A wretched spell for badminton ends at today’s Yonex Thailand Open, as players emerge from hotel quarantine to restart the BWF World Tour in a biosecure “bubble” in Bangkok.
The world’s top players — minus China and Japan, who were forced to pull out — have been bursting for a return to action after a buildup that has included long, lonely hours in their hotel rooms.
Olympic champion Carolina Marin posted a video of herself working out with a hotel towel, Taiwanese world No. 1 Tai Tzu-ying used water bottles as weights and Denmark’s Anders Antonsen practiced serving shuttlecocks into his sneakers.
The Yonex Thailand Open is the first of three consecutive tournaments to be played in strict biosecure conditions and behind closed doors in Bangkok, culminating in the World Tour Finals from Jan. 27.
Badminton has been all but sidelined since the All England Open in March, but players and organizers alike are hoping for a less disrupted year as they gear up for the Tokyo Olympic Games in July.
However, a surge of COVID-19 cases prompted a partial lockdown in Bangkok earlier this month.
The Bangkok tournaments have also been severely weakened by the withdrawal of China, who were grounded by travel restrictions, and Japan, who pulled out when men’s world No. 1 Kento Momota tested positive for the coronavirus.
The singles draws now resemble Swiss cheese, missing six men and eight women ranked in the top 20.
Taiwan’s Chou Tien-chen, and Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen and Antonsen shape as the top contenders in a men’s competition which is without Momota and Olympic gold-medalist Chen Long of China.
Antonsen, who won the Denmark Open in October last year, is returning to action after contracting COVID-19 early last month.
Tai, the top seed in the women’s singles, let her T-shirt do the talking when it was emblazoned with the message: “Ready to win” during a training session last week.
The Taiwanese won her previous tournament, the All England Open in March, and another victory this week would give her back-to-back titles nine months apart.
Former world champion Ratchanok Intanon leads Thai hopes and is aiming for at least a semi-final spot this week.
Marin, the first non-Asian player to win Olympic women’s singles gold, said that the European players are hoping to make their mark.
“We know the Asian players are at the top every time. The Europeans are constantly working hard to break the Asian wall,” Marin said. “It’s difficult, but we’ll do our best every time.”
Thailand last month said that the tournaments would be the “safest in the world,” and BWF secretary-general Thomas Lund said that he was satisfied with the hygiene protocols.
“If a positive case is found, the player will be isolated and contract tracing will take place. Any player who has been in contact will also need to isolate,” Lund said. “We are confident we will be able to take care of the player and keep the rest of the players safe during these special times.”
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