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World badminton in our backyard

LiveMint logoLiveMint 14-05-2014 Vivek Phadnis

For the first time, India will be hosting the prestigious Li-Ning Badminton World Federation (BWF) Thomas and Uber Cup finals, also known as the world team championships for men and women, respectively.

This is the second big event here, after the BWF World Championships in Hyderabad in 2009, that will be attended by top-ranking players—acknowledgment perhaps that the subcontinent is slowly being recognized as a mature badminton power.

And this time, observers are hoping that the strong women’s team at least will make a mark in the eight-day championship starting Sunday in Delhi.

Indians have qualified for the Thomas Cup finals eight times and the Uber Cup finals three times—the last time was for the 2010 edition in Malaysia. That year, India reached the quarter-finals of the Thomas and Uber Cups. In 2006, India reached the quarter-finals of the Thomas Cup. For this edition, India have qualified as the host nation. “This will give badminton a push, no question,” says former India player and multiple-times national champion Nandu Natekar, who represented India in the 1950s and 1960s. “Our top players are getting exposure outside these days. But this is a feather in the cap of the Badminton Association Of India (BAI).”

U. Vimal Kumar, former India player and co-founder and director of the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy in Bangalore, says: “The main thing is that the two events have come to India for the first time. We have qualified for the finals in the past, but this will be an opportunity for badminton fans all over the country to see the best nations and best of players playing in India. When the World Championships were conducted in 2009, the crowd response was not high because of the ticket prices. But, we have had Super Series events, Indian Badminton League since, and there are more followers for the game now, especially with Saina (Nehwal) doing well.”

“This is a showpiece event. The BWF has understood that we are capable of hosting a big event,” says BAI president Akhilesh Das Gupta.

BWF secretary general Thomas Lund, in an email statement, adds: “The Thomas and Uber Cups are two of the most prestigious tournaments. This year, the BWF is pleased to write another chapter in its history with the hosting of the Thomas and Uber Cup finals in India for the first time ever. We are confident of a successful and enjoyable finals and India has a flourishing badminton community.”

This time, the format is that the top 16 in the world will play in the finals. Both Thomas and Uber Cups, to be played at the Siri Fort Sports Complex, have 16 teams each in men’s and women’s sections, divided into four groups of four teams each. India are in Group C with Malaysia, South Korea and Germany for the Thomas Cup, and with Thailand, Canada and Hong Kong for the Uber Cup.

Only China, Indonesia and Malaysia have won the Thomas Cup title, while China, Japan, Indonesia, the US and South Korea have won the Uber Cup. This time too, the teams from China, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia are expected to continue their dominance.

The Indian public will see Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei, China’s Lin Dan, Indonesia’s Tommy Sugiarto in the Thomas Cup, and China’s Wang Yihan, Denmark’s Tine Baun, and Germany’s Juliane Schenk in the Uber Cup.

Currently, the Indian women’s team is looking strong for the tournament. “I feel for the first time that we are in a better position in the Uber Cup than the Thomas Cup. We have Saina, P.V. Sindhu in the singles and Ashwini Ponnappa and Jwala Gutta to play the doubles. Saina and Sindhu have beaten the best of players and the doubles pair is also good. We have the home advantage and if everything falls in place, we could finish in the top 3,” says Vimal Kumar.

Olympic bronze medallist Nehwal, in an email interview, puts it simply, “The team is very strong this time in both singles and doubles and everyone is training hard for this event.

“It’s good that we are playing the Uber Cup in front of the home crowd. I hope we do well in both Thomas and Uber Cups. We have never crossed the quarter-finals but this time, with strong players like Ashwini, Jwala, Sindhu and myself, we should come out with good performances to delight the home crowds.”

It may be a little more difficult for the men, though they are led by world No.18 K. Srikanth and have world No.21 P. Kashyap in the team.

The Thomas Cup and Uber Cup will be held from 18-25 May in New Delhi.

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