Friday, April 19, 2019
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO
The 16th edition of the World Mixed Team Championships is just a month away, and all signs are that it will be a closely-contested event between the 12 teams in Group 1.
Of the three major team events – the Thomas Cup and the Uber Cup being the others – the Sudirman Cup has seen the fewest winning nations. While the Thomas Cup and the Uber Cup have each been conquered by five nations, only three nations have achieved the feat at the Sudirman Cup.
Even more pertinent is the fact that, after the first edition in 1989 won by Indonesia, the Sudirman Cup has been in the possession of only two countries – China and Korea.
Thus, the 30th year of the Sudirman Cup will be a challenge to the other teams – can they defy the pattern set over three decades and make history in Nanning?
On paper, Japan – in Group 1A with Thailand and Russia – look strong contenders to complete their full set of team victories, having won the Thomas Cup in 2014 and the Uber Cup in 2018.
The top seeds have strength in all five categories, and will look to improve on their strong showing in Gold Coast, when, even without Kento Momota, they ran China close in the semifinals.
Japan head coach Park Joo Bong acknowledged that while his team had a good chance to win the title, China – on home turf – would be their most formidable opponents.
Ten-time champions China’s preparations received a booster shot with the All England win of Chen Yufei in women’s singles and Chen Qingchen/Jia Yifan in women’s doubles, the two categories that have slipped from China’s hands in recent years.
However, while Japan and China remain favourites in the run-up to the Sudirman Cup, a few other teams have built up all-round strength.
Thailand, for instance, will be inspired by the recent Singapore Open win of their mixed doubles pair Dechapol Puavaranukroh/Sapsiree Taerattanachai. With strong performers in women’s singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles, Thailand can pose a problem or two for the favourites.
China are in Group 1D with India and Malaysia. India can bank on their two singles, while their doubles pairs can be dangerous opponents for the favoured names, and even China might be hard-pressed to beat them.
Malaysia have strong pairs in men’s doubles and mixed doubles; and if their emerging players in the other categories deliver, pre-tournament expectations in the group could turn topsy-turvy.
Indonesia, in Group 1B with Denmark and England, will quietly be fancying their chances. In Jonatan Christie and Anthony Sinisuka Ginting they have consistent men’s singles players; their men’s doubles are in reliable hands. Much will depend on young Gregoria Mariska Tunjung in women’s singles. If she does hold up her end, as she did in the Uber Cup where she remained unbeaten, Indonesia can expect a memorable campaign.
Chinese Taipei, like India, can bank on their singles (Chou Tien Chen and Tai Tzu Ying). What will enthuse them is the form of Wang Chi-Lin in both his doubles. This year, their new men’s doubles combination Wang and Lee Yang made three finals in a row, of which they won two.
Chinese Taipei, though, are in the most competitive of all the four groups, Group 1C, which includes defending champions Korea and Hong Kong.
Korea haven’t had much to crow about lately, and Son Wan Ho’s recent injury would be a setback. The Koreans, having exceeded all expectations at the last edition with a young team; will surpass any achievement in their history if they can repeat what they did in Gold Coast.
Denmark will miss the services of Christinna Pedersen in both her doubles categories, and will expect Sara Thygesen and Maiken Fruergaard to step up. The Danes are solid in the two men’s categories, and if Mia Blichfeldt and Line Kjaersfeldt can deliver women’s singles, they are capable of going far.