Three well-known figures begin a new role in their careers at the same event, but their circumstances couldn’t be more different.
For Kenneth Jonassen, Xia Xuanze and Kyang Kyung Jin, the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup in Gold Coast will be their first Major Event assignment as head coach of Denmark, China and Korea respectively. However, the three have vastly different challenges: Jonassen takes over a settled and well-performing line-up; Xia – China’s head singles coach – has a team that is a mix of experience and youth, while Kang will be in the unenviable situation of having to depend heavily on raw talent.
However, at a press interaction today all three expressed belief that their squads would not let either over-confidence or stage fright undermine their chances.
Korea are in sub-group 1B with Chinese Taipei and Russia. With Chinese Taipei looking a well-balanced squad and Russia sporting a couple of big names, Kang refused to let the prospect of facing them sound intimidating.
“This is my first big tournament as head coach and I’m excited,” said Kang. “There will always be a beginning and an end – and I will do my best to guide the team to glory.”
Kang, who will have to manage a Korean team without its most famous Men’s Doubles players of recent years, stated that it would be a good opportunity for young players to prove themselves:
“Our Men’s Doubles players have delivered a lot under pressure over many years. We respect their decision to leave the national team and we let them go. Now the opportunity has arisen for our younger players.
“Men’s Doubles in Korea has always performed at the highest level. We believe the Sudirman Cup will be a good experience… you never know what we might be capable of!”
“You know, the history of Sudirman Cup is full of miracles. We might look weak on the basis of World ranking… but I do hope we can reach the final.”
Xia Xuanze starts his new role with a challenging assignment. With China having won 10 of the 14 Sudirman Cup competitions, Xia accepted that living up to expectations would be a difficult – but not impossible – task.
“Of course everything is new,” said Xia. “A lot of things have changed in the team… the whole structure has changed with the first, second and junior teams. But first of all we have to play Sudirman Cup, play our best and make the final. We will have to adjust a few things once we are done with the tournament. There are many strong teams in the competition and we will not let our guard down.
“We have a lot of young players. We’ve fallen behind in cultivating young players. We don’t have many young players of a high level. But we will give more opportunities to our upcoming players and we hope they will grab the chances that come their way. The Sudirman Cup is a comprehensive competition and I will have to consider not just immediate results, but condition of the player and head-to-head results.”
Jonassen – successor to Lars Uhre who left his post at the end of last year – acknowledged he had a team that was solid in all departments, but chose to be cautious about group-mates Indonesia and India.
“I don’t think the pressure is anything new as I kind of had the lead at the Thomas Cup team (last year). But obviously being behind the team you feel a bit of extra pressure going into a major competition like this. But I feel we’ve come well prepared, considering it’s been a busy schedule. We can’t look too far ahead, because the group stage is very tough for Denmark. I can’t see us having a worse draw than what we got. But we will be ready for it on Monday.
“We have always had the highest respect for Indonesia. They may be a little weaker without Liliyana (Natsir), but still it will be difficult. India are an up-and-coming team and they’re strong in every event. It’s definitely not going to be straightforward for us.”
While Kang, Xia and Jonassen are in new roles, Japan’s head coach Park Joo Bong, veteran of many a battle from his perch, nominated China and Denmark as the favourites for the trophy.
“I would say China have the strongest team. Maybe they’re not as strong as earlier, but they’re still a tough side to beat. Denmark are also very strong.”
Top players like Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen, China’s Chen Long, Korea’s Chang Ye Na and Lee So Hee, Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara and Australia’s Gronya Somerville too fielded questions on their form and their thoughts about Gold Coast. All indications are of some riveting contests in the continent’s first Sudirman Cup!