After an entertaining 2022, badminton sets itself up for an action-filled 2023 season with the Asian Games, Sudirman Cup and the beginning of the Olympic qualification cycle. This is apart from the expanded World Tour, offering shuttlers more points and prize money. So, what can we expect in 2023?
The Thomas Cup - the World Cup of men’s badminton - conquest last year is one of the most incredible achievements in Indian badminton.
It did not just validate the game’s growing popularity in India but also attested to its increasing talent pool. The win has also changed the perception of Indian badminton at the international level, which had far too long been about one or two good players who would win individual events but struggle to prove effective in a team event like that of the Thomas Cup.
With that milestone accomplished now, in a dominating fashion, all eyes will be on India in 2023.
When the Sudirman Cup, the mixed team world championship, gets underway in May and Asian Games in September-October, India, needless to say, will no longer be a pushover.
The country now possesses more than one top male singles shuttler in Lakshya Sen, Kidambi Srikanth, and H.S. Prannoy, one world-class female singles player in P.V. Sindhu and world-beating pairs in men’s and women’s doubles in Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty and Treesa Jolly-Gayatri Gopichand.
Viktor Axelsen may continue to win
There has been a massive gulf between Viktor Axelsen and the rest throughout 2022, with him winning a staggering seven Super Series titles and registering a world record of 39 consecutive wins.
The domination might not stop in 2023.
If not undone by injuries, the 29-year-old looks unlikely to be beaten. He might feel more motivated to retain his winning touch and lay his hands on the China Open, the only title still out of his reach. But sports is about unexpected outcomes; that is where lies its beauty.
There is no scarcity of talented players in the field who could stop the Axelsen juggernaut. And nobody knows his flaws better than Lakshya Sen, H.S. Prannoy and Loh Kean Yew, the three players who got the better of the European last season.
The three defeats have one thing in common: Dane’s irritation with playing close to the net and unwillingness to engage in faster rallies. If his opponents manage to tighten their defence and reduce the frequency of lifts, as shown by the trio, Axelsen could be erratic. But to execute this, one needs to outlast the brilliance of the Danish master.
As a new season awaits us, Axelsen might have only himself to surpass, but the trio could spice up the battle by taking the fight to Dane’s court.
P.V. Sindhu making a comeback
In 2022, for the first time in her career, PV Sindhu failed to complete a season. She had to spend almost half of the season resting due to a hamstring injury suffered in the Commonwealth Games. The 27-year-old will be eager to regain her grip over the World Tour, perhaps by winning her second World Championships title and the most sacred title on the World Tour, the All-England Open.
If achieved, it will undoubtedly establish her as India’s greatest shuttler. Sindhu has to do it all while balancing her qualification for the Paris Olympics, where she will look to better the colour of her Rio medal.
Akane Yamaguchi might have claimed both BWF World Championships and World Tour titles, but she was not unbeatable last season. And in 2023, women’s singles will be more open than ever, with players such as Chen Yufei, He Bingjiao, An Se Young, and Tai Tzu Ying always ready to throw up surprises. The return of a fit Sindhu and Carolina Marin, who has shown signs of recovery from injury woes in recent times, could further light up the season.
Lakshya, Prannoy keeping Indian hopes flying
A sensational Lakshya Sen beating Viktor Axelsen and reaching the All-England final was one of the high points of Indian men’s singles in 2022. His emergence and H.S. Prannoy’s redemption on the World Tour gave India a critical advantage in the Thomas Cup.
Last season, Lakshya secured his maiden Super Series title at India Open and gold at CWG, while Prannoy elevated himself as the world beater and ending the year as India’s highest ranked men’s singles player.
In 2023, in an action-packed season, which will have four Super 1000 events for the first time and the Sudirman Cup, both Lakshya and Prannoy will be keen to keep Indian hopes flying in the Super Series as well as in the team championship. Kidambi Srikanth, too, if fit, may pull off surprises.
Rise of Japan
Among the renowned names, there will be an unheralded Japanese in 2023, who made stiff progress last season, reaching a career-high seventh in BWF world rankings, after starting the year at 47. Slightly built, tactically sound, and agile, Kodai Naraoka makes opponents toil hard for points.
A speedy shuttler, Naraoka has already shown what he is capable of by dragging Axelsen into a three-game contest in the final of the World Tour Finals, forcing the Dane to use his experience to get out of the hole. Naraoka’s swift graduation to World Tour means Japanese men’s singles is also undergoing a K-shape recovery.
Naraoka, a former BWF World Junior Championships gold medallist and BWF emerging player awardee in 2022, has appeared as the face of Japanese men’s singles at a time when the country’s most decorated shuttler Kento Momota, a two-time world champion, has gone into free fall since surviving a car crash in Malaysia in 2020.
With one title and three runner-up finishes last season, Naraoka is expected to gain momentum in 2023.
However, the Japanese surge has not be only in men’s singles. There is also Tomoka Miyazaki, the World Junior Championship gold medallist. Much like Naraoka, she is also slightly built and showed outstanding reliance on skill with quick court movements. She will also be the one to watch out for in 2023, apart from the star attractions Yamaguchi and Nozomi Okuhara.
Could doubles be India’s delight?
Will doubles continue to delight India? As Satwik-Chirag has cracked the code of victory, the remaining pairings will not stay far behind to prove their mettle.
Satwik-Chirag winning two Super Series titles in India and France was no less historic for Indian badminton than Prakash Padukone winning All England Open title, for long considered the holy grail of the sport, in 1980.
To add to it, the duo also claimed a World Championships bronze and a CWG gold and became the highlight of Indian doubles in 2022.
However, despite such an outstanding performance last season, Satwik-Chirag have a lot more to look forward to in 2023. Starting with their jinx against Malaysian world champions Aaron Chia-Soh Woo Yik and then realising their dream of winning Worlds gold.
Following them closely, emerging pairs M.R. Arjun-Dhruv Kapila and Krishna-Vishnuvardhan will also look to make their mark over the BWF calendar.
In women’s doubles, the young pairing of Gayatri Gopichand and Treesa Jolly will look to soak in the experience of reaching the last four of the All England Open and CWG and break their curse of losing to top pairings to realise their Super Series dreams.
Badminton reaching newer horizon
For decades, badminton has been viewed as an Asian sport where the Asians dominate the roost, with only a few European shuttlers like Axelsen and Marin turning up to challenge the hierarchy.
To change this perception and make the sport truly global, the Badminton World Federation (BWF) has elevated the level of tournaments in Europe, America and Oceania. That could be a game-changer.
BWF has upgraded Canada Open, Artic Open, and Australian Open to Super 500, making the event count to nine, bringing the flagship Super Series to the shores of Finland, Canada, and Australia.
This has come to the delight of North American stars like Mitchell Lee and Beiwen Zhang and could well give a massive boost to badminton’s quest to reach newer horizons.