International top-level badminton returns this month when the Badminton World Federation completes its 2020 season with three major events from 12 January 2021 in a "bubble" environment in Bangkok, Thailand.
Two Thailand Opens (12–17 January and 19–24 January), will complete the regular 2020 BWF World Tour season before the BWF World Tour Finals take place from 27–31 January.
However, the Thailand Opens have been hit by the withdrawals of both the Chinese and Japanese teams, the latter after men’s world number one Momota Kento tested positive for Covid-19 in a routine pre-departure screening test at Tokyo Narita Airport.
With the withdrawal of the Japanese team, the BWF indicated it will call on reserve players who are already part of its bio-secure bubble in Thailand. The draw was conducted after China pulled out.
This will be the first international badminton at senior elite level since the Denmark Open at the start of October, in a bubble which was to have also featured the Uber and Thomas Cup Finals before those were cancelled. After these three tournaments, the 2021 season is scheduled to begin in March.
Players to watch
Chinese Taipei have hopes in both men’s and women’s singles, with the men’s second seed Chen Tien-chou (Momota was the top seed) and women’s top seed and world number one Tai Tzu-ying. On the women’s side, watch out too for home hope Ratchanok Intanon, Olympic champion Carolina Marín, India’s PV Sindhu, and South Korean prodigy An Se-young.
In doubles, top-ranked men’s pair Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo have withdrawn after Sukamuljo failed to recover from Covid. The Indonesian first tested positive on 20 December and has tested positive two further times since. In their absence, teammates Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan should be favourites.
For each Thailand Open, 32 players or pairs will play in a single-elimination direct knockout tournament in men’s singles and doubles, women’s singles and doubles, and mixed doubles.
Japanese players and Gideon/Sukamuljo are replaced in the respective draws by reserve players who are already a part of the BWF’s bubble.
The BWF World Tour Finals sees the best eight athletes or pairs in each event, capped at two representatives per country. The BWF says that it is mandatory for players to compete in both Thailand Opens to be eligible to qualify for the Finals, although it is unclear if there is any discretion applied for athletes ruled out through Covid.
Players will qualify for the World Tour Finals based on their performances from the shortened 2020 season, including the two Thailand Opens. Competitors are drawn into two groups of four in each event, with the top two per group moving on to the semi-finals.
Players competing in the events in Bangkok, as well as reserves, all had to take a coronavirus test on arrival in the Thai capital, as well as spend time in quarantine in the players’ hotel.
It is the first time the BWF has held three high-ranking tournaments – both Thailand Opens have Super 1000 status, with a prize pool of U.S. $1 million each – in a single city consecutively.
Strict health and safety protocols have been introduced, guided by Thailand’s Department of Disease Control, which has also restricted on-the-ground media attendance.
Detailed schedule information for the BWF World Tour finals is yet to be published. Check the Olympic Channel website and social media platforms for further information as it's confirmed.