However, this is a time unlike any other. Players have been out of international competition for months, and virtually all of them are on new territory in a sense.
Perhaps the biggest unknown factor, coming in to the YONEX Thailand Open, is how the lack of competition over many months will affect the ‘match feeling’ of players. While most players have trained over a substantial period – either individually or in national camps – they acknowledge that the training atmosphere is far removed from that of actual competition. The outcome might be early round jitters or struggle with controlling the shuttle, presenting sufficient opportunities to their challengers.
Axelsen’s last event, for instance, was the YONEX All England that he won, in March 2020 – nine months ago. He had to skip his home event, the DANISA Denmark Open, with injury; but such is the Dane’s stature that it will be something of a surprise should he not make at least the semifinals. With Kento Momota having withdrawn due to COVID-19, Axelsen assumes the mantle of being the player to beat at the YONEX Thailand Open.
Similarly, Tai Tzu Ying too won her last event, the All England. The Chinese Taipei star produced a masterclass in beating players like Carolina Marin and Chen Yu Fei, and it will be interesting to see if her weapons are as sharp as they were in March last year.
The other main contenders are:
Will be coming in with the high of the Denmark Open win still fresh in his mind. While that event did not have the most challenging of fields, Antonsen did well to stave off an inspired charge from Rasmus Gemke in the final, and capture an event that he grew up watching as a child.
Runner-up at the All England and semifinalist at the Denmark Open, Chou’s hallmarks are discipline and consistency.
The fast, attacking Indonesian was brilliant at home during the DAIHATSU Indonesia Masters, where he stormed past Axelsen in the semifinals before outplaying defending champion Antonsen in the final. Had a disappointing outing at the All England, falling in the first round to Gemke.
Watch Out For
Lee Zii Jia
Marin had an unusual season by her standards, possibly owing to the tragedy of her father’s demise. She looked off-colour at the Denmark Open despite making the final, and subsequently fell in the semifinals of the SaarLorLux Open to Kirsty Gilmour. Can she rediscover the edge that was missing in 2020?
There will be much curiosity around Pusarla’s form, for she took the unusual step of travelling to England a few months ago to train with the England team and work on her strength and conditioning. Her last event was the All England, where she made the quarterfinals.
The Thai broke a title drought of nine months last year with a hard-earned win over Carolina Marin at the Indonesia Masters. Subsequently she made two quarterfinals – at the Princess Sirivannavari Thailand Masters and the All England. Usually a player who doesn’t struggle for rhythm, the Asian Leg will present a huge opportunity for Intanon with three major events on home soil.
Watch Out For
An Se Young