2021 Badminton World Championships: Olympic champions Axelsen and Carolina Marin among stars to watch in Huelva, Spain

The Huelva 2021 BWF World Championships are shuttling into action and despite some big-name withdrawals there is plenty to get excited about: from Viktor Axelsen continuing his golden 2021 to Carolina Marin's homecoming: Get a preview, schedule and everything you need right here.

By Ken Browne
Picture by 2018 Getty Images

The Huelva 2021 BWF World Championships run from 12-19 December as the best Badminton players descend on the South of Spain.

And despite the high-profile withdrawal of top seed Momota Kento and much of the Indonesian team there is a lot to get excited about.

Like Tokyo 2020 Olympic champ Viktor Axelsen continuing his stellar 2021, and what could become one of the greatest comeback stories in the history of badminton:

Carolina Marin returns to action in her hometown - at the stadium named after her - six months after a horror knee injury, which forced her to miss the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

But it's been a hard road back to fitness for Marin and she'll face some serious competition at the 'Palacio de Deportes Carolina Marin' with Chinese Taipei's top seed Tai Tzu Ying in the draw.

And we might even see a renewal of old rivalries if Marin and Indian star shuttler PV Sindhu both progress to the semi-finals.

Then there's South Korea's young gun An Seyoung who arrives in Spain fresh off a clean sweep of three titles in Bali, Indonesia.

With plenty of singles and doubles action set to light up the 2021 BWF World Championships, here's a who, and what to watch out for.

2021 Badminton World Championships: Schedule

The Huelva 2021 BWF World championships begin on Sunday 12 December at 10am local time in Spain (CET) and run for a full week to Sunday 19.

Here's a schedule:

Sunday 12 - Round 1

Monday 13 - Round 1

Tuesday 14 - Round 1

Wednesday 15 - Round 2

Thursday 16 - Round 3

Friday 17 - Quarter finals

Saturday 18 - Semifinals

Sunday 19 - Finals

Men's stars to watch at 2021 BWF World Championships: Axelsen the man to beat

What a year it's been for Denmark's badminton history-maker.

Olympic gold, a first Denmark Open triumph, the Indonesian Open 2021 and the World Tour Finals title, and now he has a chance to finish off the year in style with his second World Championship title after he won it back in 2017 in Glasgow.

The news that world No.2 - and defending champion from 2019 - Momota Kento has pulled out because of a back injury has strengthened Axelsen's claim even further.

And he's unlikely to face Indonesian stars Jonatan Christie and Antony Ginting after the withdrawal of most of the Indonesian team due to Covid concerns.

But that doesn't mean it'll be a walk in the park for Axelsen, who will still face a tough test from his Danish teammate Anders Antonsen and Malaysian rising star Lee Zi Jia.

Then there's Singaporean Loh Kean Yew who made Axelsen work for that Indonesian Open title in the final just a couple of weeks ago in Bali, taking a set from the great Dane and pushing hard, he might fancy his chances in a rematch here.

Former world number one Kidambi Srikanth from India is also in the mix and looking to rediscover the form that took him to four titles in 2017.

So who could spring a surprise on the world stage?

Kevin Cordon from Guatemala - who made the Olympic bronze medal match in Tokyo before losing to Antony Ginting - will be hoping for a similar run in Spain.

And look out too for 20-year-old Indian upstart Lakshya Sen, who's out to shake up badminton's world order. French prospect Toma Junior Popov is well worth a watch too, he carries a strong family tradition with him.

Women's stars to watch at 2021 BWF World Championships: Carolina Marin's homecoming in a stacked field

It would be a fairy-tale return for Carolina Marin if she could claim a fourth World title in front of an adoring home crowd, considering everything that's happened to her over the last two years.

The 28-year-old told Spanish TV that missing out on the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and the chance to defend her Rio title caused her world to come crashing down. She even answered questions about retirement for the first time.

But the dream narrative of a victorious homecoming for Marin is one plenty of other players will be happy to ignore to top the podium themselves.

Not least her old rival PV Sindhu who made history at Tokyo 2020 and has been in good form of late.

Both Marin and Sindhu will have to contend with Chinese Taipei's tournament top seed Tai Tzu Ying, along with South Korea's teen sensation An Seyoung who arrives in Spain fresh off a clean sweep of three titles in Bali, Indonesia.

Last month the 19-year-old won the Indonesia Masters and Indonesia Open in Bali, and then became the first South Korean to win a BWF World Tour Finals women's singles title at the start of December, beating Sindhu in the final.

There are plenty of other contenders too, including third seed Yamaguchi Akane. Her Japanese compatriot Okuhara Nozomi is 2017 world champ and more than capable of putting a tournament run together too, as she showed back in March when won the England Open for the second time.

The Thai double threat comes from experienced 2013 World champ Ratchanok Intanon and protege Pornpawee Chochuwong.

2021 BWF World Championships: Doubles teams to watch in Huelva

Doubles badminton will be smashing too despite the absence of some prominent Indonesian pairs.

Men's

In the men’s competition look out for Chinese Taipei's Tokyo 2020 gold medal-winning heroes Lee Yang and Wang Chi-Lin, while Olympic bronze medallists Aaron Chia / Soh Wooi Yik from Malaysia will also aim for the podium.

Japan double act Hoki Takuro and Kobayashi Yugo are also riding high after they beat No. 1 pair Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo from Indonesia to become the first Japanese men to win doubles titles at the World Tour Finals in Bali.

Women's

In the women’s doubles, Tokyo 2020 silver medallists from China Chen Qing Chen and Jia Yi Fan will be favourites for many: they helped China clinch the Sudirman Cup back in October and look in strong shape.

But they’ll have to hold off two-time and current world champs Matsumoto Mayu and Nagahara Wakana.

Add South Korean combo Lee Sohee / Shin Seungchan to the mix and expect some fireworks on the court.

Mixed

And finally in the mixed doubles Chinese pair Zheng Si Wei and Huang Ya Qiong are ones to watch as current world champs and Tokyo 2020 silver medallists.

Tokyo bronze medallists from Japan Watanabe Yuta and Higashino Arisa should also present a serious challenge while Thai duo Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai will be in with a shout too.

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