The women’s singles at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics is set to be an intriguing affair, even without defending champion Carolina Marin who misses out through a long-term injury.
Void of many months of international action, the Tokyo-bound shuttlers will have a strong sense of even playing field, despite the ranking connotation stating otherwise.
For Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu-ying, this Olympics could represent her final opportunity to grace the world’s grandest podium.
“This Olympics will be my last major tournament before I hang up my racquet. I have yet to decide if I will continue to play after the Olympics this year,” she told the Badminton World Federation.
Still only 27, the world number one seems to have time on her side, but her words indicate there is life post badminton after this.
Tai will be featuring in her third Olympics, after failing to get past the round of 16 in the previous two editions in London and Rio.
But the stakes are so high in Tokyo, Tai is aware she will not only have to contend against the favourites, but also lower ranked opponents.
“This Olympics will be a challenge for me because I can’t control my level of play to be at the best, in order to win matches,” she added.
The soft-spoken shuttler will take enormous encouragement from her achievements this year as she heads to Tokyo.
In her three events, Tai made both the Thailand Open final’s but lost to Marin. She avenged the losses to the Spaniard to clinch the 2020 World Tour Finals in January.
If Tai is a tigerish warrior, Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara can be classified as a resilient workhorse as she aims to finish higher up the platform on home turf.
The Rio 2016 bronze medalist has emerged champion in both her last two events, winning last year’s Denmark Open before capturing the All-England title this year.
Backed by her own, Okuhara is expected to come out all-guns blazing.
Having made six finals' in 2019, she concedes that it “was quite something for her”.
“I think it was the second half of 2019 that gave me the opportunity to overcome the challenge of winning a final,” she said.
Ratchanok Intanon will carry Thailand, and Southeast Asia’s glimmering hope as the world number six heads to Tokyo eager to make her third Olympics appearance a charm.
“I played my first Olympics when I was 17 and was surprised with myself to reach the quarter-final. In Rio, I was confident of taking home a medal, but it did not work out that well (after losing in the last-16).
“I used to cry a lot after losing. But I have learned not to dwell on my defeats, but learn from them instead. In Tokyo, any medal will do for me! But of course, I want to be champion,” she said.
South Korea’s rising star An Se-young, Japan's Akane Yamaguchi, India's P. V. Sindhu and the tournament’s top seed Chen Yufei are the others who will be vying for gold in just under three weeks.