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2021 All England Open badminton championships: Top things to know

Momota Kento and Japanese contingent set to make return to international competition at Super 1000 event in Birmingham
By Sanjeev Palar

Last year's All England Open was the final World Tour leg to take place before the COVID-19 pandemic brought an abrupt halt to the 2020 season.

The 2021 edition of the badminton championships is scheduled to take place from 17-21 March at the Arena Birmingham and is highly anticipated because it will be the first time we see the Japanese team, including world number one Momota Kento, in action this year.

With travel restrictions still in place, the threat of the pandemic still at large, and the event not counting towards Olympic qualification, the Chinese, South Korean and Chinese Taipei squads will not take part in the Super 1000 event in Birmingham.

Additionally, Olympic champion and would-be women's singles top seed after Olympic champion Carolina Marín has announced her withdrawal from the tournament.

Spain's Marín, who beat P.V. Sindhu in a repeat of the Rio 2016 final to win 2021's first World Tour event at the Swiss Open, said she picked up an injury in that tournament which is still affecting her.

Nonetheless, with Viktor Axelsen, who has won three of the four titles on offer this year, set to test his mettle against his Japanese counterparts, here is what we can look forward to at this year's All England Open.

In form Axelsen to measure up against Momota

Momota is set to play his first international tournament since his near-fatal car accident which sidelined from January last year.

The reigning world champion missed out on participating in the three events in Thailand earlier this year after he tested positive for COVID-19, which led to him and the rest of the Japanese squad pulling out of the tournaments in Bangkok.

The 26-year-old is the top seed of the tournament and we will finally be able to get some answers regarding the Japanese player's abilities following his year-long hiatus from the World Tour circuit.

In his absence, Denmark's Axelsen, who has also returned from injury, is currently enjoying an impressive run of form. The defending All England champion has won 19 of his 20 World Tour matches this year, having only lost the delayed World Tour Finals to compatriot Anders Antonsen.

The 27-year-old kickstarted his 2021 season by clinching the Swiss Open title in Basel and his status as second seed for this tournament means we could be in for a rematch of the 2019 final which saw Momota clinch his maiden All England title.

If that wasn't already enough, the men's singles will also see the likes of Indonesia's Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, and Jonatan Christie as well as Malaysia's Lee Zii Jia and Kidambi Srikanth from India all looking to put a poor start to the year behind them, following disappointing outings in Thailand.

Who wins wide-open women's singles?

With Marín, who like Axelsen had won three of the four titles on offer this year, withdrawing, the women's singles would appear to be wide open, given Tai Tzu Ying will not be playing in Birmingham either.

En-route to her Swiss Open title in Basel, Marin completely annihilated reigning world champion P.V. Sindhu is what was a one-sided fight.

If Sindhu wants to clinch the title in Birmingham, she could potentially face off against Yamaguchi Akane in the semi-finals, followed by Okuhara Nozomi in the finals.

Of course it is left to be seen how the two Japanese players fare given their significant absence from competition. Yamaguchi's last World Tour tournament was last year's All England where she went down to Marin in the quarter-finals.

Okuhara meanwhile proved that her game has not suffered since lockdown after she beat Marin to the Denmark Open title last October. It will be interesting to see if the Japanese player's lack of competitive court time will have an impact.

The Minions return in hunt of the title

Indonesia's men's doubles pair of Marcus Fernaldo Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo return to the World Tour circuit exactly a year after losing the All England Open finals last year.

The world number one due, fondly known as "The Minions" are the top seeds for the tournament ahead of their compatriots "The Daddies" - Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan.

Defending All England title holders, Endo Hiroyuki and Watanabe Yuta, are seeded fourth behind their compatriots Kamura Takeshi and Sonoda Keigo.

The battle for the men's doubles fight should be intense with the likes of Rio 2016 silver medallist, Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong from Malaysia also in the mix, while Olympic bronze medallist Marcus Ellis and Chris Langridge will be looking to pull off upsets on home soil.

Japanese women's doubles pairs who dominated the courts before the pandemic could very will take centre stage once again in Birmingham. The defending title holders Fukushima Yuki and Hirota Sayaka are seeded first ahead of two time world champions Matsumoto Mayu and Nagahara Wakana, setting the scene for a potential showdown in the final.

Meanwhile Indonesia's mixed doubles duo of Praveen Jordan and Melati Daeva Octavianti will look to bounce back from their disappointing start to the year by defending their title in Birmingham.