The countdown to the Tokyo Olympics heats up this week, with badminton action set to take off at the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza.
The men’s singles action will be the most anticipated event, especially with all the top shuttlers in action and several names thrown into the mix for gold, as opposed to just one or two hot favourites in past editions.
With that in mind, here's a closer look at the contenders who could reign supreme in badminton’s flagship event.
By virtue of top seed playing on home soil, Momota would have been the hot favourite to blow away any competition that came his way in Tokyo. But things have changed so much for the Japanese that he will have to prove his worth as the top men’s singles shuttler on the planet again.
After winning a record 11 titles in 2019, Momota picked up where he left off by winning the 2020 season opener at the Malaysia Masters. Tragedy struck soon after as he was involved in a car crash which also claimed the life of the driver transporting the Japanese shuttlers to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport hours later. Momota underwent surgery for a fractured eye socket following the crash, and while he was recovering, the pandemic halted events worldwide.
After finally making a comeback after more than a year at this year’s All-England, Momota looked in good form until he was stopped in the quarter-finals by eventual champion Lee Zii Jia.
Unlike many home favourites in the past, Momota will not have the backing of his fans in Tokyo. It remains to be seen if the resilient world champion overcomes yet another obstacle in his bid to win Japan’s first ever men’s singles gold.
On paper, the world number two is the most in-form shuttler at the Olympics with three titles and three runner-ups to his name just this year alone. Axelsen was almost unstoppable at the Asian Tour in Thailand, by winning both the Thailand Opens and reaching the final of the 2020 World Tour Finals before being ousted by national team-mate Anders Antonsen. The Swiss Open title followed suit, and he also made the All-England final before Lee outfoxed him to win.
While the Dane’s current form will only be known once he starts in Tokyo, Axelsen brings bags of confidence, experience, and a sleeve of tricks when he begins his assault for gold. There’s also the added motivation of being a new dad for the man who beat Lin Dan to bronze in 2016.
While the lanky Axelsen may lead Denmark’s hopes, do not discount his feisty and explosive team-mate Anders Antonsen at any cost. A shuttler with unique skillsets of his own, Antonsen packs a great punch in his attacks and has great defence to boot along with it. While he can get a little impatient during long rallies, Antonsen more than makes up for it when he picks the right decisive kill.
With two titles this year, the world number three knows he stands a big chance like every other favourite in this discipline.
Lee Zii Jia
Malaysians have renewed hopes that a national shuttler can finally deliver gold in badminton through Lee. After picking apart Momota and Axelsen to win the All-England, the lanky Kedah-born has risen to the fore as one of the favourites.
But in truth, the world number eight will have to play the tournament of his life to go the distance. He has a treacherous journey to even reach the final, but if anyone has shown character to beat the odds, it will be him.
The defending champion adds a level of mystique as he prepares for another gold quest, this time without the shadow of two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan cast upon him. When Chen Long won gold in Rio, he was not celebrated half as much as Lin Dan, who only finished fourth, upon the team’s return to China.
Chen Long would have been working hard to change this and finally get the limelight he deserves should he defend his title. Not featuring for 16 months on the international circuit also makes him an unpredictable, dangerous threat to the rest.
Even though he has dropped down the pecking order, the powerful frame of Chou Tien-chen is a sight to be reckoned with in Tokyo. Chou has put badminton on the world map for Chinese Taipei, along with his female compatriot Tai Tzu-ying. The 31-year-old has also risen to the ranks admirably through his own set of adversities. Despite not having an official coach for nearly two years, Chou did well to make six finals in 2019.
He was slightly below par this year with three semi-finals appearances, but expect the man who incorporates belly dancing and Pilates into his training to crank it up a notch when the tournament gets underway.
Indonesian shuttlers have always made their country immensely proud through gold medals at the Olympics, and this time the badminton-mad nation will be pinning their hopes on the slender shoulders of Ginting. At 24, Ginting sets sail in Tokyo with shades of youth and maturity to level up his game. The world number five has not produced his best form this year with only one semi-final as his best result, but the Olympics can bring out the exceptional best in any competing athlete.
Knowing he has a 300-million strong force back home, Ginting will be out to inflict serious damage and continue Indonesia's successful badminton legacy at the Games. Since the sport was introduced in 1992, shuttlers have contributed 19 of 32 medals Indonesia have achieved at the Olympics.