Tough assignment ahead for defending champions
Date: 9/9/2013 2:50 PM
Published by : Manuel Røsler

It is no secret that the annual Belgian International, held in the university town of Leuven situated 30km east of Brussels, is one of the most prestigious International Challenge tournaments held on the Badminton Europe circuit each year.

A full draw and a quality qualification field means that the lucky winners, come Saturday afternoon, will have come through the stiffest of tests to win and the title of Belgian International Champions is something that will sit proudly on any top player’s mantelpiece for years to come. The 2013 edition will be as jam packed and as exciting as previous years with a stellar cast of Europe’s finest assembled to battle it out for Saturday afternoon honours.
The fantastic Sportiest Philipssite will play host to 250 players from 40 different countries and with the infrastructure capable of hosting most major indoor sporting events tournament director Bart Verschueren is confident that the badminton crazy region of Belgium will come out in force to support the event.

“We want that all players, officials and of course visitors to experience a badminton feeling they never had before. One of most important goals for us is to have a lot of badminton fans and to show the world that badminton really affects a lot of people. We have worked very hard for this.  Each day we will have a professional presentation, live interviews and a top Belgian DJ to bring ambiance in the hall which will be the key success factors of the tournament. I will be disappointed if we have less than 1000 visitors.”

Tough Defence for Defending Champions

On court the men’s top seed will not have far to travel as Dutch Veteran Eric Pang will look to add the Belgian title to his long list of career achievements. Defending champion Andre Tedjono will be looking to go back to back in Leuven in a venue that has seen him reach the last two finals in succession. The pick of the first round ties is the match between 2011 champion Brice Leverdez and Danish crowd pleaser Christian Lind in a game that potentially will have extended rallies with some twists along the way.

The women’s singles sees the defending champion Sashina Vignes Waran of France installed as second seed and with the likes of Kjærsfeldt, Madsen, Perminova and Zetchiri on the French woman’s side of the draw, the Strasbourg based shuttler will need to get out of the blocks quickly if she is to make a meaningful defence of her title.

Petya Nedelcheva is top seed but with a trio of young guns in the form of Delphine Lansac, De Visch Eijbergen and European Junior champion Stefani Stoeva nestled beside her at the top of the draw the Bulgarian will have to be mentally strong to make it to a possible semi final meeting with Scotland’s Kirsty Gilmour.

Wide open doubles to throw up surprizes

The doubles events are awash with talent and in reality any one of 8 pairs can compete and win the men’s, women’s and mixed doubles. The men’s doubles sees the return of the champions from last year Adam Cwalina and Koen Ridder but this year with different partners. Cwalina has blossomed in his partnership with Wacha while Ridder is back on track with long-time partner Ruud Bosch and both pairs are sure to feature.

Watch out for Danish duo Skaarup & Astrup but a lot will depend on the effect of a trip to the Ukraine has had on the Danes. As always in doubles events England/GB pairs will hold the key to the destination of the titles and Marcus Ellis will look to add the men’s doubles title to the mixed title he won last year. Top seeds are Mills and Langridge and temperament will pay a key part in the chances of the likeable English lads’ lifting the title.

World & Olympic medallists in top heavy side of the draw

Heather Olver and Kate Robertshaw have blossomed as a pair in their year together and the English are deservedly the duo to beat this year in Leuven. However the top half of the women’s doubles draw is top heavy with talent and flying in under the radar is Olympic bronze medallist Nina Vislova and her new partner Anastasia Chervaykova. Cooper and Gilmour are third seeds and in a strange twist of fate are drawn to meet good friend and compatriot Imogen Bankier as early as the second round as the world mixed silver medallist from 2011 continues her partnership with Petya Nedelcheva.

Danes looking to continue where they left off

Anders Skaarup and Lena Grebak will be looking to continue the good form they displayed at the end of last season where they won 4 tournaments in 6 weeks on the circuit which served to propel them up the world ranking list.

Like the doubles draws the mixed is a lottery with a host of pairings vying for the top step of the podium. The Dutch contingent have embraced their new surroundings and circumstances after a turbulent year and the new duo of Arends and Piek will be worth watching. The experience of Durkin and Vislova will be sure to carry the Russians to the business end of the tournament and Blair and Bankier will look to add some Scottish flavour to the top step of the podium for the first time since Andrew Bowman’s victory in 2008.

A victim of their own success

While there are many talented local Belgian players scattered amongst the draw it will be a remarkable achievement should one of their own lift their home title on Saturday afternoon. The singles represents the home countries best opportunity with Yuhan and Lianne Tan (main picture) having an outside chance at the titles. Yuhan has a favourable draw and if he can gain some momentum he has the talent to draw a big crowd come the weekend. Sister Lianne has a tougher task facing Dane Line Kjærsfeldt in the opening round and comes through that tough half of the draw with Vignes Waran and Zetchiri.

“In a way we are victim of our own success” commented tournament director Bart Verschueren. “More quality and more high ranked players, means less possibilities for young Belgian players. Still I believe in a Belgian finalist and the coaches have prepared the players very well and they are very anxious to perform.”

The tournament this year also marks the start of the season for BETV with streaming from court 3 for the entire event and all in HD on our dedicated YouTube channel HERE. Tune in each day for live interviews plus commentary for the semi-finals and finals.

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To follow the Belgian results and schedules check out tournamentsoftware.

Article by Mark Phelan. Photos by BadmintonPhoto.

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