Tougher tests await the Indian shuttlers in Thomas Cup
In recent years, Indian badminton players have made their presence felt at the world stage.
After Saina Nehwal joined and stayed in the elite league, G. Jwala and Ashwini Ponnappa gave women’s doubles in the country the identity it lacked. The rise of teen-sensation P.V. Sindhu has only reinforced the growing optimism.
Among the men, Indians are far from being world beaters. Notwithstanding the presence of seven players in the World’s top-50 list, the country is still awaiting a major title since P. Gopi Chand’s All England triumph in 2001.
Starting Sunday, the Thomas Cup (for men) and Uber Cup (for women) will test India’s prowess when playing as a team. With the world’s best on view, India will find it tough to sustain its challenge through the week.
Sixteen nations, based on world rankings, are battling it out for the game’s oldest and the most prestigious team honours. Four groups will see action on round-robin basis before two teams from each group move to the quarterfinals.China favourite
Though China is expected to win its 10th Thomas Cup — sixth in succession — and Uber Cup for the 13th time, Japan can pose a serious challenge. The Malaysian men, headed by World No 1 Lee Chong Wei, will hope to put pressure on China by looking to pull off another singles match and one of the two doubles.
India has limited options in both sections. Without doubt, India has more chances of advancing to the quarterfinals of Uber Cup than Thomas Cup.
The conditions and ambience at the Siri Fort Indoor Complex should help Saina regain her form of old. The presence of in-form Sindhu as the second singles player gives more hope.
However, P.C. Thulasi or former National champion Sayali Gokhale (a late replacement for an injured Arundhati Pantawane) in the third singles do not inspire confidence against stronger opposition.
The Jwala-Ashwini combination remains the country’s best bet in the doubles. The team does not expect much from the second doubles pair. Therefore, for India to qualify for the quarterfinals, Saina, Sindhu and Jwala-Ashwini have to win in each tie.
On Sunday, India opens its campaign against Canada, a team that is also likely to be beaten by Thailand and Hong Kong. Headed by Worldchampion and fourth-ranked Ratchanok Intanon, Thailand also has two other strong players, Porntip Buranaprasertsuk (ninth) and Nichaon Jindapon (15th). Before meeting Thailand, India can ensure a berth in the quarterfinals by beating not-so-formidable Hong Kong on Monday.Ominous start
The Indian men, however, run into Malaysia in their opener. Lee Chong Wei and the two doubles combinations make Malaysia a clear favourite. India will only be looking to reduce the margin of defeat in this five-match tie.
On Monday, the match against 2012 runner-up Korea will decide India’s future in the tournament. While India will be looking to win all three singles, Korea will be happy to pull off just one singles, mainly through World No. 9 Won Ho Son since their doubles pairs, ranked fourth and 10th, appear certain winners.
Over the next two days, India will have to win at least one tie to make Wednesday’s expected victory over Germany a meaningful one.