Former world #1s shot in the foot

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A perfect storm of weird ranking regulations, tournament selection, team event line-ups, and happen-stance have left the new pairing of former world #1 shuttlers Kim Ha Na and Yoo Yeon Seong excluded from two of the first four Superseries events of 2017.

Photo: Yohan Nonotte / Badmintonphoto

Over the past year, more than a dozen current and former world #1 players have entered into new or temporary pairings in world badminton doubles events.  Not surprisingly, the Badminton World Federation (BWF) long ago came up with a formula that would ensure that when these proven exceptional athletes start new partnerships – often with players just as talented or successful as they are – that the new pair’s lack of accumulated ranking points does not automatically send them to the back of the line for entry into top tier events.

Indeed, on the qualifying list for the recent All England, Yoo Yeon Seong and Kim Ha Na (pictured) had, on the strength of their earlier respective partnerships, over 40,000 in notional ranking points and came in just ahead of China Open runners-up Zhang Nan / Li Yinhui, as well as another former world #1 Xu Chen and his new partner Du Yue.  But then just a few short weeks later, the Koreans were entered in the Malaysia Open and they were relegated to #20 on the reserve list, saddled as they were with a notional ranking that had suddenly plummeted to exactly 4 points!

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So what happened?  Well, amazingly, there was no mistake.  It was all in accordance with BWF rules, which clearly state that once a team has earned points from even one tournament, it is this one result that will form the basis for their notional points.  This is actually not so helpful, since a pair with one tournament just get the total points doubled, so a weak first outing can be a real setback.  However, often pairs will be able to hit the ground running as Xu/Du did, getting into the main draw of the German, All England, Malaysia, and Singapore Opens by capitalizing on those roughly 40,000 initial notional ranking points.

Yoo/Kim’s situation is also right according to the rules but in several ways, it was a total fluke.  First, the Badminton Korea Association (BKA) only entered them in one tournament before the All England.  Next, that tournament just happened to be a team event, the area where the BWF ranking system makes by far the least sense. (for more on that topic see here)

In fact, the top ten players in the Badminton Asia Mixed Team Championships were guaranteed between 4,661 and 9,734 points just for setting foot on court.  Winning a match in a team event is almost meaningless in terms of ranking points but if you do happen to pull off an upset of a world #1 pair, you could get a ‘bonus’ of up to 973 additional points.  On the other hand, if you have no ranking going in, you get exactly one point for showing up and if the pair you beat is a scratch pairing, your bonus is also just one point.

To make a long story short, we had world #1 players who showed up, won all their matches, and earned over 10,000 points, and a top ten player who lost one match and got over 5,000 points.  Yoo Yeon Seong won all but one match in men’s doubles with Kim Ki Jung and earned 495 points (1+494).  Yoo and fellow former world #1 Kim Ha Na, however, won just one match – which just happened to be against another scratch pair – and in accordance with BWF rules they were entitled to a mere 2 points.

Of course, this is not the first time a pair has been hampered by making a debut at a team event.  Yoo and Kim were also still fortunate enough to have zero points so they could make the main draw of the India Open and had the BKA attempted to enter them in the China Masters, they would have been helped by their All England performance.  But as it is they will have a long break until the Sudirman Cup – where once again they will be rewarded for how well they played in Birmingham and Delhi – and the resumption of their actual ascent up the world rankings will have to wait until June.

Players cannot be anything but victims as long as BWF rules dictate that only a national association is empowered to enter its players in international tournaments.  But even though all of these numbers could have been crunched in advance, what player, coach, or administrator would ever dream of checking the rule books to make sure that a new pair entering a tournament and winning an international match that helped their team to a continental silver medal would not result in their ranking points shrinking by a factor of 10,000?

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