Two bright young stars will clash in the opening round of the YONEX All England on Wednesday, offering perhaps a preview of a potentially great rivalry that is likely to unfold over the next decade.
Defending champion Chen Yu Fei, 22, who had her breakthrough season last year, and An Se Young, 18, are expected to be the dominant faces of the post-Tokyo Olympics era. The two have faced off thrice, and while Chen won all three, the gap has noticeably reduced. Their last meeting, in the second round of the Victor China Open, went 71 minutes, with Chen winning in three games.
The previous season was Chen’s. In fact, it was at the All England that she served notice of what was to come, for she finally broke free of two-time champion Tai Tzu Ying in the final, beating her for the first time in 12 matches. The Chinese did not let up, winning two of their next three clashes – and ending the year with the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals crown. It was a fitting conclusion to a brilliant season that saw her win seven titles from seven finals.
An Se Young also featured in the headlines, particularly for her big-match temperament at such a young age. Her most stirring achievement was beating Carolina Marin in the final of the French Open – helping her break into the top 10 towards the end of the year.
While both players have risen to the top in stunningly quick time, the contests between the two will offer a pointer to what lies ahead for women’s singles. To some extent, both are similar players in a number of ways, in particular their ability to play steady badminton for long periods without giving anything away.
Here are other interesting first round match-ups in singles:
Okuhara, champion here in 2016, and Michelle Li have played nine times, of which Okuhara won six. Two of those were tremendous contests; Li won their last clash, at the Korea Open 2019, in 73 minutes: 21-23 21-16 21-19.
The Indian’s form faltered after she won the World Championships in August and it will be interesting to see how far she can go in Birmingham. Zhang was fairly consistent through 2019. Pusarla leads 5-4, but Zhang won their last contest at the Korea Open 2019.
Ginting has made the final in three of his last four tournaments and memorably won the Indonesia Masters, while Gemke has proved quite combative against the big names. This will be their first clash.
Christie has a 4-0 record, with two of those going to a decider. The 21-year-old Malaysian can hurt the big names on his day, and should he find his game on Wednesday, it should be an interesting affair.
The five-time world champion against the three-time world junior champion. Lin won their only clash in three games last year, but his young Thai opponent has come a long way since then.
This will be 18-year-old Sen’s first Super 1000 event. He has strung up some good results in recent times, while Lee Cheuk Yiu entered the big league by winning the Hong Kong Open last year. Their only match, two years ago, went 21-19 in the third for the Hongkonger.