As the second week of May comes to a close, leading shuttlers from all over the world brace themselves for the much-awaited 2016 Thomas & Uber Cup that flags off tomorrow at the Kunshan Sports Centre in China. Returning to the badminton powerhouse nation after a gap of four years, the prestigious tournament will be making its 29th appearance with the Men’s event (Thomas Cup) and 26th with Women’s(Uber Cup).
Seeded 7th in the Thomas Cup and 5th in Uber going into this year’s tournament, India has never managed a top-two finish in its previous nine occasions of competing in the final stages of the Cup. Their best finish was achieved in 2014 when India hosted the meet at the Siri Fort Sports Complex, New Delhi where the Women’s team went down narrowly to Japan in the semi-finals.
Let us now take a look at how the teams are poised as we head into the 2016 edition which is scheduled to take place from 15th to 22nd May.
Group A features defending champions Japan and top seeds China besides lesser ranked France and Mexico, making it the most exciting bunch to watch out for. World No. 1 Chen Long has certainly not forgotten their 2014 semi-final ouster by the Japanese en route to their maiden Thomas Cup title. As favourites, he and his team will go in all guns blazing to reclaim their throne in front of the home crowd this time.
India find themselves up against an imposing Indonesia squad, who are also thirteen-time champions in the event. The favourite for Group B boasts of the supreme doubles pair of Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan.
With Olympic-bound Kidambi Srikanth skipping the tourney and in-form H. S. Prannoy ruled out due to injury, the Indian singles team will now be represented by the quartet of Ajay Jayaram, B Sai Praneeth and the Verma brothers – Sameer and Sourabh. Having broken into the Top 20 for the first time in his career earlier this year, Chennai-born Ajay Jayaram holds the key to the Indians’ singles success at Kunshan this week.
In doubles, hopes are pinned on the young duo of Manu Attri and B. Sumeeth Reddy to salvage some pride for India. Teenagers Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy are two other shuttlers who will be battling for the Indian cause. Thailand and Hong Kong round up the other two team involved .
Korea and Malaysia will lock horns in Group C, with the former banking on the dynamic partnership of Lee Yong-Dae and Yoo Yeon-Seong, who are currently placed highest in the world. Meanwhile, Malaysia will have their hopes pinned on the ever prolific Lee Chong Wei within their ranks to propel them in the singles
In Group D, second-seeded Denmark are the undisputed favourites amongst the likes of Chinese Taipei, New Zealand and South Africa. Touted as the strongest force capable of halting the Chinese juggernaut, the Danish attack will be spearheaded by BWF’s no. 4 and 5, Viktor Axelsen and Jan Jorgensen respectively, in the singles lineup.
Hosts China have maintained a pretty one-sided story in this competition since their first title in 1984. Indonesia in 1994 and 1996, and Korea in 2010 are the only challengers to have succeeded in preventing the obvious, which brings us to the start of 26th edition of Uber Cup.
Although reigning World Champion Carolina Marin is a part of the Spanish contingent who face off against holders China, chances of an upset look bleak with Denmark and Malaysia being the other contenders in Group A.
Star shuttlers Li Xuerui, Wang Yihan and Wang Shixian are ranked 3, 4 and 6 respectively in BWF singles currently, making the Chinese force an indomitable one on course to lift the Cup for their third consecutive time. The pairings of Tang Yuanting – Yu Yang and Tiang Qing – Zhao Yunlei in doubles only strengthen their shot at supremacy even further.
Korea is expected to have a relatively smoother run with Chinese Taipei and minnows Mauritius and United States to share Group B with.
In Group C, Thailand and Indonesia will look to outdo each other with the former holding a slight edge over the others, courtesy of the likes of World No. 2 Ratchanok Intanon representing them which will heavily swing matters in their favour.
Finally, it’s the thrilling lineup in Group D which will see a promising Indian unit represented by decorated players like Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu clashing against second seeds Japan powered by stalwarts like Nozomi Okuhara in singles. With 5 prior titles, Japan are behind only to 13-time winners China in the Uber Cup.
The formidable doubles leaders of the world, Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi will look to spoil the party for the Indian duo of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponappa who won gold in the South Asian Games earlier this year. Sikki Reddy Nelakurthi and Maneesha Kukkapalli in doubles alongside Tanvi Lad, P. C. Thulasi and Ruthvika Shivani Gadde in singles will look to help India to a strong outing this time around.
Australia and Germany make up the remaining two places in Group D.