Thai medal hope Boonsak Ponsana faces an opening battle against world No 3 Chen Long in the Olympics badminton tournament, with a place in the knock-out round at stake.
The badminton draw was conducted yesterday at the Main Press Centre of the Olympic Park in London.
The World Badminton Federation (BWF) has changed the playing format for the London Olympics, with those taking part in the singles event split to groups (Group A to P for the men’s and women’s singles and A to D in the doubles) and playing a group round-robin competition.
The top player in each group for singles events and the top two from each group in the doubles will book their berths for the knock-out round.
In the men’s singles, current world No 22 Boonsak, who enters the Olympics in dazzling form after landing the Singapore Open title, is drawn in Pool E with third-seeded Chen Long, the formidable Chinese who won major events last year including the Denmark Open and Japan Open.
With only two players in Pool E, either Boonsak or Chen will advance to the last-16 knock-out round. Boonsak owns the better head-to-head record with two wins and one loss against the Chinese. In what will probably be his final Olympic appearance, Boonsak, 30, has vowed to produce his best in a bid to return with a medal.
In the women’s singles, Thailand’s world No 10 Ratchanok Intanon is seeded 9th and drawn in Group M with inexperienced Sri Lankan Thilini Jayasinghe and little-known Portuguese Telma Santos. Ratchanok can be fairly confident of making the cut for the last 16.
The impressive mixed duo of Sudket Prapakamol and Saralee Thoungthongkam, current world No 6, are in Group D. They face the challenge of world No 2 and Asian silver medallists Ma Jin/Xu Chen from China, Malaysian’s world No 7 Chan Peng Soon/Goh Liu Ying and world No 5 Chen Hung Ling/Cheng Wen Hsing from Taiwan.
In the men’s doubles, Thailand’s world No 19 Bodin Issara/Manepong Jongjit are in Group B with fourth seeds and world No 4 Ko Sung Hyun/Yoo Yeong Seong from South Korea, Polish world No 21 Adan Cwalina/Michal Logosz and world No 6 Mohammad Ahsan/Bona Septano from Indonesia.
The Olympics badminton tournament shuttles off on Saturday at the Wembley Arena, with five competitions: the men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles.
Super Dan to play Evans
Olympic favourite Lin Dan of China will open the defence of his badminton title against unheralded Scott Evans of Ireland.
Yesterday’s draw also pitted top-seeded Lee Chong Wei, who lost to Lin in the Beijing Olympic final, against Ville Lang of Finland.
China’s Chen Jin, who reached the world’s top four in April to qualify for London, was placed in Lin’s half of the draw.
Lin and Chen Jin are seeded to repeat their semi-final matchup from Beijing.
Chong Wei could have to go through Chen Long in the semi-finals, although his first-round match will be tough, as Lang went three rounds in Beijing. Lang will be Chong Wei’s first match since May 22, when he tore right ankle ligaments and sent a shudder through Malaysia, who regard him as their best hope for a first Olympic gold medal.
“His physical condition is better than expected. The ankle still needs support, but it is more for prevention,” Malaysia team physio Sandra Fiedler said.
The injury, and Lin’s rise to No 1 in the rankings, have dampened expectations on Chong Wei, but he remained optimistic.
“There is less pressure, but it is my last Olympics so I want a medal for my country,” he said at his training in Bath.
Taufik Hidayat, the 2004 Olympic champion from Indonesia, could meet Lin the last 16 if he wins his group.
Chinese women have won the last three Olympic singles gold medals, and they’re favoured again with the top three seeded players: No 1 Wang Yihan, No 2 Wang Xin, and No 3 Li Xuerui, all making their Olympic debuts.
Li Xuerui, the form player on tour after a 30-match winning streak, was in Wang Xin’s half of the draw.
Wang Yihan’s half featured the two best non-Chinese threats for the gold, No 4 Saina Nehwal of India and No 5 Tine Baun of Denmark.