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World Championships 2022 Preview, Part 1: Japan seeks redemption
Date: 8/21/2022 7:58 PM
Published by : Yash Sharma
The wounds of losses at the home Olympics still hurt. Will there be redemption for Japanese fans in the TotalEnergies BWF World Championships 2022 in Tokyo?

The BWF World Championships are back after less than a year. While some big names had skipped the last edition following the Tokyo campaign, the elite of badminton has turned up in all its glory this time. There will be titanic duels, broken records, and new champions - a lot to rewrite history books with. 

The enormous web of badminton swan songs and perhaps a bit of research leads us to a particularly enchanting thread. It narrates the tale of humble Japan rising to the zenith of world badminton. Like any other fairy tale, there are twists and turns, glories and heartbreaks. 

From rags to riches
The journey began with a women’s doubles gold at the inaugural edition in 1977. Since then, Japan always played second fiddle to the giants China and Indonesia. There were multiple podium finishes, but never on top. 

In 2017, Nozomi Okuhara broke the four-decade-long barren spell. She beat five-time medallist Pusarla V. Sindhu in what will be remembered as one of the greatest badminton matches ever. Notably, the title favourite Tai Tzu Ying had not contested the trophy. She still hasn’t won, with a silver finish last year.

The next two editions saw Japan claiming two titles each time. However, the now-established badminton powerhouse had an unfortunate Olympics campaign last year. Playing on home ground, the island nation ended up with just a bronze in mixed doubles. The pressure was too much, best demonstrated in six quarterfinal finishes by the Japanese athletes in Tokyo. 

The recent conquests
Akane Yamaguchi and Takuro Hoki/ Yugo Kobayashi did make amends at the World Championships by clinching gold in Huelva late last year. However, recent interviews of Japanese players suggest that it was not nearly enough. 

Japan has been unable to replicate its recent international success on home soil. With their spearhead Kento Momota looking resurgent, they will be spurred on by the cheers of home fans. It will be unlike the empty audience seats last year. While Momota is far from being the favourite for a third men’s singles title, he might have a few surprises in store. He is expected to run into arch-nemesis Lee Zii Jia early on. 

In women’s singles, while Okuhara is recently playing a more positive attacking style, the defending champion will also be under tremendous pressure. Yamaguchi has had a recent slump in form, but the Japanese ace can be extremely difficult to beat at her best. They will likely face the legendaries Carolina Marin and Tai Tzu Ying respectively in the quarterfinals. 

Likewise, the reigning champions Hoki/ Kobayashi will have their hands full against the Commonwealth Games champions Satwiksairaj Rankireddy/ Chirag Shetty. The Japanese duo can expect stiff competition from the traditional men’s doubles powerhouse Indonesia.

Another attempt at glory 
A silver finish at the most prestigious tournament even once hurts. Thrice? Hurts even more! Sayaka Hirota’s unfortunate injury in Tokyo, the Japanese pair of Yuki Fukushima/ Sayaka Hirota is steadily getting back in form. It might be fourth-time-lucky for them. 

In their way will be their compatriots: the two-time champions Mayu Matsumoto/ Wakana Nagahara and the reigning all-England champions Nami Matsuyama/ Chiharu Shida. With Korean women’s doubles not-so-impressive of late, the Japanese will sense their chance in the category. 

Japan hasn’t had a mixed doubles pair as good as Yuta Watanabe/ Arisa Higashino. However, they happen to be playing in an era dominated by two of the finest mixed doubles pairs in badminton, both from China. The electric duo can be a handful for most pairs but they need to be at their absolute best to improve upon the silver finish last year.  

Who can stop Japan?
Under the aegis of Park Joo Bong, Japan has perfected the defensive style of badminton. Their biggest shortcoming is arguably their mental fortitude. However, they will face a nearly insurmountable challenge in all categories. From whom? We must tug at other intertwined threads of the web to deduce the answer. 

Will the in-form European athletes produce their best-ever performance? Can China reclaim its position as the world’s best? 

Read Part 2 of the Preview, coming out tomorrow, for the answers. 
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