Due to some unique circumstances, the year that passed turned out to be a breakout season for young players. With a number of high-profile events – both individual and team — in 2021, it was a time of opportunity for young players. This was so particularly after the Olympics, as several established players and teams appeared only intermittently in the events that followed, enabling upcoming players to test their mettle at the highest level.
Here are some of those who made fans sit up and take notice (interestingly, there were more breakout performances in men’s singles than any other category):
Brian Yang (20)
Won his first Pan Am Championships and qualified for the Olympics, where he nearly got the better of Chou Tien Chen. Improved rapidly since then, as he won the Denmark Masters, led Canada impressively at the Sudirman Cup and Thomas Cup, with wins over Jonatan Christie and Kanta Tsuneyama.
Kunlavut Vitidsarn (20)
His runner-up place at the YONEX Swiss Open was indication of what was to come. Beat Kidambi Srikanth and Shi Yu Qi at the Sudirman Cup, and Wang Tzu Wei and Jonatan Christie at the Thomas Cup, proving a rock for his team at the majors. Finished the World Tour making the final of the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals 2021, with wins over Kidambi and Lee Zii Jia.
Lakshya Sen (20)
While he was consistent all year, he really took off towards the last quarter, finishing the year with semifinals at the World Tour Finals and the TotalEnergies BWF World Championships 2021. Quite unfazed to be in the semifinals of the World Championships, he nearly outplayed senior compatriot Kidambi Srikanth before the more experienced Indian dug deep to deny him the title shot.
Christo Popov (19)
His older brother and doubles partner Toma Junior had better results in 2021, but Christo did show glimpses of his exciting talent. He made use of the limited opportunities he got in singles, for he was busier in doubles. At the Thomas Cup he was the only player to take a game off the in-form Viktor Axelsen; at the Indonesia Open he took out home favourite Anthony Sinisuka Ginting in the first round.
Rachel Chan (18)
Having missed all of 2020 due to the lockdown, the then 17-year-old shot into the final of the Pan Am Championships; playing first singles for Canada at the Sudirman Cup, she gave a good account of herself. She was just as impressive in the Uber Cup.
Wang Zhi Yi (21)
Had few opportunities in 2021 but made them count. Helped China regain the Uber Cup by winning her three matches; quarterfinalist at the Denmark Open and Round of 16 at the World Championships, falling to top players (He Bing Jiao and An Seyoung). Often compared with Chen Yu Fei, Wang Zhi Yi is determined to carve her own identity.
Line Christophersen (21)
Made four straight finals – Orleans Masters, European Championships, Spain Masters and Denmark Masters. The tall Dane performed well during the Sudirman Cup and the Uber Cup.
The young Indonesian duo won the Spain Masters and the Belgian International, and while they weren’t in major semifinals or finals, chalked up some good individual performances that bodes well for the season ahead. Among their vanquished opponents were Kim Astrup/Anders Skaarup Rasmussen; Lu Ching Yao/Yang Po Han; Fajar Alfian/Muhammad Rian Ardianto; Vladimir Ivanov/Ivan Sozonov and Akira Koga/Taichi Saito.