Having made their way to a first ever final, India will take on Indonesia, the most successful side in the history of the Thomas Cup, in Bangkok on Sunday.
HS Prannoy secured the vital point as India shocked one of the pre-tournament favourites Denmark on Friday (early Saturday) to make it to the final.
Danish world champion Viktor Axelsen provided early inspiration in the semi-finals for his team by making quick work of India’s Lakshya Sen and sealing a 21-13, 21-13 victory in 49 minutes. In the end, India and Denmark were deadlocked in a 2-2 tie, and 13th ranked Rasmus Gemke was unable to overcome Prannoy, who is ranked 23rd in the world.
Here’s everything you need to know before you sit down for the summit clash:
So why is Thomas Cup a big deal?
The Thomas Cup is the name that the tournament has always had but in the BWF calendar currently it is recognised as the World Men’s Team Championships. (Uber Cup, the World Women’s Team Championships.)
“(Thomas Cup) honours Sir George Thomas, legendary Founder-President of the International Badminton Federation (now BWF), who was keen that badminton should have its own version of the Davis Cup in tennis,” as per the official website.
Overall, Indonesia leads the tally with 14 titles. While their dominance till 2002 was unmatched, China, winner of 10 titles, won five straight editions from 2004 to 2012. India’s semifinal opponents this time, Denmark, created history in 2016 as they became the first non-Asian country to win the Thomas Cup, which they did by beating Indonesia in the final in Kunshan.
What’s India’s history like in the tournament?
The best in the past were semi-final equivalent performances in 1952, 1955 and 1979... but in the era of gold and silver for finalists and bronze for losing semifinalists, India had never reached the podium
Recent winners of Thomas Cup (men)
- 2010 – Host Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur); Champion – China
- 2012 – Host China (Wuhan); Champion – China
- 2014 – Host India (New Delhi); Champion – Japan
- 2016 – Host China (Kunshan); Champion – Denmark
- 2018 – Host Thailand (Bangkok); Champion – China
- 2020 – Host Denmark (Aarhus) in 2021; Champion – Indonesia
What has changed this year for the Indian team?
“There’s a lot of reasons (for that) but this time, I think it was one of the best Indian teams to come into Thomas Cup,” HS Prannoy said after the Malaysia win. “Look at the team, everybody is stepping up and everybody wants to prove a point. I think that’s very important because this is for the next generation to come from India. We all want them to see that we are right up there in the world and especially in a team event, you always write off India but this time, we said that we are just going to fight until the end, no matter what.”
Thomas Cup full squad
Singles: Lakshya Sen, Kidambi Srikanth, HS Prannoy, Priyanshu Rajawat
Doubles: Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, Chirag Shetty, M.R Arjun, Dhruv Kapila, Krishna Prasad Garaga, Vishnuvardhan Goud Panjala
What’s been India’s road to the final?
India started their group stage matches with 5-0 wins over Germany and Canada and that was enough to guarantee them passage into the knockout stages. Against the higher seeded opponent Chinese Taipei to decide the group topper, India lost a close match 2-3 but certainly had their chances to reverse the result. Their best performances came in the knockouts against Malaysia and Denmark.
The quarterfinal win against Malaysia saw them be assured of a medal for the first time ever in this modern format of the tournament (losing semifinalists win bronze). But they went one step further by defeating second seeds Denmark to earn a shot at the gold.
Who are India facing in the final?
The most successful side in the history of Thomas Cup. Indonesia, the defending champions, are the 14-time winners of this event. The 2020 edition (postponed) saw Indonesia top the podium after a long wait of 19 years, as they were stuck on 13 titles since 2002.
So, is it like a David v Goliath scenario? What are India’s chances?
Not quite. While Indonesia have the pedigree in this tournament over the years, on paper, India can certainly fancy their chances. The defending champions will start as the favourites, mainly down to their squad depth (particularly in doubles) and past experience of playing high level team tournaments. Six of the seven players who will (likely) take to the court on Sunday in Bangkok were also part of the final lineup when Indonesia defeated China to reclaim the title in 2021.
The defending champions’ line-up is likely to remain unchanged from the semifinal while India bring back Dhruv/Arjun for MD2 to replace Krishna Prasad/Vishnuvardhan. HS Prannoy is good to go for MS3 after an injury scare in the semifinal, should he be needed by then. The tie will end the moment any team wins three matches.
India’s chances will depend heavily on the singles players for this tie, with Lakshya Sen, Srikanth Kidambi and HS Prannoy all standing a good chance in their ties. Anthony Ginting and Jonatan Christie have not quite hit full stride in this tournament yet. The doubles, however, will see the Indonesians be strong favourites.
Indonesia starts off with Ginting, who came alive in the knockouts after losing three matches in the group stages (even though Indonesia went on to win all three ties). Ginting has since beaten Zhao Jun Peng and Kento Momota. Lakshya, however, at his best can challenge Ginting. The Indian recently defeated the Indonesian 21-7, 21-9 in Germany in their only previous meeting.
The doubles tie features one half of the World No 2 pair ‘Daddies’ and one half of the World No 1 ‘Minions’ for the Indonesians. Mohammad Ahsan and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo are two of the greatest the game has seen and are pairing together in this tournament with the other minion, Marcus Fernaldi Gideon, absent due to rehab. The makeshift pair had defeated the reigning world champions in the semifinal.
Christie was the hero for Indonesia in Aarhus, as he clinched two knockout ties. The doubles team of Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Ardianto are bronze medallists at the recent Asian Championships, and also bronze medallists from 2019 World Championships. In fact, they had defeated Dhruv/Arjun in the Manila event, with the Indians fighting hard in a 16-21, 22-24 result.
And in Shesar Hiren Rhustavito, World No 24 and a former World No 17, Indonesia have a strong MS3 player who’s been there and done that in these events.
“We have quite a balanced team, the doubles are contributing immensely. All the players have played exceptionally well and pulled out matches from close situations. So I feel we have a 50-50 chance against Indonesia,” former India coach Vimal Kumar, who is with the team in Bangkok, was quoted as as saying by PTI.
“The playing conditions are very different here, there is a lot of drift in the hall, so players who adjust well will have a better chance of getting success. That is the key. Also there is added pressure on Indonesia, which is an advantage for us as we have nothing to loss. We are not under pressure like the Chinese, Indonesians or Danish and that helps,” he added.
What’s the timing? Where to watch?
The match starts at 11.30 AM IST on Sunday and in India, can be seen live on Sports18 television channel and Voot Select streaming app, the latter for free as per the platform.
Clarifications: The article originally said Alfian/Ardianto are 2022 Asian Champions. They won bronze medal.