I hadn’t played a tournament in a month at this point which for me was a weird thing after playing 4 in a row. But this would be a special trip, this would be my first super series tournament, and a premier super series at that. Let me give you a little breakdown of the levels of badminton tournaments in the world, I’ll do that with a helpful little chart. Not to long of a read but gives some context to how special of an opportunity this was.
Olympics – top of the top, highest level tournament and requires players to qualify over a 1 year period
World Championships – same as Olympics just a level down, still need to qualify over 1 year period (64 players in men’s singles, 48 players/pairs in all other draws)
Team tournaments – Surdiman cup, Thomas cup, Uber cup
Super Series Premier – top 40 in the world regularly attend, top 10 always present (32 in main draw, 16 in qualifications)
Super Series – top 50 in the world regularly attend, top 10 always present (32 in main draw, 16 in qualifications)
Grand Prix Gold – usually players ranked top 100 in the world will play (64 in main draw, 16 in qualifications)
Grand Prix – usually players ranked top 150 players in the world will play (64 in main draw, 16 in qualifications)
International Challenge – low level and ranges by region for strength (32 or 64 in men’s singles and 32 in all other draws, 16 in qualifications)
International Series – low level tournament (32 or 64 in men’s singles and 32 in all other draws, 32 to 64 in qualifications)
Future Series – lowest level tournament and does not have any prize money, minimal world ranking points as well
So based on all this information for me to actually make it into the qualifications was a decently big deal. Be it that I was only in the qualifications it was still a Super Series Premier event and I was thrilled. I was also on the reserve list for the Hong Kong Super Series that was happening the week after China. China Super Series has always been notorious for not being well attended despite being the week before Hong Kong, so this was my best chance to play one and I wouldn’t be passing up the opportunity again. Earlier in the year I had been on the reserve list for the Australia Open Super Series but did not find out until 3 days before the event that I had been promoted into the qualifications. Because of the short notice and how long it would take to fly to Australia I was unable to attend the event. This time would be different as I already knew I was in the qualifications draw when the draws came out so I booked my flight. I did not know for sure about Hong Kong though so I booked my flight to stay in China past Hong Kong just in case I did get into play.
|Lounge in Beijing, I am no stranger there|
|Lounge food in Asia is easily the best period|
That time again to head to the airport, a place I hadn’t been in a whole month. Boarded and started the route with a flight to LA, then to Beijing and finally to Fuzhou where I would be meeting up with Yuko and Tuck who were playing mixed. The flights were long and it had been a long time since I went to Asia so that 13 hour flight from LA was a little long but nothing I hadn’t done multiple time before. Arriving in Fuzhou it was late at night and I made it to the room to see Yuko there and get some well needed rest after all the travel, Tuck would arrive the next morning. Let’s start with the breakfast at the hotel...the buffet was simply amazing so much variety and choice. After eating for what must have been an hour just trying all the different food mostly the Asian items, we went back to the room and waited for Tuck.
|Breakfast at the tournament hotel, yes all that is just for me|
We had practice in the main hall that day as well as in the practice courts which words cannot describe. The venue was amazing and not to mention had some intense security outside to go through. We were given our players accreditation which had a special chip inside that would be scanned when we passed through scanners. The arena though let’s start with the area shall we. This tournament was being held in a sports park and it was huge it had everything from a swimming center, tennis center, stadium and many other buildings for sports and other activities. One of the later days Yuko and I wanted to see what there really was around so we did a walk through the park and saw it all. There were not many people using the facilities at the time though but that might be due to the tournament taking place. So we toured around and saw the giant stadium as well as all the other buildings, amazing for a sport park and something that you would never really see in North America.
|The main stadium|
Now getting onto the venue, this was a super series after all and the set up was nothing short of amazing. Macau Grand Prix Gold was the best set up tournament that I had attended up until this point but seeing this venue blew that out of the water. Maybe because it was a super series that’s what made it that much more amazing but it was huge. That also meant that it was very hard to play in the main hall, the practice court area itself was huge too and you could easily hold an international tournament just in there. We spent quite a bit of time in there as we didn’t have a court in the main hall as of yet. That is when we saw the majority of the top international players, super casually we were surrounded by players ranked top 10 in the world. Famous names like Chen Long, Rathanot Inatanon, Jan Jorgensen, and many more. This is when we took the opportunity to get a picture with Chen Long, another top player to add to the collection (Taufik, Lee Chong Wei, Peter Gade, were already in the book) and later on would be fortunate to get one with Viktor Axelsen but we will save that story. After some time of hitting in the practice hall we finally had a court in the main hall and moved into there to practice with 2 other USA players, Beiwen Zhang and Maya Chen.
