The BWF World Championships are back within eight months, starting August 22.
When the pandemic-delayed last edition was held in Huelva in December 2021, top shuttler Carolina Marin was injured while Chen Yufei gave it a miss due to COVID-19 concerns.
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In the absence of home attraction Marin and Olympic champion Chen, the tournament had lost its sheen – with most of the matches ending in straight games.
This season, however, despite former champions Nozomi Okuhara and PV Sindhu pulling out due to injuries, the women's singles event in Tokyo promises to be a humdinger.
Of the 14 seeded shuttlers, top seed and reigning champion Akane Yamaguchi is the Japanese hope for the title. She has been struggling with form since winning the All England Open in March but is expected to make it to the quarterfinals with ease after getting a first-round bye. She could face the daunting test of Marin or He Bingjiao in the last eight.
Fifth seed Marin, who has spent most of 2021 nursing a knee injury, is not at her best. Since her return to the court in April this year, she has not won a title.
Overcoming Yamaguchi or the nimble-footed ninth seed Bingjiao could be demanding. Marin holds a 6-1 lead over Bingjiao but the Chinese has improved her game since the two last met in 2020.
Tai Tzu-ying and Chen, seeded second and fourth, respectively, will be frontrunners for the title with their ability to perform in big-ticket tournaments.
Others such as South Korean third seed An Se-young, Asian champion Wang Zhiyi, 10th seed Pornpawee Chochuwong, 2013 champion Ratchanok Intanon and unseeded Saina Nehwal could stage upsets.
In the top half of the draw, world no. 47 Malvika Bansod will have her task cut out against 21st-ranked Line Christophersen. In the second round, the winner will face an in-form Wang, who made Sindhu toil in the Singapore Open final in July.
Going by the form guide, a Se-young versus Wang contest in the semifinals could be on the cards. Se-young fares better against Wang, with the Korean enjoying a 3-1 head-to-head record.
Chen Yufei vs Tai Tzu-ying in bottom half
Saina, placed in the bottom half of the draw, will hope to make the best of Okuhara's absence. The former world no. 1 faces Cheung Ngan Yi in the first round, against whom she has a favorable 3-1 head-to-head record. With 12th seed Busanan Ongbamrungphan getting a bye in the first round, Saina's real test may come in the following rounds.
Tai and Chen, two of the season's most consistent shuttlers, are clubbed in the bottom half and could meet in the semifinals.
Olympic champion Chen, who won the bronze in 2017 and 2019, will hope for a better finish. Since her Olympic title in August 2021, she has won the Indonesia Masters in June and finished runner-up in five other tournaments.
On the other hand, Tai, who is known for her swift movement on the court and ability to play deceptive shots across the net, has won two Superseries titles this season and will eye an elusive gold in Tokyo.