Home20212021 in Review: The Stars of Asia

2021 in Review: The Stars of Asia

The year 2021 has been one that brought us so many surprises from the badminton courts. Let’s have a quick look through the year to remember what a year it has been for badminton players as well as fans.

After almost a year of being put on hold since the Covid-19 pandemic started happening, the badminton world started moving again in January. With a lot of adjustments and strict health protocols to ensure everyone’s safety is the top priority, Thailand hosted not only one, but three consecutive tournaments: the Yonex Thailand Open (12-17 January 2021), Toyota Thailand Open (19-24 January 2021), and the 2020 BWF World Tour Finals (27-31 January 2021).

The first 3 events of 2021 showed us the new badminton power map. 

In the singles category, Danish player Viktor Axelsen was able to dominate the first two events and he almost scored a hat-trick before being stopped by his compatriot, Anders Antonsen, at the BWF World Tour Finals. Carolina Marin had the same fate. The Spanish player successfully won the Yonex Thailand Open and the Toyota Open but lost the last event to Tai Tzu Ying, who has always been the top seed in the three events.

However, hat-trick happened in men's doubles and mixed doubles. Lee Yang/Wang Chi-lin from Chinese Taipei in the men's doubles and Dechapol Puavaranukroh/Sapsiree Taerattanachai from Thailand in the mixed doubles have always qualified for the final and won. Of the two pairs, Lee Yang/Wang Chi-lin were more in the spotlight because in this category there are world #1 doubles from Indonesia Marcus Fernaldi Gideon/Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and doubles #2 who are also from Indonesia Hendra Setiawan/Mohammad Ahsan – and Lee/Wang managed to claim victory over them. 

In these three events, Japan and China were absent for health reasons related to Covid-19 pandemic.

After Thailand, the championship calendar took a break for almost a month and continued in Europe. The Swiss Open, which was held on March 2-7, 2021, was an event for the world's top badminton players. Viktor Axelsen and Carona Marin successfully continued their winning trend. However, the absence of several top seeds in the men's doubles, women's doubles, and mixed doubles category made the championship composition a bit different compared to Thailand tournaments. A lot of players chose to concentrate on a more prestigious event that would come later, the All England, which was held in Birmingham, England on 17-21 March.

In the event that is often called the unofficial world championship, Japan joined their first tournament in 2021 and almost wiped out the title. Four of the five titles went to Japan. One category where they lost was in the men's singles. Japanese player Kento Momota who’s seeded in the first position was stopped by Lee Zii Jia from Malaysia who eventually became the champion by defeating Viktor Axelsen.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a lot of major events had to be postponed and one of those being the Tokyo 2020 Olympics that was finally held in July-August. At the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, China dominated the finals by having their representatives in all five categories. Chen Yu Fei in the women’s singles and mixed doubles Wang Yilyu/Huang Dongping won the gold medals for China.

Being the overall champion with two golds and four silvers at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, China was really on fire. In the next tournament, the Sudirman Cup which was held in Vantaa, Finland, on 26 September-3 October 2021, China didn’t send their top seeds. However, with full strength in the women's singles, women's doubles, and mixed doubles sectors, China won for the 12th time after beating Japan 3-1.

China went on full throttle at the Thomas and Uber Cup 2020 that was held in Aarhus, Denmark, 9-17 October 2021. Despite not having top seeds Chen Long and Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen, they made it to the finals and won the Uber Cup for the 15th time. Unfortunately, they couldn’t bring home the Thomas Cup after being beaten by Indonesia with a score of 3-0.

In 2021, Kento Momota hasn’t been very successful in returning to his prime after the accident that caused his injury in January 2020. Momota who was expected to make history by becoming the first Japanese badminton player to win Olympic gold medal didn’t succeed. He was already eliminated in the preliminary round. In this Olympics event, Viktor Axelsen became a gold winner as well as a marker of the Danish representative's dominance during 2021 with the conclusion at the 2021 BWF World Tour Finals in Bali.

A surprise in the men’s singles came from Singaporean player Loh Kean Yew whose journey throughout 2021 we might call “silent but deadly”. As a player from a country that’s usually out of the radar, Loh Kean Yew didn’t make as much noise as other men’s singles top players but he closed the year as the world champion.

In the women's singles, the absence of two ranked 1st badminton players Tai Tzu Ying from Taiwan and 2nd place Chen Yu Fei in the Indonesia Badminton Festivals made way for Akane Yamaguchi and An Seyoung. In Bali, Indonesia, An Seyoung won three prestigious events, the Indonesia Masters, Indonesia Open, and BWF World Tour Finals. Amazingly, she brushed off three different opponents, namely Akane Yamaguchi from Japan, Ratchanok Intanon from Thailand, and PV Sindhu from India. An Seyoung really wrapped 2021 gloriously.

Other top players who seemed to be struggling through 2021 were Indonesian men’s doubles Marcus Fernaldi Gideon/Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo. The world’s #1 hasn’t been able to maintain their consistency. At the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, they were stopped at the quarterfinals by Chinese Taipei’s Lee Yang/Wang Chi-lin. Gideon/Sukamuljo finally won the title at the Indonesia Open 2021 that was held in November 2021.

Another surprise in 2021 was the success of Greysia Polii/Apriyani Rahayu in winning gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Both are really at the right moment at the four-year sports party. However, the pair hasn’t been able to win another gold medal within 2021. Even at their home, in three series of tournaments in Bali, Greysia Polii/Apriyani Rahayu’s highest was being the runner-up at the Indonesia Open 2021.

Meanwhile, in the mixed doubles, the Thai pair Dechapol Puavaranukroh/Sapsiree Taerattanachi remain on fire for the entire 2021. The pair opened the year with a hat-trick, collected 8 titles throughout the year, and closed 2021 in the best way: being the world champion. 

Looking at what has happened in 2021, we can expect so many exciting things to happen in 2022. With things seemingly getting back to normal, we’re looking forward to seeing the best players giving their hotter takes and for the rise of new talents to surprise us even more.


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