What’s happening is tough, but life goes on. We have to move forward and I just can’t give up. Because I’m already here. Everybody told me it’s a process, just be patient. I just try to do what I have to do now.”
Perhaps, he acknowledged, the All England might be the place to rediscover what he’d lost, given that he’d enjoyed his career’s biggest moment here two years ago.
“I’ve always performed well at the All England. This is my fourth time here. I hope I can find myself on this court again.”
WHAT OTHERS SAID:
“Liang did get continuous points when he served. With the normal serves you can push or have three-four items in the toolbox, but when he’s serving you don’t have anything. (Coach) Mathias was telling us to go aggressive, but we couldn’t.” – Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, on Liang’s spin serve
“When my partner serves like that, it takes pressure off me. I can also do the spin serve, but I didn’t use it during the match.” – Wang Chang
“It was difficult to control today. I tried my best, but I haven’t recovered fully from the ankle injury at the German Open.” – Kunlavut Vitidsarn
“I’m feeling great, because I was able to train three weeks in a row. I’m happy that I know what I should improve on.” – Beiwen Zhang