Badminton: Chinese vulnerable, says Marin

With the OUE Singapore Open beginning today, world No. 1 Carolina Marin (above) of Spain said the most in-form player is Thailand's Ratchanok Intanon, who has won two successive titles in India and Malaysia. But Japan's Nozomi Okuhara declared: "I ho
With the OUE Singapore Open beginning today, world No. 1 Carolina Marin (above) of Spain said the most in-form player is Thailand's Ratchanok Intanon, who has won two successive titles in India and Malaysia. But Japan's Nozomi Okuhara declared: "I hope to win the Olympic gold medal." ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Balance of power has shifted in women's game, with rising stars eyeing Rio gold

World badminton powerhouse China has kept a stranglehold on the women's singles title for the last four Olympics, but there is growing belief among the challengers that, come August, the gold medal will find a different home.

Carolina Marin, the women's world No. 1 from Spain, is one of those who believe that world rankings are indicative of the force of the non-Chinese players currently.

"There are not (that) many Chinese players in the top 20," she said. "We can beat them and I think we are in a good condition to play against the Chinese players."

Just five Chinese players occupy the world's top 20 now, with seven of the top 10 hailing from countries apart from China.

Marin was speaking at a media conference ahead of the OUE Singapore Open, which begins today at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

FEAR FACTOR RECEDING

All of the players are not scared to play against the Chinese. I think we've (broken) the Chinese 'wall'.

CAROLINA MARIN, women's badminton world No. 1, on the shrinking dominance of China in the sport.

The 22-year-old became the first European since Denmark's Camilla Martin in 1999 to be crowned world champion when she defeated then-world No. 1 and reigning Olympic champion Li Xuerui of China to win her first of two world titles in 2014. She also retained the title last year.

"All of the players are not scared to play against the Chinese. I think we've (broken) the Chinese 'wall'," said Marin.

She added that it remains to be seen who will rise to the challenge at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, but named Ratchanok Intanon as the most in-form player currently.

The Thai world No. 4 has won two titles on the trot, beating Li at the India Open and then lifting last week's Malaysia Open.

And while most players shy away from medal talk, Japan's world No. 3, Nozomi Okuhara, has boldly stated her intention to win her country's first Olympic badminton gold in Rio.

The 21-year-old took down another Chinese player, world No. 6 Wang Yihan, at the Superseries Finals last December to lift the title at the sport's season finale.

She then beat China's Wang Shixian (No. 5) to clinch the All-England Open title last month.

Speaking through a translator, Okuhara said: "I'm stronger, and more confident now. I think I can do it and I hope to win the Olympic gold medal."

The Japanese contingent, however, was rocked last week by the expulsions of men's singles world No. 2 Kento Momota and team-mate Kenichi Tago.

The duo had admitted to gambling at an illegal casino in Japan. Momota, who was tipped for an Olympic medal, was kicked off Japan's badminton Olympics team and given an indefinite ban from competition.

Tago, on the other hand, was removed from the Nippon Badminton Association's official player list for an indefinite period.

The Badminton World Federation (BWF) requested yesterday that the media refrain from asking questions related to Momota and Tago.

Nevertheless, Okuhara insisted that the mood within the Japanese camp remains high, adding that there is belief that the team will taste unprecedented success in Rio.

As the last Superseries tournament on the badminton circuit before the Olympic Games, this year's Singapore Open is one of the most keenly contested in years.

Eight of the world's top 10 men's singles players - including No. 1 Chen Long and two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan of China - are set to take the courts.

However, India's women's world No. 8 Saina Nehwal withdrew yesterday due to illness.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2016, with the headline 'Chinese vulnerable: Marin'. Print Edition | Subscribe