Post Rio winds of change blow across circuit
This coming week the Badminton Europe circuit moves to the Belgian city of Leuven for the now annual Belgian International the traditional ringing of the bell on the new season from an International challenge perspective. With the Olympic Games in Rio now consigned to memory and the associated four yearly cycle drawing to an end bringing with it a host of inevitable player retirements and coaching changes.
This year’s Belgian international draw certainly reflects the winds of change blowing across the circuit with a host of new pairings in the doubles events plus a fresh and youthful look to the singles draws as a new crop of European athletes attempt to make their mark in one of Europe’s premier international challenge rated tournaments.
The home nation will look to men’s doubles pairing Matijs Dierickx and Freek Golinski and singles specialists Lianne Tan to fly the Belgian flag during their home international. All three players can now be classed as seasoned circuit performers and this year more than any in recent times represents a great opportunity for Belgium to get on the top step of the podium something that has not happened to a Belgian athlete since the reintroduction of the tournament in 2005.
Dierickx and Golinski (main picture) are top seeds in the men’s doubles but will have a real battle on their hands to try and live up to that seeding this week. A host of strong Danish pairs are nestled on the same side of the draw and add into the mix the French pairs of Mittelheisser/Labar and Maio/Kersaudy the enormity of the challenge becomes apparent.
Second seeds are Scottish duo Patrick MacHugh and Martin Campbell and like the top seeded Belgians the Scots have an enormous mountain to climb in the bottom half of the draw. The stand out pair to watch are third seeds Nico Ruponen and Richard Eidestedt (pictured below). The Swedes have already won at challenge level in their short career as a pair and if they get a head of steam they will be very hard to stop.
Lianne Tan (pictured above), who will have had little or no badminton in her legs post Rio, will get a good indication of her form as early as round one playing one of the very few Asian players in this year’s tournament. Japan’s Moe Araki stands in the way of the Belgian number 1 making progress and should she do so there will be a host of top Danish talent in the bottom half of the draw lining up to take her down. Second seed Natalia Koch Rhode continues her comeback from injury while Mia Blichfeldt is a player the whole of Europe is waiting for to fulfil her personal potential.
Mariya Ulitina (UKR) is the top seed in the women’s singles and the form player after her performance in Rio. The Ukrainian may have the slightly easier side of the draw but with Sofie Holmboe Dahl and Mette Poulsen in the top half the Ukrainian will need to be sharp.
French shuffle the pack in mixed
The tail end of last season saw team France shuffle the pack in their mixed doubles line up. Once qualification for Rio was out of the equation head coach Peter Gade split the top two French pairs and with a strong summers work behind them will be sure to feature in Belgium this week.
Mittelheisser/Lefel and Labar/Fontaine will lead a strong French team who also have top seeds Kersaudy and Palermo (pictured above), who always enjoyed their time on these Belgian courts. Add into the mix the exciting young duo of Delphine Delrue and Thom Gicquel and backed up by Maio/Baumann and Corvee/Tran it is easy to see why team France may well look to their mixed doubles pairings in Leuven for success. Denmark have the firepower to take down the French and in Antonsen and Soby Hansen might have a pair that will cause an upset.
The French will also hope that the find of 2016, the pair of Lea Palermo and Delphine Delrue can continue to set the circuit alight. Top seeds for the women’s doubles are Nistad and Wengberg of Sweden and a potential second round match against Emilie Lefel and Anne Tran will tell a lot about the Swedes form especially after two hard Danish league matches the weekend just gone.
Danish third seeds Amanda Madsen and Isabella Nielsen have something to prove after a first round loss last year but find themselves in a very tough quarter of the draw with Chloe Birch and Lauren Smith, The English pair hoping to benefit from their element of surprise as a new pair.
Finally, the men’s singles is a wide open tournament with any one of 10 players in with a realistic shout of claiming the title. The obvious seeds of Pawar (IND), Must (EST) and Hurskainen (SWE) will be ones to watch but the French pair of Lucas Corvee and Lucas Claerbout might have the fresh legs this week coupled with their growing confidence after a successful 2015. Corvee was hugely instrumental in leading his team Issy Les Moulineaux to the European club title just two months ago and in Claerbout France had probably the most improved player on the circuit last season.
All Courts – All Action – All LIVE
All the action kicks off on Wednesday with the qualification rounds from the Belgian International and Badminton Europe will be LIVE all week with games from all courts free to watch via our multi court YouTube broadcast HERE. Court 1 will have a multi camera set up with all other courts having a single overview camera of each court.
Every shot, every rally, every match streamed LIVE for your viewing pleasure.
For all the draws for the 2016 Belgian International click HERE
Article and archive images by Mark Phelan for Badminton Europe