From 11 till 15 September Sportoase in Leuven will host the Yonex Belgian International. We celebrate the 15th edition this year. The qualifications for the 2020 Olympics being in full swing, participation in this tournament is alluring, as many much needed points can be won in Leuven during the second week of September. Moreover, the Bulgarian Stoeva sisters and Carsten Mogensen from Denmark are absolutely top world ranked players.

Excellent opportunities for the youngsters

In the men’s singles, Dutch Mark Caljouw is the highest ranking player, and he obviously is one of the favourites for the final victory. Svendsen, last year’s runner-up from Denmark is the second highest ranked player. Svendsen suffered a narrow loss against Toby Penty in last year’s final. Penty is currently England’s new number one after Ousep left the circuit prematurely, and occupies 62nd position in the world ranking. It will be interesting to see whether this will impact on his future performance. Ygor Coelho, the Brazilian winner of the Pan-American Games will also participate. Last year he was top seed but had to abandon because of an injury.

Europeans Toma Junior Popov and Pablo Abian will also compete in Leuven. Everybody will be curious to see where Popov’s path in this tournament will end if he is less than victorious in the end … and it will be just as interesting to watch the performance of Nhat Nguyen from Ireland. At the age of 19, the islander is keen on building up a nice track record. And if you manage to force a three game match against Srikanth Kidambi at the world championships in Basel, there is no reason why you would not be capable of winning in Belgium.

As regards the Belgian players, everybody will be keen to see how Maxime Moreels performs. For Bracke, Carraggi, De Decker, Put, Bronselaer, Slegers, Houthoofd, Dewit, Voet, Rosius and Lekens, the adventure will start a day earlier with the qualifiers. Dutch Kweekel and Sibbald, and French Christo Popov (Toma’s younger brother) will no doubt put up a lot of resistance there.

Lianne Tan is top seed

Keen on winning a third participation in the summer Olympics, Lianne Tan can start the tournament as one of two top seeded players. This will hopefully give an extra boost to the former runner-up in the European Games in her home base. She obviously enjoys the trust of the whole nation. Occupying the 50th position in the worlds ranking, she is barely two places below her best ranking ever, and narrowly precedes Jakobsen and Tam in the ranking. Leuven will see a Turkish invasion this year: Neslihan Yigit (#38), Ozge Bayrak (#57) and Aliye Demirbag (#58) are three of the high-ranking ladies from the region. The women’s single title will be hard fought, as also Zetchiri, De Visch Eijbergen and Azurmendi will compete. On the Belgian side, Lassaux, Beelen, Pagliara and Van Wouwe will have to put up a solid performance at the qualifiers the day before.

Carsten Mogensen

Carsten Mogensen will be a worthy successor to Kento Momata. Two years ago, Momota thrilled the Leuven public in his fight to win the tournament. That win was actually the start of his continuing flirt with the number one position in the world ranking. His victory in the world championships gave him a further boost. This year, with Mogensen we will not see a similar scenario, rather the opposite, but one can still expect anything from him in this later stage of his career.

And who knows, it might even be the beginning of a second, albeit shorter stay at the top of the ranking with David Daugaard, his new partner in the men’s doubles. Sceptics may think otherwise, but time will tell how successful this new combination will be. The story will unfold in Leuven shortly. But there is no denying that Mogensen’s track record is huge, so immense that one could cover every square centimeter in Sportoase with the list of his achievements. He commands endless respect: wins at the Swiss Open in 2018 (his last major victory), Korean Open, the European championships, Singapore Open, French Open, US Open, All England Open, India Open, London Grand Prix, BWF Superseries finals, China Open, Denmark Super Series, German Open, and ‘only’ silver medalist at the world championship and the Olympics. This goes to show that YBI has managed to attract a top world-class player to the province of Vlaams-Brabant.

Everybody will be wondering how much power the couple Ho-Shue and Yakura from Canada will demonstrate as top seeds. Expectations are that the couples Lane-Vendy and Bay-Smidt – Mølhede will prove to be tough competitors. From the Belgian side, fierce opposition is expected from Freek Golinski. The Belgian champion will team up with German Johannes Pistorius. Together they are in fourteenth position on the starting grid. Jona Van Nieuwkerke also features prominently on the participant list. He will team up with French Maxime Briot to form a very focused and creative couple. As regards the Belgians playing the qualifiers, everybody will be curious to see whether Stijn Lenaerts and Lawrence De Pauw will manage to put up the same stunt as last year. Marijn Put will play at Dylan Rosius’ side, and Floris Oleffe at Maarten Lenaerts’ side.

Stoeva sisters top seeds in the women’s doubles

There is no denying that the Stoeva sisters are the strongest combination of this edition. Badminton Vlaanderen has managed to secure participation of these world-class players. They rank tenth world-wide and know the house moreover … One year after their triumph at the Junior edition in Herstal in 2012, their first appearance at the Yonex Belgian International left a very strong impression. Gabriela and Stefani Stoeva already succeeded at the time in beating top-ranking teams such as Muskens – Piel and Fruergaard-Thygesen, only to be narrowly beaten by their fellow countrywoman Nedelcheva and Bankier from Scotland. The match lasted more than an hour, and set the sports complex on fire. Two years later, with more maturity and power than ever before, they eliminated scores of opponents again in Leuven, but this time during the European championships for mixed country teams. Now, four years and a series of titles later, and taking tenth position in the world ranking, they return to the capital of the province of Vlaams-Brabant, where the road to final victory looks as wide as a football pitch. The first prize is theirs to take. We could talk for hours about the couples Honderich-Tsai, Goliszewski-Kaepplein and Inci-Ercetin. These Canadian, German and Turkish teams are likely to be the other top seeds. And it has been ages since any Belgian contender was in a position to fight for the title and final victory. A thought that hurts many Belgian badminton fans …

Time for the youngsters

In the mixed doubles competition, one would have to look endlessly to find any teams with many years of experience. This is an edition for the youngsters and for newly formed teams. Ben Lane and Jessica Pugh are top 30 in the world ranking, and the highest ranking team. Together with Bay-Smidt – Søby, they are the likely favorites for the final win. On the Belgian side, we can consider ourselves lucky with the wildcard given to Jona Van Nieuwkerke and Lise Jacques. Although they do not have a ranking, their names have been included in pot 1 for the draw for the main table. The entire nation will stand behind them. Tijl Dewit and Birthe Van Den Berg, Frederik Claeyé and Ine Van Wouwe, as well as Senne Houthoofd with French Charlotte Ganci, will try to make a successful entry into the tournament from the qualifiers.

 

Leuven is more than ready for a great tournament. Many ambitious players, a lot of whom we will be able to admire in Tokyo next year, are on the list of competitors. An unprecedented edition that will soon colour our days. No need to go far away in 2019 for spectacular entertainment. Leuven will be the place to be in the second week of September!

 

© Peter Nees
Translation: Siegfried Van Den Enden