Playing in the main hall was so different than the practice courts for sure. It was easily 3 times as large not to mention a few drafts and you can’t hear your shot at all. Despite all this we were able to get a great session in before qualifying started the next day for Tuck and I in single and first round mixed doubles was also after qualifying for Tuck and Yuko. As that was it for training we headed back to the hotel and went in search of food for the night. Luckily there was a mall across the street with an abundant supply of restaurants and a grocery store. This was the first time Yuko went to China so everything was very new and shocking but to me it was pretty straight forward and I had been to China many time before. Later that night came the second picture with a big player of the trip. Yuko is very close friends with Viktor Axelsen and long story short his room was next to ours in the hotel and on top of that he brought his bronze medal from the 2016 Olympics to show Yuko. So to sum it up I got to meet Viktor and hold his medal while getting a picture with him. That means that at this point the only picture left that I wanted to get was with Lin Dan (he wasn’t at this tournament despite it being in China).
|Thanks to Yuko I got to know Viktor and hold his bronze medal from the 2016 Olympics|
|Also got fortunate enough to get a picture with Chen Long, Olympic gold medalist|
Now it was time for my match, due to this being a Superseries it started on Monday with qualifications for all events in the morning and first round of mixed. The matches came around, Tuck was up first for men’s singles qualifications first and we all watched that one. I was up next with my match and it was definitely a fun experience. I was fortunate enough to play on court one, show court, and on top of that I had one of the best badminton photographers to take pictures of me during the match. I was playing against a Chinese backup national team athlete, Wu Xin and that was a tough one to begin with. The match started off pretty good we had some long rallies and then he stepped it up a gear taking the lead. I was able to rally with him though and through the match was able to control him around the court. He wasn’t always able to just overpower me or hit straight up winners which was a nice feeling. The hall wasn’t a bad one to play in and didn’t have a crazy draft the day of matches, it was almost ideal situation for such a huge venue. Ultimately in the end though it was my mistake that ended up costing me the match. Just like that my superseries experience was over but we had a few days left in Fuzhou to experience the city and culture.
First up Yuko wanted to really get a cupping session done as well as a massage so that was the first thing for us to find. We (each country) were given a certain number of volunteers based on the amount of players that the country had. I was given 1 because it just me but Tuck and Yuko being part of team USA were given 2. So we went to our respective volunteers and asked if they would be able to help us find a place. Low and behold they were able to and we soon jumped into a taxi and were off to our destination. The place provided massages (lower body, upper body, whole body) as well as cupping on top of that. Tuck and Yuko choose the lower body massage while I picked upper body, then we all got cupping done on our backs. Going into the room we were given these retro looking clothing to put on and then lay on these chairs/beds waiting for the ladies giving the massage to come in. The massages started with screams from Tuck and Yuko as their feet were being massaged not only by hands but also by wooden dowels and various other instruments in addition to scolding hot water. I, on the other hand had a very relaxing time as the lady worked over my shoulders, arms, back and the rest of my upper body. Now that all that was over and the screaming had stopped it was time to bring out the cups for use. If you have never seen or had cupping done then it is when there are glass cups which are heated up and placed on the skin in strategic places. At this point the skin is then sucked up into the cup because of the pressure differential and it is left on the skin for 10 minutes or more. At this point all the blood has been drawn to the surface and then the circle I a different shade of red, the shade represents the amount of “toxins” in the blood and the darker the circle the more bad stuff that has been removed. Overall it was a great experience and a fantastic bonding experience for us all to have together.
|It was very relaxing|
|Somebody say fire|
Once that was done and we were beaten up but built a new it was time for a walk and to find some food. There was a street market outside which we took a few walks up and down, checking out all the local goods, counterfeit items, street food and various other things present. This marked our second last day in the city and the following day was the last we would have together as Tuck and Yuko were heading back to the states and I would go into Beijing and stay with my friend for a little as I awaited to hear about the Hong Kong superseries. So the Wednesday came and we started with Yuko and me going to the tournament venue to watch matches while Tuck rested at the hotel. We watched some matches and checked out the shops outside then headed back to the hotel and walked around the mall a little bit more. I ended up going for a workout later in the day which was nice even despite the small and limited gym that the hotel had. We all went out for dinner together and then settled in for the night, packing bags and getting ready for departure the following day as we were all on the same flight back to Beijing.
|The stadium from the outside|
|Giant Soccer stadium|
Up bright and early we headed to the airport and checked in, we weren’t the only players heading back home as a few of the Europeans whom had lost were also on the flight. The flight itself was a nice quick one and definitely not too hard to handle like the 12 hour flight to Beijing. Now it was just a waiting game for Hong Kong, I sent an email to the HKBA (Hong Kong badminton Association) and was just awaiting their reply to see if I had been promoted to the qualifications draw of the tournament. Until then it was time to relax in China and have some awesome food as well as experience the culture.