London Olympics bronze medallist Saina Nehwal and Thailand Grand Prix champion K Srikanth will spearhead the Indian challenge at the Li-Ning BWF Thomas and Uber Cup Finals to be held at the Siri Fort Sports Complex here from May 18 to 25.

The 24-year-old Saina will lead charge in the Uber Cup competition and world No. 18 Srikanth will be shouldering the responsibility in the Thomas Cup as India went with five singles and five doubles players in both the squads, selected on the basis of world rankings.

With the maximum number of players allowed in the squad being 10, many teams have gone for four singles and six doubles players.

Besides Saina, other singles members in the Uber Cup team include world champion bronze medallist P V Sindhu, National Games champion Arundhati Pantawane, world No. 57 Tanvi Laad, world No. 65 P C Thulasi.

Commonwealth Games gold medallist pair of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa, who recently won a bronze at the Asian Badminton Championship, will lead in doubles while others in same section include Aparna Balan, N Sikki Reddy and Pradnya Gadre.

“Uber Cup is the biggest tournament in India and we are focussed to do well. We have got a decent draw. We need to focus and give our best and play with confidence and I am sure we will do well,” Ashwini told PTI.

In Thomas Cup, the other singles members include world No. 21 Parupalli Kashyap, world No. 30 R M V Guru Sai Dutt, world No. 35 Sourabh Varma, while world No. 52 B Sai Praneeth have been selected ahead of world No. 42 H S Prannoy and world No. 49 Anand Pawar.

“It is a prestigious tournament and there are no easy draws here. It is difficult to predict where we will finish in the tournament. The team will give their best in every match and I think we should get into the last-eight stages in Uber Cup,” chief coach Pullela Gopichand said.

“The men’s draw is tough. But I think except for Lee Chong Wei, every singles match we have a chance,” he added.

Meanwhile, world champion Lin Dan and world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei will lead the parade of star badminton players when the prestigious biennial team championships gets underway for the first time in India.

Dan, who won his fifth world title last year, has not been very active on the international circuit this year, but he has been still named in the Chinese squad as their fourth singles player. This would mean that the world No. 58 can only play the third singles in any match.

As per the rules of the tie, the singles players are nominated to play the rubbers according to their world rankings and hence the last ranked player in the team has to play the third singles.

The other singles members in the Chinese team include world No. 2 Chen Long, world No. 6 Pengyu Du and world No. 16 Houwei Tian, who has been picked ahead of world No. 7 Zhengming Wang as the defending champions look to rewrite history by becoming the first team to win the Thomas Cup crown for a sixth successive time.

In the Uber Cup, the Chinese have named a formidable team with Olympic champion and world No. 1 Li Xuerui leading the charge along with world No. 2 Shixian Wang and world No. 3 Yihan Wang.

Apart from having a top-class Chinese feast, the badminton lovers will also get to watch the likes of world champion Ratchanok Intanon (Indonesian), who has recovered from her heel injury, world No. 5 Ji Hyun Sung and Yeon Ju Bae, both from Korea.

India squads:

Men: K Srikanth, P Kashyap, RMV Guru Sai Dutt, Sourabh Varma, B Sai Praneeth (singles) Pranaav Jerry Chopra, Akshay Dewalkar, Manu Attri, Arun Vishnu and B Sumeeth Reddy (doubles)

Women: Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Arundhati Pantawane, Tanvi Laad, PC Thulasi (singles), Jwala Gutta, Ashwini Ponnappa, Aparna Balan, N Sikki Reddy and Pradnya Gadre (doubles).

At 5 p.m. IST IANS story says

India can make Thomas Cup quarters: Kashyap

Top shuttler Parupalli Kashyap says India have an outside chance of qualifying for the quarterfinals of the World Men’s Team Championship for the Thomas Cup, though they are bracketed with Malaysia, South Korea and Germany in a tough Group C.

“We have an outside chance of qualifying for the quarterfinals on the strength of our singles play. If we have to make the knockouts we must win all our singles,” Kashyap told IANS on Wednesday.

“Malaysia will be tough as they have World No.1 Lee Chong Wei, but it is 50-50 against the other two teams. Even against Malaysia, their other singles players are beatable.”

A Thomas Cup tie comprises three singles and two doubles matches.

“Our confidence against South Korea and Germany stems from our performance against their singles players. Both Kidambi Srikanth and I have defeated them and have good chances against them, though it will be a tough ask,” said the 2010 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist.

India is hosting the prestigious biennial event for the first time May 18-25 and to prepare the team for the tie, chief national coach Pullela Gopichand will hold a special training camp at the Siri Fort Sports Complex here from Thursday.

India doesn’t have a great record in the tournament but the 27-year-old Hyderabadi feels that the home advantage can change it all.

“Home court advantage does help. We have a week-long camp to acclimatise better than our opponents. You also feel a lot confident playing at home with the crowd cheering us. We all players always love playing at home and have done well too,” said Kashyap, who has dropped to World No.21 from a career-high No.6 in the rankings.

“The team event should be a good experience in familiar surroundings. We keep playing individual events throughout the year but there is national pride playing as a team for the country.”

Asked about his own form and fitness, the Gopichand protégé said he is gradually getting better at his game and wants to peak during the Glasgow Commonwealth Games (July 21-Aug 4), Copenhagen World Championships (Aug 25-31) and the Incheon Asiad (Sep 19-29).

“I am doing well. I have just been trying to maintain my form since the All-England Open. There have been a series of tournaments and now you have the Thomas Cup. I am working with Gopi sir to fine-tune my game, eliminating errors and planning new strategies,” said the player from Andhra Pradesh.

“I am gradually getting better and want to peak at the CWG, World Championships and Asian Games. There are players who initially do well but don’t peak when it matters most. I am confident that before the big tournaments, I will be back in the top-10,” concluded the former World No.6.

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