Team China is hoping for a clean sweep of this year’s Thomas and Uber cups in Bangkok, sending in men’s badminton big guns Chen Long, Shi Yuqui and Lin Dan as their women shuttlers aim for a fourth win on the spin.
The prestigious biennial event, which starts Sunday, brings together 16 top teams from five continents for a week of intense competition for the men’s Thomas Cup and the Uber Cup which is contested by the women.
China, the world’s highest ranked team, arrive with a point to prove on the men’s side after ignominiously tumbling out in the quarters on home soil two years ago.
Olympic champion Chen Long, is joined by this year’s All England champion Shi Yuqui – and the man he conquered in the final, the evergreen Lin Dan.
Flanked by a strong doubles side, China should cruise through a group with France, Australia and an under-strength India, who have left out a number of their stars to keep them fresh for the Asian Games.
“China’s men are strong this year... everyone will be praying to avoid them,” said Rajes Paul a journalist and badminton expert at The Star newspaper in Malaysia.
Japan will likely provide the main challenge with “bad boy” Kento Momota – banned from the Rio Olympics for illegal gambling – back in their ranks, she added.
Last month Momota stunned the hot favourite Chen Long to be crowned badminton’s Asian champion, breezing past Malaysian great Lee Chong Wei in straight sets on his way to the final.
Reigning Thomas Cup champions Denmark, who in 2016 made history by becoming the first non-Asian team to take the silver-gilt trophy, have their own ace in the pack - world number one Viktor Axelsen.
But they must compete without doubles star Carsten Mogensen, who has been ruled out with sickness.
Denmark’s group includes Russia, Algeria and Malaysia for whom veteran Lee Chong Wei is making his final Thomas Cup tilt.
Japan main threat
China’s bid to retain the Uber Cup has been boosted by the return from long-term injury of former world number one and London 2012 Olympic gold medallist Li Xuerui.
Holders China have relinquished the Uber Cup once in the last 10 tournaments – in 2010 to South Korea – and the young team carry high expectations to Bangkok.
But Xuerui’s return may not be enough to help fend off the expected challenge from five-time winners Japan, who are led in the singles by world number two Akane Yamaguchi, number eight Nozomi Okuhara and who also boost two strong doubles pairs.
“It will be close. Maybe it could be the end of the era of China (dominance)?” Paul added.
The home challenge will be spearheaded by Ratchanok Intanon – the current world number four better known to Thais as Nong May – and have a solid team that should emerge comfortably from a group including India, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Germany.
“We hope the women’s team can make into the semi-finals,” Grithtin Kridtanukoon, a coach on the Thai team told AFP.
The Uber cup final is scheduled for Saturday 26, with the men battling it out the next day.
The competition is proceeded by the Badminton World Federation (BWF) annual general meeting where proposals to change the scoring system to shorten games and win new fans will be discussed.
Also on the agenda is the question of match fixing.
Two Malaysian players were handed career-ending bans and fines by the BWF this month for match-fixing.