By sportswriters Xiao Yazhuo, Li Jinfeng
WUHAN, China, April 23 (Xinhua) -- As the world's top shuttlers gather to compete in the upcoming Badminton Asia Championships, which are to be held here from April 24 to 29, Chinese stars are looking forward to flourishing in front of home supporters.
It is the fourth straight year that the continental badminton tournament has been held in the central Chinese city. The home favorites finished the last edition with three golds, including the men's singles, men's doubles and mixed doubles. For many of the players, the Asia Championships are also a good preparation for the upcoming Thomas & Uber Cups which are to be held in Thailand next month.
Chen Long, the Rio Olympic winner, also the reigning champion, will kick off his title defense with an opener against a qualifier. But the current world No. 3 has been struggling this season as he failed to reach the semifinal phase in any of the three BWF World Tour events he participated, including a first-round exit in the Malaysia Masters in January.
Chen's possible rival in the semifinal could be his Chinese compatriot, two-time winner Lin Dan. Widely considered as the best-ever men's shuttler in history, the 35-year-old inevitably sees the slump in form in recent years. However, the Beijing and London Olympic champion is trying to extend his career as long as possible, and he has proved that he still got something to give out, just like as he did at the All-England Open one month ago, where he finished runner-up to another Chinese player Shi Yuqi.
Son Wan Ho of South Korea, the highest-ranked Asian player, is Lin Dan's potential quarterfinal opponent.
2016 champion Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia, who has just clinched his third gold medal in the Commonwealth Games, will face a tough opener against China's young star Qiao Bin. If Lee went into the semifinal, he could meet Shi, the newly crowned All-England winner.
In the women's singles, top seed and defending champion Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei was drawn to face a qualifier in the first round and so is the second seed and last year's finalist Akane Yamaguchi of Japan.
Chen Yufei, world No. 5, and He Bingjiao, world No. 8, will compete for the women's singles title for the hosts.
In the men's doubles, defending champions Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen, current world No. 4, will face a pair of qualifiers in the first round, while another home duo Liu Cheng and Zhang Nan, will encounter with Takuro Hoki and Yugo Kobayashi of Japan. The two Chinese pairs will seek to set an all-Chinese final in the men's doubles.
Two-time defending champions of women's doubles, also the winners at Rio Olympics, Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi of Japan will take on qualifiers in first round. Chinese pair Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan were drawn to face Thailand's Kittipak Dubthuk and Natcha Saengchote.
In the mixed doubles, top seed and 2015 champions Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir of Indonesia will have Yuki Kaneok and Koharu Yonemoto of Japan as their first round opponents while second seed Wang Yilyu and Huang Dongping of China will face Vietnam's Do Tuan Duc and Pham Nhu Thao.