Lakshya Sen has qualified for the semifinals of his maiden World Tour Finals without even needing to complete a match after his opponent Kento Momota retired with a back injury. Earlier in the day, Denmark's Rasmus Gemke had decided to concede against Viktor Axelsen. Gemke came into the match with a right knee injury he sustained during his match against Kenta Nishimoto last week. With two out of four players in his pool retiring from the tournament, Lakshya is assured a safe passage to the knockouts.
Under tournament regulations, Momota and Gemke's remaining matches will be considered walkovers.
The burden of a ruthless BWF schedule is wearing down on players, accounting for two names dropping out on the opening day of the year-ending Super 1000 event. World No 2 Momota stood, hand on his hips, after trading a point with Lakshya, in his first match of the tournament.
Top stars struggling
Terming the situation "absurd", Axelsen said: "Not how you want a tournament like this. This should be the best eight players in the world competing at the highest level. The schedule is slowly running everyone down. I feel sorry for all the players who are injured."
The World Tour Finals is already the eighth tournament in 10 weeks following the Olympics. Momota played six of them, before cracking at the seventh on Wednesday. In October, he retired from his French Open semifinal against Kanta Tsuneyama with a back sprain, giving up all ranking points he'd picked up in the tournament since he'd conceded against a compatriot. His comments following a semifinal loss at last week's Indonesia Open to Singapore's Loh Kean Yew were telling: "I'm tired...very tired. I don't want to redo the match, I just want to rest now."
In October, following four back to back events: Sudirman Cup, Thomas Cup, Denmark Open and French Open, BAM (Badminton Association of Malaysia) coaching director Wong Choong Hann was quoted by Straits Times to have spoken on the toll it was taking on world no 8 Lee Zii Jia. "Zii Jia has definitely been struggling recently, and it comes down to the fact that there have been back-to-back events without a break. It's certainly taking a toll on players but some players will handle it differently while others will want to try and push until they can't anymore."
BWF defends schedule
In a statement issued on Tuesday, BWF secretary Thomas Lund said that the tournament schedule for the year is "not significantly different" from a normal pre-COVID-19 year, except that there has been a high ratio of our top-level tournaments, while many of the slightly lower-level tournaments have not been conducted.
"In normal circumstances, top players have the obligation to play all top-tier tournaments, but we have actually waived the Top Committed Player Obligations under the BWF Player Regulations during COVID-19 to ensure that players can better manage their tournament program in the interest of their own health and safety. This was communicated to all Member Associations and players through an official communication on 1 September 2020. For the Bali Leg in Indonesia, being mindful that we have come off a very long stretch of tournaments in Europe, we also communicated that the players do not have to play both the DAIHATSU Indonesia Masters 2021 and Indonesia Open 2021 in order to be eligible to qualify for the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals. However, it does seem that many players have decided to play based on their own decision and that of their coaches, which is potentially an effect of the lower quantity of tournaments at the start of 2021 due to COVID-19."