Big time badminton has arrived in New Zealand.
The world junior championships, which started with opening rounds in the teams event at Trusts Stadium in Waitakere City yesterday, will explode into a full-on international event over the next few days with the individual competition starting on Tuesday bringing together some of the best players from 33 countries.
It is a bigger event than recent US$50,000 world series tournaments and the 1990 Commonwealth Games which attracted many of the biggest names in the sport at that time.
Almost 300 competitors, their coaches and officials are in town for the ninth [individual] tournament and fourth team event. There are 27 nations in the team event and a further six contesting the individual titles.
A gradual drift of strength from Europe and the strongholds of Denmark, Sweden and England in senior badminton is also taking effect in juniors. Only two titles have been won by non-Asian combinations – by the Danes in 1992 and 1994.
England are seen as potential flagbearers for European badminton after gaining massive funding in preparation for the 2012 London Olympics.
Defending champions Korea and close rival China are again favoured in team competition after dominating the previous three championships. Last year, Korea beat China in the final after the Chinese had won the first two. Between them, the two Asian heavyweights won the five individual titles at the 2006 world championships in Incheon, Korea.
The other seeded nations are Indonesia and Malaysia followed by India, Japan, Singapore and Thailand.
Chinese Taipei, England and Hong Kong are seen as upset chances.
Ongoing wrangles have delayed the release of the seedings, which in turn has put back the release of the draw for the individual championships.
The intense rivalry between Chinese and Koreans and other strong nations will bring a degree of fanatical support rarely seen here with Auckland's large Asian community expected to turn out in force.
* TOP OF THE WORLD
Today: Playoffs continue from 8.30am (last round from 6.30pm).
Tomorrow: Semifinals (from 10.30am), playoffs 17th-29th (from 6pm).
Sunday: playoffs 5th-16th (from 8.30am), medal playoffs (from 3pm).
Tuesday/Wednesday: From 10am.
Thursday: From 2.30pm.
Friday: Quarter-finals all events, from 5.30pm.
Saturday: Semifinals from 1pm.
Sunday: Finals from 1pm.
(All at Trusts Stadium, Henderson)
CURRENT JUNIOR CHAMPIONS
Team: South Korea.
Individual men's singles: Ji Hoon Hong (Korea).
Women's singles: Yihan Wang (China).
Men's doubles: Yong Dae/Gun Woo Cho (Korea).
Women's doubles: Jin Ma/Xiao Li Wang (China).
Mixed doubles: Yong Dae Lee/Hyun Young Yoo (Korea).