There are very few occasions on the ever-spinning globe Planet Sport that the Bauhinia flutters above all others. Yet tomorrow the World Badminton Championships begin in Birmingham with Hong Kong, in the form of 27-year-old Wang Chen, on top of the pile. Rated the best women's singles player in the world, Wang also has the honour of being the number one seed. It's an honour she bats away with the calm efficiency with which she habitually deals with that most bizarre of sporting objects - the shuttlecock. 'It's meaningless,' she states. Repeatedly. Born in Beijing, raised in Shanghai and assimilated into the Hong Kong ranks in July 1999, when it became clear that she would never be a priority in the China national team, Wang has soared into the world elite, and to the top of the International Badminton Federation's ranking system, by being as omnipresent in the closing stages of the major Grand Prix tournaments as those feathered obscurities that the sport proudly boasts make it the fastest racquet sport there is. But Wang does not claim to be the game's 'big cheese', because she simply doesn't have the metalwork - the medals and trophies - to back her up. 'Currently I'm the world number one but I've never felt like the world's best because I haven't won a big event like the World Championships, Asian Games or the Olympics. I really want to get a gold medal in a major event, that's what I have to do to be the number one. I don't think I'm the best player in the world. The ranking has no meaning. I never think of myself as the number one in the world. I think in real terms I'm below the level of the top two or three Chinese players, it's just that they don't play as many of the ranking tournaments. I've never beaten Zhou Mi or Zhang Ning. I've never won against them and that is what I must do to be the real number one.' That is also what she will have to do if she is to achieve all those other things on her list because if the draw works out as expected in the World Championships she should meet fifth seed and beaten finalist in 2001 Zhou in the quarter-finals, fourth seed and defending champion Gong Ruina or sixth seed Xi Xingfang in the semi-finals and Zhang in the final. 'If you're facing the Chinese you're facing two or three or four of them. You might beat one, but then you have to face another and then another. They have so many great players it makes it very difficult to get a medal,' she explained, without betraying the inferiority complex that many former Chinese players both in Badminton and Table Tennis seem to have about trying to conquer the mighty mainland squad. 'I still think I have the ability to beat them, but I still haven't found the way to beat them. In some ways they're stronger than me, but in other ways I'm stronger than them. I don't feel as if I'm going to lose when I play them, I just feel I haven't found the right tactics yet.' Wang might not have found the right mental approach either. Wang's rich vein of form earlier this year which saw her reach the final of the Korean Open and the semi-final of the Japan Open, also revealed a trend in her defeats where she tends to fall away badly once the loss becomes evident. Watching her in training confirms the suspicion. Bubbly and vivacious off the court, even in a practice match the level of her frustration when her shots do not match her perfectionist's expectations is quickly evident. 'To do well in a world or Olympic championship you must have a steady heart,' reasoned Tim He Yi-ming, the 41-year-old coach of women's team. 'She is still ...' he added tailing off while watching his hand sail up and down describing peaks and troughs. 'But if she wins one big tournament she will probably continue winning.' It's obviously an issue high on the agenda of the Hong Kong coaching staff as the question that, as Wang already has one enemy on the other side of the net, having another on her side might make one enemy too many draws a laugh from team manager and head coach Chan Chi-choi. It's an issue he raised after those defeats in April, but Wang is not totally convinced that she needs to become more of her own friend rather than harshest critic when she's on court. 'Maybe, but that's my normal style. I've always been like this. Every top player has their own style.' Anyway, because of her buildup, Hong Kong should not expect Wang to make her big breakthrough in these championships. Had they gone ahead as scheduled in May she would have had a better chance, but the three-month shutdown forced on badminton by the atypical pneumonia outbreak has left her short of match practice, especially as she suffered a muscle problem in her shoulder and pulled out of a warmup tournament in Australia and New Zealand. 'I'm not setting myself any targets,' she insists. 'I'm not thinking about being seeded number one. I am just going to take it step by step.' However, Chan dismisses any concerns about Wang's lack of tournament play, saying she has recovered her sharpness very quickly after the problem. 'I was worried about her shoulder, but after treatment she has come back quickly. She's quite fit and is playing fast,' he said. 'I think Sars has affected all the Asian countries. We had to re-plan training and our competition schedule, but almost everyone has faced the same problem. The only difference is that China, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia have enough strong players to organise their own internal competitions. We don't have enough top players to do that. That's why we went to Australia and New Zealand.' The lack of competition is the one doubt hanging over the entire Hong Kong squad, which has arguably been the most successful and the fastest improving of the SAR's sports teams. Successive promotions in the Sudirman Cup mixed team world championship will see them in amongst the elite nations next year, while last year's women's team championship in Guangzhou saw them win not only their first rubber but also a bronze medal. Success that Tim He argues is a credit to Wang for the example she has set the rest of the squad. 'We have three Hong Kong players who have followed Wang Chen. She has led them and they've followed. They've become a very good team.'