The 2016 Uber Cup, beginning this Sunday in Kunshan, China will be a highly star-studded affair with all the top players eager to assess themselves ahead of the Rio Olympics. Naturally, excitement will be sky-high as super thrilling action is promised throughout this eight-day event.
Will China be once again emerging victorious or is there any other team to stop them? We take a look at the five biggest contenders:
In every badminton competition, the Chinese powerhouse is always the unanimous favourite. There is no exception this time too. There is simply no side better than China when it comes to performing as a team. This time, the 13-time champions will also have the added support at home.
And the Uber Cup couldn’t have come at a better time for them. The trio of Chinese singles megastars – Wang Yihan, Li Xuerui and Wang Shixian – is once again beginning to look like the indomitable force they once were. Yihan recently won the Badminton Asia Championships, beating Xuerui in the final.
In doubles, Tang Yuanting and Yu Yang are ranked No. 3 and they clinched the Malaysian Open title in April. Their No. 2 doubles combine is equally formidable and is ranked No. 4. Certainly, China has all the ingredients for repeating their Uber Cup success.
China’s biggest challenge could come from the Japanese team, who is placed in Group D. Having lost the 2014 final to China, Japan will be upbeat to reverse the result this time. And they have every reason to feel confident to regain the title they last won in 1981.
They have three singles players within the top 12, headed by the fifth-ranked Nozomi Okuhara. The 21-year-old has been a sensation of late and has captured the prestigious Dubai World Superseries Finals as well as the All England Championships titles. More than that, she has got the better of each of the top four Chinese players in the last five months.
Besides, Japan a strong contingent in doubles as well. All England winners Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi lead the world rankings and they are joined by two other Japanese teams in the top 10. Thus, there is no doubt that Japan has one of the strongest all-round teams this time.
After grabbing a historic bronze in the last edition at New Delhi, India would be looking for every opportunity to go close. India’s singles contingent is definitely the more dependable brigade, especially because the country’s two top shuttlers will be in action.
After recovering from an ankle injury, the eighth-ranked Saina Nehwal has been showing signs of being back at her best form as evidenced by her semi-final appearances at the India Open, Malaysia Open and the Badminton Asia Championships. At the India Open, she was even close to toppling Li Xuerui and that should encourage her to step up further when the going gets tough.
PV Sindhu, ranked 10th, is another indispensable member of the team. She started the season with a title at the Malaysia Masters and since then has gone a bit off the boil. But if the 20-year-old two-time World Championships bronze medallist can hold her nerves, she can beat the very best in the game like she has proved many a time.
India are in the same group as Japan and that might be a tall order for the doubles teams given how competent Japan’s doubles pairs are. But Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa are veterans and are certainly capable of producing upsets on their day.
2010 titlists Korea can never be counted out given their wealth of experience in this event and their higher-ranked players in doubles. Besides winning the gold six years back, they also reached the final another six times to finish as the runners-up.
Currently, Ji Hyun Sung is the only Korean name in the women’s singles top 10 rankings at 7th. Bae Yeon Ju has slipped down the order and is 14th now but can come up with some scintillating play on her day.
But it is the doubles section where the Koreans can be a tough nut to crack. Kyung Eun Jung and Seung Chan Shin are the sixth-ranked team and the reigning champions of the Denmark Open and the Syed Modi International. Korea also has another duo in the elite list – the eighth-ranked Chang Ye Na and Lee So Hee and they can surely be a headache for the other contenders.
With Ratchanok Intanon in such impeccable form, it would be the perfect icing on the cake for the Thai girls to lay their hands on an Uber Cup medal for the first time since 2012.
All eyes would obviously be on the No. 2 player who scooped up titles at the India Open, Malaysia Open and the Singapore Open. She can also get able support from the 21st ranked Busanan Ongbamrungphan.
Their highest-ranked doubles players are Puttita Supajirakul and Sapsiree Taerattanachai, who are currently 17th. They won the Polish Open and reached the German Open final this year and have the potential to cause upsets and shake up the draw.