After a long wait, badminton is finally making a comeback with the Thomas and Uber Cup Finals to be held in Aarhus, Denmark from October 3 to October 11.
The biennial tournament will feature top Indian shuttlers PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, and Kidambi Srikanth, who are all headed to Denmark to spearhead India's campaign for medals again. Following the conclusion of the Thomas and Uber Cup Finals, the Indian shuttlers will stay on to play in two more events - the Denmark Open and the Denmark Masters - in the coming month.
The COVID-19 pandemic had brought the entire world to a standstill and even in sports, everything was stagnated. However, it is quite encouraging to see badminton getting ready to for the restart, with the twice-rescheduled Thomas and Uber Cup Finals set to become the first event to be played post the rather long and unforeseen hiatus.
Once India confirmed their participation in the prestigious event, a preparatory camp was supposed to be conducted to help in the selection of the Indian contingent, but it had to be called off at the eleventh hour.
With most top players unwilling to abide by the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP's) laid down by the Badminton Association of India (BAI) and the Sports Authority of India (SAI), the national camp had to be cancelled.
Instead, a six-member committee got together and released the names of a 20-member squad who will be playing in the prestigious Thomas and Uber Cup event, followed by the Denmark Open (13 October - 18 October) and the Denmark Masters (20 October - 25 October).
Shouldering India's hope in all these three tournaments will be former World No. 1 players Kidambi Srikanth and Saina Nehwal, while 2019 World Championships winner PV Sindhu will lead from the front.
"We have also selected a team that will be representing India at the Thomas & Uber Cup as well as the other two tournaments to be played in Denmark," said Badminton Association of India (BAI) General Secretary Ajay Singhania.
PV Sindhu confirmed her participation at the request of BAI Chief
Former World No. 2 player PV Sindhu had initially decided to withdraw from the squad headed for Denmark citing personal reasons. However, it is of prime importance that Sindhu be present to lead India's charge at the Uber Cup, and BAI chief Himanta Biswa Sarma personally requested PV Sindhu to reconsider her decision.
“President Sir (BAI chief Himanta Biswa Sarma) and I discussed this morning, and we have agreed she will travel two days after the rest of the team. This is for the sake of the country and we have no objection if they ask her to play singles, doubles, whatever," said PV Sindhu's father, PV Ramana to The Indian Express.
Along with Sindhu, there will also be 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Saina Nehwal to strengthen India's chances. The women's squad also has a lot of talented youngsters like Aakarshi Kashyap and Malvika Bansod who are raring to give it a go at the Uber Cup.
The likes of Pooja Dandu, Sanjana Santosh, Poorvisha S. Ram and Jakkampudi Meghana who are also present in the squad. On the doubles front, there is the trusted pair of Ashwini Ponnappa and N. Sikki Reddy, who are also planning to jump back into action.
Being placed in Group D of the Uber Cup alongside 14-time champions China, the Indian women will have a lot on their plate to deal with. Other than China, there are also France and Germany to worry about for the Indian contingent. However, the Chinese are yet to confirm their participation in this event.
Sai Praneeth pulls out, Kidambi Srikanth to spearhead India's charge in the Thomas Cup
2019 World Championships bronze medallist Sai Praneeth pulled out of the Denmark leg citing fitness concerns and the onus is now entirely on Kidambi Srikanth.
Srikanth, who is a former World No. 1, will be given due support by the incredibly talented 2019 Dutch Open winner Lakshya Sen. Additionally, Parupalli Kashyap, Siril Verma, Dhruv Kapila, MR Arjun and Krishna Prasad Garaga will also be spearheading India's challenge at the Thomas Cup.
On the men's doubles front, all hopes will rest on the former National Champion pair of Manu Attri and B. Sumeeth Reddy, with India's top doubles duo of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty having to withdraw after Rankireddy unfortunately tested positive for COVID-19.
The Indian men's team has been handed a fairly easy draw at the Thomas Cup. Being placed in Group C, their main challenge will come from 2016 Thomas Cup winners Denmark. Aside from the Danish team, India will also have to conquer the challenges thrown by Germany and Algeria.
The selected players from both the men's and women's team will have to submit a fitness certificate by 17th September and the BAI are to be kept updated about their fitness and training in the interim period.
Uber Cup: PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Aakarshi Kashyap, Malvika Bansod, Ashwini Ponnappa, N. Sikki Reddy, Pooja Dandu, Sanjana Santosh, Poorvisha S. Ram, Jakkampudi Meghana
Thomas Cup: Kidambi Srikanth, Parupalli Kashyap, Lakshya Sen, Subhankar Dey, Manu Attri, B. Sumeeth Reddy, MR Arjun, Dhruv Kapila, Krishna Prasad Garaga