Rising Stars Naraoka, Aimsaards Qualify for Season Finale

Some of badminton’s rising stars feature prominently in the list of qualifiers to the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals 2022 in Bangkok.

Among those who have earned their qualification with their breakthrough performances this season are Japan’s Kodai Naraoka, China’s Zhang Shu Xian/Zheng Yu and Thailand’s Benyapa Aimsaard/Nuntakarn Aimsaard.

The SATHIO GROUP Australian Open 2022, which concluded in Sydney on Sunday, was the final qualifying event. World champions are assured of automatic qualification. The top eight players in the World Tour Rankings, with a maximum of two per Member Association in each category, will be invited to the season finale.

Naraoka, just 21, who won the Vietnam Open and made three other finals besides four semifinals, placed fifth in the World Tour Rankings.

Viktor Axelsen had another standout year.

Viktor Axelsen, winner of five events, heads the men’s singles rankings, ahead of Chou Tien Chen, HS Prannoy, Jonatan Christie, Naraoka, Lu Guang Zu, Anthony Sinisuka Ginting and Loh Kean Yew.

Like Naraoka, Prannoy and Lu, 2021 world champion Loh will be at his first season finale.

Of the five categories, women’s singles features established names. Olympic champion Chen Yu Fei, who made seven finals this year, leads a star-studded field consisting of Tai Tzu Ying, He Bing Jiao, An Se Young, Pusarla V Sindhu, Ratchanok Intanon, Busanan Ongbamrungphan and world champion Akane Yamaguchi.

Benyapa and Nuntakarn Aimsaard celebrate their victory at the HYLO Open.

Women’s doubles, on the other hand, will have a few pairs who have emerged as strong forces this year. A case in point is the Korean duo Jeong Na Eun/Kim Hye Jeong, who were ranked No.73 at the end of 2021, but who’ve risen to No.5 in the World Rankings and No.1 in the World Tour Rankings.

Australian Open champions Zhang Shu Xian/Zheng Yu, runners-up at three other events including the All England, qualified in second place, while Thai sisters Benyapa and Nuntakarn Aimsaard’s breakthrough season saw them qualify in third.

Pearly Tan and Thinaah Muralitharan too were impressive as they repeated their qualifying act from 2021. Also qualifying were their compatriots Vivian Hoo/Lim Chiew Sien, who played as many as 16 events this season.

World champions Chen Qing Chen/Jia Yi Fan, All England and Indonesia Open champions Nami Matsuyama/Chiharu Shida, and Jongkolphan Kititharakul/Rawinda Prajongjai are the other qualifiers.

Rinov Rivaldy (right) and Pitha Hanintyas Mentari.

In mixed doubles, Indonesia’s Rinov Rivaldy/Pitha Haningtyas Mentari are the relative fresh faces in a line-up of heavyweights, starting with world champions Zheng Si Wei/Huang Ya Qiong, defending champions Dechapol Puavaranukroh/Sapsiree Taerattanachai, Olympic champions Wang Yi Lyu/Huang Dong Ping and All England champions Yuta Watanabe/Arisa Higashino.

France’s Thom Gicquel/Delphine Delrue did not win any events on the World Tour but were solid all season and placed seventh. Malaysia’s two independent pairs, Goh Soon Huat/Lai Shevon Jemie and Tan Kian Meng/Lai Pei Jing, qualified in fourth and fifth place respectively.

In men’s doubles, Fajar Alfian/Muhammad Rian Ardianto charged ahead of the pack, making eight finals and winning four, helping them build a lead of over 22,000 points over No.2 pair and senior compatriots Mohammad Ahsan/Hendra Setiawan.

Liu Yu Chen (right) and Ou Xuan Yi.

Among the qualifiers were two newly-established pairs. Liu Yu Chen/Ou Xuan Yi and Choi Sol Gyu/Kim Won Ho were both in their first full season together, but were impressive throughout, with the Chinese making four finals and winning two.

Ong Yew Sin/Teo Ee Yi, world champions Aaron Chia/Soh Wooi Yik, Kim Astrup/Anders Skaarup Rasmussen and Takuro Hoki/Yugo Kobayashi have also made the list.

Note: All the top eight qualifiers in each category have been invited and have to confirm their participation by 29 November 2022.

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