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Great Danes for Singapore Open badminton

July 25, 2003 22:09 IST

No Danish player has ever won a singles title in Singapore since 1987, but all that could change at the Yonex-Sunrise Singapore Open 2003, between August 19 and 24, at the Singapore Indoor stadium. This five-star tournament boasts a prize purse of US $170,000.

Denmark has confirmed that it is sending its strongest contingent in years, with 1999 World champion Camilla Martin, 2001 world championship runner-up Peter Gade Christensen and 1997 World champion Peter Rasmussen spearheading the squad.

Martin, who has many ardent male fans, will be hoping to improve on last year's showing in Singapore where she lost to Xie Xinfang 7-11, 10-13 in the second round. This year, Martin has already tasted victory on the world Grand Prix circuit, beating Xie 11-1, 11-5 in just 18 minutes to win the Japan Open in April. Singapore fans will want to catch the photogenic blonde in action as she has announced that she will retire at the end of next year.

"It's very important for me to stop, while I'm still playing very good and feeling I can beat the Chinese," said Martin, after her maiden Japan Open triumph in April.

With her current form, the Danish superstar is one shuttler who can end the Chinese dominance at the Singapore Open. The last three ladies finals have been all-China affairs and a Chinese woman has won every final since 1988, except for South Korea's Ra Kyung-Min in 1994 and former Indonesian star Mia Audina in 1997.

"The Singapore Open is always a difficult tournament as all the best Chinese players are participating," said Camilla on her official website after last year's Singapore Open.

"I've always had a difficult time at the arena, due to the air-conditioning. I played ok but obviously that wasn't enough."

Martin, the 2002 All-England champion and the 2000 Sydney Olympic silver-medallist, is seeking another Gand Pix title to add to her collection. Besides this April's Japan Open, she has also won the Danish Open (2001, 2002), the 2000 Indonesian and Korean Opens and the Copenhagen Masters (1997, 1999, 2001).

Martin's former boyfriend Peter Gade is another shuttler that Singapore fans will welcome back. Nicknamed 'The Flyer' for his quick on-court movements and explosive attacking style, the 1999 World Grand Prix champion missed most of last season due to a knee operation. The former world number one began his comeback in September last year by winning the US Open, but has yet to show the same form before his injury.

The 26-year-old has dropped to world number 20 in the current world rankings and needed a wild card from the International Badminton Federation in order to compete in next week's World Championships in Birmingham, England.

Peter Gade missed the last two Singapore Opens due to injuries and will need to be at his best when he arrives in Singapore.

In 1998, the 1.84metres tall player came close to winning the Singapore Open, losing 10-15, 8-15 to Indonesia's Hendrawan in an exciting final. If he goes one better this year, the two time European champion will become the first non-Asian player to win the men's singles title at the Singapore Open.

Another Peter that is making a 'comeback' to the Singapore Open is former Wrld champion Rasmussen who last played here in 1999. The left-hander shot to fame after beating Sun Jun in the 1997 World campionships final, but was nearly forced into retirement due to injuries. After nearly three years on the sidelines, Rasmussen had a successful comeback season in 2002. Besides winning the European championships and the Puerto Rico Open, he also reached the semifinals of the Danish Open and the US Open final.

The 29-year-old has steadily climbed back to world number 18 despite an early season ankle injury that kept him out of this year's All-England Championships. If Rasmussen is at full fitness,

the speedy veteran with nerves of steel could be a major threat in the men singles.

Besides the two Peters, Denmark has in its arsenal a trio of world top-10 singles players that could ignite this year's Singapore Open. World number two Kenneth Jonassen, world number three Anders Boesen and world numbers six Niels Christian Kaldau may be unfamiliar names to Singapore fans, but all that could change after the Singapore Open.

Between October to April this year, Jonassen was Denmark's most consistent player, making it into the final eight in his last seven grand prix tournaments. After losing to defending Singapore Open champion Chen Hong in the final of last October's Danish Open, the 29-year-old went on to win the Irish International in December and the Korean Open this April.

Current world number three Boesen, who upset Indonesian star Taufik Hidayat in the second round of last year's Singapore Open, is another Dane to look out for. Before the season was disrupted in May, the 27-year-old had a decent run of results, qualifying for the final of the Swiss Open and the semifinals of the Korean Open.

Christian Kaldau, the current world number six, has reached three finals in his last eight tournaments, winning the German Open last November and the Portuguese Championships this January. Although he has yet to win a five-star Grand Prix event, the 28-year-old could pose a challenge to some of the bigger names in the early rounds of the Singapore Open.

Besides a squad of talented singles players, Denmark also has three world top-10 men doubles pairs that could excite the Singapore fans.

World number two and reigning European champions Jens Eriksen and Martin Lundgaard Hansen reached the semifinals of this year's All-England Championships and will be hoping to do better in Singapore. World number three Jonas Rasmussen and Lars Paaske has already shown they can win, by claiming the German Open last November, while world number six Michael Lamp and Mathias Boe won the Spanish Open in May this year.

In the women's doubles, Denmark has two pairs in the current top five world rankings. World number two Rikke Olsen and Ann-Lou Jorgensen lost three finals in their last eight tournaments and will certainly hope to repeat last year's success in the Holland Open. While the Chinese and Koreans are still the favourites, Denmark's world number five and this year's Spanish Open champions Pernille Harder and Mette Schjoldager will certainly hope to cause an upset or two.

In the last 10 Singapore Opens, Denmark has won the mixed doubles three times through Thomas Lund/Pernille Dupont (1991), Thomas Lund/Marlene Thomsen (1994) and Jens Erikssen/Mette Schjoldager (2001).

At the moment, four pairs of Danes are in the world top 10 rankings and world number two Schkoldager and Eriksen, the Swiss Open winners, will be Denmark's best bet for a title.

China has already confirmed its participation by entering a strong squad of 23 players, which include both defending champions Chen Hong and Zhou Mi. The all-powerful Chinese team includes current women's world number one Zhang Ning, world number one women's pair of Zhao TingTing/Wei Yili and the world number one mixed doubles pair of Zhang Jun/Gao Jun.

Malaysia's All-England champion Muhammad Hafiz Hashim, Indonesia's 2002 Asian Games champion and 2001 Singapore Open winner Taufik Hidayat and India's 2001 All-England champion Pulella Gopichand have also confirmed their participation.

Besides Denmark, China, India and host Singapore, organizers have also received entries from Indonesia, Malaysia, Canada, Taiwan, England, Finland, France, Hong Kong, Holland, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and Spain. Names of other star players will be announced later.

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