Badminton: What we learned from the 2020 World Tour Finals

No one is invincible as Carolina Marin and Viktor Axelsen fall in the final. Men's doubles pair Lee Yang and Wang Chi-Lin clinch three titles in a row.

By Sanjeev Palar
Picture by Badmintonphoto

After three consecutive weeks of world class badminton, the back-to-back tournaments in Bangkok concluded with the World Tour Finals to bring an end to the delayed 2020 season.

The earlier Super 1000 Thailand Open double headers had seen four repeat winners over a fortnight of action, with Viktor Axelsen, Carolina Marin, men's doubles pair Lee Yang and Wang Chi-Lin as well as mixed doubles pair Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai go into the season finale unbeaten.

However only Lee and Wang were able to remain unbeaten after all fifteen played in Bangkok. Anders Antonsen clinched his maiden World Tour Finals title, while Tai Tzu Ying finally beat Marin the third time of asking in Thailand to seal her third season ending honours.

South Korea' women's double pair of Lee So Hee and Shin Seung Chan reminded us that comebacks are possible while Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai appeased the home fans when they became the first Thai players in history to win the season ending tournament.

Here's what we learnt from the 2020 BWF World Tour Finals.

Men's singles: The Danes are a real threat

When Viktor Axelsen won both the preceding Super 1000 tournaments, he seemed in a league of his own. None of the players he faced were able to match the Dane on court as he finished off his rivals effortlessly.

During the course of three weeks he beat the likes of Jonatan Christie, Lee Zii Jia, Anthony Ginting and Chou Tien Chen, winning most of his matches in straight sets. Coming back from ankle surgery it is safe to say the Dane has raised his game and it will be great to see him take on the likes of Momota Kento, Shi Yuqi and Chen Long in his current form.

Axelsen's was one win shy of a clean sweep in Bangkok but was denied only by his compatriot Anders Antonsen. The 23-year-old who finished runners-up at the 2019 world championship has also seemed to find another level in his game over the period of lockdown in 2020.

Having won the Danish Open last October, he's now added a maiden World Tour Finals title under his belt. Antonsen is capable of beating the world's best as he proved by beating Momota to clinch the 2019 Indonesian Masters title. If he can work on his consistency throughout a tournament, he will be a serious contender for a medal at Tokyo 2020.

Have a listen to what both Antonsen and Axelsen had to say after their match below:

Women's singles: It will take quite an effort to beat Carolina Marin

Two year ago, Carolina Marin collapsed on court with a torn ACL. Fast forward to the present and she won both the Thailand Open tournaments and was only one win away from clinching the World Tour Finals title. What a remarkable turnaround.

For the Spaniard who was only played a handful of tournaments since returning from injury, she was sent a clear warning to her rivals that her game is even better than before. In her three weeks in Bangkok, Marin convincingly trounced most of her opposition without even losing a game in either of the Super 1000 events.

The 27-year-old made winning look easy as she saw off seasoned tour veterans and fresh young talent alike. Rising star's like Thailand's Pornpawee Chochuwong and South Korean teenager An Se Young got a taste of what they are up against if they want to challenge Marin for her crown.

But even the triple-world champion showed she is only human. After playing their third final in a row, Marin fell to Tai Tzu Ying and will have to wait another season for a chance to clinch her maiden World Tour Final title. Nonetheless, Marin was upbeat about her month-long stay in Bangkok as you can hear below.

Tai meanwhile has given the rest of the field hope that there is a way through Marin's armour. But it took the Chinese Taipei player three tries to finally clinch victory in Thailand.

She will leave Bangkok with a clearer picture of what is needed to ensure that she can challenge for the title at the Tokyo 2020 Games.

Meanwhile, reigning world Champion PV Sindhu has a dismal outing which included a first round defeat in the opening tournament. The Indian was a shadow of her former self on court, and has acknowledged that she will need to go away and dig deep if she wants to improve on her silver medal from Rio 2016.

Likewise, we got the sense that there is a lot more to come from the junior players on the circuit. Most notably from Chochuwong. The 23-year-old was thrust under the spotlight when she defeated her idol and senior, Ratchanok Intanon on the opening day of the World Tour Finals. She then went on to beat veteran Tai the following day to qualify for the semi-finals. Although she was beaten by Marin in the semis, the future of Thailand's women's singles seems bright.

Similarly for South Korea's An Se Young. At only eighteen years of age, she managed to reach the semi-finals of all three tournaments, displaying tremendous skill and consistency that was noticeably missing from some of the more senior women on tour. With such remarkable results, both An and Chochuwong have announced their arrival as serious title contenders.

Men's Doubles: Lee Yang and Wang Chi-Lin remain undefeated

Lee Yang and Wang Chi-Lin completed the perfect outing in Thailand, clinching both the Super 1000 and World Tour Finals titles on offer.

The Chinese Taipei pairing faced some serious opposition along the way and still managed to remain undefeated in all fifteen matches in Bangkok.

Missing from the field in Thailand were the world number one pairing of Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo from Indonesia, as well as the top Japanese pairs, but that should not take off any of the shine from their victories.

Lee and Wang have certainly taken their game to a higher level and were able to beat reigning world champions Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan which is never an easy feat. They explain the interview below how watching plenty of videos of the Indonesian veterans helped them to emerge victorious over their idols.

Women's doubles: South Korea are ready to trouble the Japanese

South Korea's World Tour Finals winners Lee So Hee and Shin Seung Chan will leave Bangkok with a lot more confidence than when they arrived.

The pair ousted their teammates Kim So Yeong and Kong Hee Yong to the title, avenging the defeat they suffered at the hands of their compatriots in the second Thailand Open final.

With a title a piece, the pairs will have grown in their self-belief that they can take on the likes of Japanese reigning world champions Matsumoto Mayu and Nagahara Wakana as well as Fukushima Yuki and Hirota Sayaka who have hogged the top spots of the ranking.

Indonesia's Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu who beat Lee and Shin to the opening title on offer in Bangkok, have also shown that they can rise to the occasion and will leave Thailand knowing which areas they need to focus on before that important flight to Japan this July.

Lee So Hee and Shin Seung Chan. Photo: Badmintonphoto - Courtesy of BWF.
Picture by Badmintonphoto

Mixed doubles: Hat-trick for Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai

Home heroes Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai lived up to their billing as the tournament favourites by bagging all three titles on offer.

The Thai pair proved they can handle the pressure and despite losing their final group stage match, Puavaranukroh and Taerattanachai turned it on when they needed to make a clean sweep of the titles on offer. And if you need more proof, have a watch of their Play of the Day below.

While we were deprived of seeing world number one and double world champions Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong in action here in Bangkok, undoubtedly they would have been watching the field of contenders looking to topple them from the top spot with a keen eye.

Now retired Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir clinched gold for Indonesia at Rio 2016, and the results in Bangkok has shown that the current hopefuls of Praveen Jordan and Melati Daeva Oktavianti as well as Hafiz Faizal and Gloria Emanuelle Widjaja have a lot of work ahead of them if they want to have any hopes of retaining the Olympic title for their country.