By Sudipto Ganguly
JAKARTA (Reuters) – For the first time since 1970, China will have no singles badminton player on the podium at the Asian Games, which their rivals attribute to the rise of the sport in other nations.
China had two top 10 players in the men’s singles in Jakarta but neither reached the last four. World number two and top seed Shi Yuqi was beaten in the first round by Indonesia’s Jonatan Christie while fellow home favourite Sinisuka Ginting took down Olympic champion Chen Long in the quarter-finals.
World number five Chen Yufei and seventh-ranked He Bingjiao also failed to reach the last four in women’s singles, denying China any chance of a singles medal.
World number one Tai Tzu Ying of Taiwan and 2016 Olympic silver medallist Pusarla Sindhu will vie for the women’s singles gold while Christie reached the men’s singles final against Taiwan’s Chou Tienchen.
India’s Saina Nehwal, an Olympic bronze medal winner in London in 2012, was used to running into badminton’s great China wall as the Asian powerhouse often used to have three players in the top five.
But that has now changed.
“Badminton has become more popular in a lot more countries, specially the Asian countries,” Nehwal, who won a bronze at the Asian Games after losing to Tai in the semi-finals, told Reuters.
“Others have definitely raised their levels. It was not easy. Every event they had the winner and runner-up from China.
“But in the last two years I am seeing there is definitely something that’s stopping them.”
Four years after winning all five titles at the London Olympics, China managed just two golds and a bronze in Rio 2016 – their lowest haul at an Olympics for 20 years.
While Chen captured the men’s singles gold, China drew a blank in women’s singles in Brazil.
“Others have really improved, you can’t underestimate anyone now,” Nehwal added. “The top players are working very hard to be there and raise their level again and again.
“The Chinese are trying but I don’t see them perform consistently.”
Tai, speaking to Reuters through a translator, added: “Players from each country have improved their performance.
“It is not like before anymore and the chance is very fair to each player who is ready to work hard.
“It is good situation for the sport.”
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Pritha Sarkar)