A depleted but young team, led by Saina Nehwal and HS Prannoy, will face the ardous task of punching above their weight when they compete in the Thomas and Uber Cup Final starting in Bangkok on Sunday.
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.
With senior shuttlers such as world No 3 P V Sindhu and world No 4 Kidambi Srikanth being rested, Saina and Prannoy will be the star attractions at the world team championships, where the women’s team won two bronze medals in the last two editions, while their men have failed to make it to the knockout stage in last eight years.
Focus on Lakshya Sen
Besides world No 9 Prannoy, the men’s team boasts of 2017 Singapore Open champion B Sai Praneeth, Swiss Open winner Sameer Verma and world No 10 (junior rankings) Lakshay Sen in the singles.
National champion pair of Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy and the young combo of Arjun MR and Shlok Ramachandran will have to handle the responsibility in doubles.
India have been clubbed with France, Australia and formidable China in Group A of Thomas Cup and Prannoy and Co know they can’t effort any slip up when they open their campaign against France.
“Competition is tough. We have a good young team and we can come back with a medal but first we are focussed on beating France and make it to the knockout stage, Praneeth told PTI.
“France is not an easy team. Brice Leverdez and Lucas Corvee are good and we can’t take them for granted. If we beat France we are (effectively) through to quarterfinal and then we can sit and strategise and if we get a good team such as Indonesia or Korea, we have good chance in singles,” he added.
Given the fact that India’s strength lies in singles, especially with Commonwealth Games silver medallists doubles pair of Satwik Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty not in the team, the country’s campaign will largely depend on the three singles matches.
Can Saina lead the team to a medal?
The women’s team, on the other hand, have been placed along side Canada, Australia and heavyweights Japan in group A and they would need to bring out their best to finish in top two and make it to the quarterfinals.
The women’s team is more depleted and inexperienced as apart from Sindhu, Commonwealth Games bronze medallists pair of Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy too couldn’t make it to the team with the latter being diagnosed with Typhoid a couple of weeks back.
While Saina is expected to pull off her matches, it would be a tall ask for 16-year-old Vaishnavi Jakka Reddy, world No 64 Sai Krishna Priya and Anura Prabhu Desai and Vaishanavi Bhale to outshine their opponents in the singles match, especially against Japan and Canada.
But Anura and Vaishnavi, currently the top-ranked players in India’s domestic circuit, have a rare chance to impress at the big stage. Playing in the Uber Cup will thus be valuable international experience for both the duo. They can go and play freely considering the weight of expectations won’t be on them. If both women manage to raise their game and have a good tournament, regardless of the results, it would certainly augur well for Indian badminton.
The doubles combination of Prajakta Sawant/Sanyogita Ghorpade and Poorvisha S Ram/Meghana J too will have to produce something special to salvage any hopes of a win against their formidable opponents such as Japan.
China field a strong squad
Team China will be hoping for a clean sweep of this year’s Thomas and Uber cups, 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.
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.
Denmark will be banking on Viktor Axelsen to help them defend the Thomas Cup title. But they must compete without doubles star Carsten Mogensen, who has been ruled out with sickness.
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.
Japan would be the side to beat, though, who are led in the singles by world number two Akane Yamaguchi, number eight Nozomi Okuhara and who also boast two strong doubles pairs.
The lineups for the opening game for India’s Thomas Cup campaign is now out, with Prannoy being rested.
(With AFP and PTI inputs)