The most recent Badminton world championships have recently concluded and so I decided to look at who the best players in history are at singles.
The tables show the most successful players in singles for men and women and the year they first came to prominence. The other columns show the number of wins in various tournaments indicated here.
OG – Olympic Games
WC – World Championships
#1- weeks at world number 1 in rankings
GP – Grand Prix Final
AE – All England Championships
WCp – World Cup
|Rudy Hartono (Indo)||1968||1||8|
|Erland Kops (Den)||1958||7|
|Frank Devlin (Irl)||1925||6|
|Ralph Nichols (Eng)||1932||5|
|George Thomas (Eng)||1920||4|
|Eddy Choong (Malay)||1953||4|
|Morten Frost (Den)||1982||4|
|Lin Dan (Chn)||2004||2||5||14||6||2|
|Chen Long (Chn)||2011||1||2||76||2|
|Yang Yang (Chn)||1985||1||2||1||2|
|Kento Momota (Jap)||2013||2||49||1|
|David G. Freeman (US)||1939||1|
|Lee Chong Wei (Malay)||2003||310||4|
|Viktor Axelsen (Den)||2010||1||51||1|
|Ethel Thomson (Eng)||1900||5|
|Meriel Lucas (Eng)||1902||6|
|Kitty McKane (Eng)||1920||4|
|Marjorie Barrett (Eng)||1926||5|
|Judy Devlin (US)||1954||10|
|Susi Susanti (Indo)||1990||1||1||6||4||5|
|Hiroe Yuki (Jap)||1969||4|
|Carolina Marín (Spa)||2013||1||3||66||1|
|Han Aiping (Chn)||1983||2||2||1||2|
|Li Lingwei (Chn)||1982||2||4||2||4|
|Xie Xingfang (Chn)||2000||2||3||1|
|Tonny Ahm (Den)||1935||2|
|Ye Zhaoying (Chn)||1992||2||1||3||1|
|Tai Tzu-ying (Tai)||2010||137||1|
|Li Xuerui (Chn)||2010||1||124||1|
|Wang Yihan (Chn)||2007||1||116||1|
|Zhang Ning (Chn)||2003||2||1|
The All England Championships was the most important event in the sport from the turn of the 20th century until the 1970s when the world championships began. The All England really became a globally competitive event in 1980 as badminton gained in popularity. It made its first appearance as a full Olympic medal sport in 1992. Official world rankings began in 2007 along with a world series of major events.
As is often the case in assessing these things the competition in the early days of the sport was much less strong and players could win more titles in the All-England.
For the men the choice came down to two. From the earlier days Rudy Hartono has the outstanding record in the All-England, the unofficial world championship of the time. This was in an era when competition was quite international and he took the first world title. He also won the Olympic gold in a demonstration event in 1972. I give top spot to Lin Dan who is undoubtedly the greatest player of the 21st century. To win the titles he did in an era of great worldwide competition makes him the greatest ever player.
Third place is a close call between Chen Long, Yang Yang and Lee Chong Wei. The two Chinese players had a great record in the major events of Olympics and world championships. Lee hasn’t won any of those but has been ranked top for six years and won many other tournaments. I look to major championships as having great importance and go for Yang Yang third and Chen Long fourth.
The great enigma in this list is Freeman. From 1939, at the age of eighteen, to his final tournament match fourteen years later, Freeman was undefeated in badminton singles competition. However, nearly all of these were in America where there was little opposition. He played the All-England once and won it so could well have won many more had he entered. I can’t assume he would have so can only place him speculatively in the rankings at sixth along with Kops.
The final places in my top ten are close again. I think it is between Devlin, Choong, Frost and Momota.
For the women Judy Devlin is far and away the greatest player in the era before 1980 when badminton became more ‘Open’. She has to be included in any conversation about the best of all-time but the question is hard to answer when comparing with the top modern players.
For me the best players since 1980 are Li Lingwei, Susi Susanti and Carolina Marin. My choice of these is Susanti as she had a slightly longer time as the world’s top player. Lingwei is just ahead of Marin for me although hopefully the Spaniard, who is still young and has such a great championship record, will have more opportunities for titles.
Where does Devlin rank with these three? This is one of the more difficult decisions I have faced. Devlin was playing in a more competitive time than anyone else on the list with five or more All England titles but not as much as the other recent greats. I feel that Susanti is probably just ahead but Devlin is second in a close call with Li and Marin.
Fifth and sixth are closely matched between Han and Ye with Xie and Zhang in thanext two spots. From the early days Meriel Lucas is my choice for a spot in the top ten but Li Xuerul and Wang Yihan are almost impossible to separate and perhaps should be there too.