Group A Preview: Thailand-India Clash Likely to be Decisive

India will have a glimpse of a future without their two biggest icons when they take on China, Thailand and Finland in Group A of the TotalEnergies BWF Sudirman Cup Finals 2021 in Vantaa.

An Indian team without either Saina Nehwal or Pusarla V. Sindhu at major events is almost inconceivable, but followers of the team will watch with interest how the next generation of women’s singles players fares.

In terms of world rankings, Ashmita Chaliha, Aakarshi Kashyap and Mugdha Agrey follow Pusarla and Nehwal, but none of the three figure in the line-up. Instead, India have 20-year-old Malvika Bansod (No.110), and 18-year-old Aditi Bhatt.

Bansod has had a good season so far, winning the Uganda International in February and the RSL Lithuanian International in June, besides making the quarterfinals of the Austrian Open in May.

Young players such as Aditi Bhatt (left) and Tanisha Crasto are likely to get a look-in.

Bhatt’s last event was the Singapore Youth International Series in November 2019; among her significant achievements that year was winning the women’s doubles (with Tanisha Crasto) and making the women’s singles semifinals at the Dubai Junior International Series.

The Indians have much more firepower in the other categories. Sai Praneeth and Kidambi Srikanth (men’s singles), Chirag Shetty/Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and MR Arjun/Dhruv Kapila (men’s doubles), Ashwini Ponnappa/Sikki Reddy (women’s doubles) and Rankireddy/Ponnappa (mixed doubles) will make it difficult for the other teams.

Chinese Depth

With China having tremendous depth, their topping the group is nearly a foregone conclusion. The critical contest in the group will therefore be for second place, likely between Thailand and India.

While China head to Vantaa without Olympic silver medallist Chen Long, they have sufficient options in men’s singles (Shi Yu Qi, Lu Guang Zu, Li Shi Feng).

Olympic champion Chen Yu Fei.

Olympic champions Chen Yu Fei (women’s singles) and Wang Yi Lyu/Huang Dong Ping (mixed doubles) lend solidity to the team, along with other strong doubles players like Chen Qing Chen, Jia Yi Fan, Du Yue, Liu Cheng, He Ji Ting, Tan Qiang and Zhou Hao Dong.

Upcoming players like Wang Zhi Yi (women’s singles) and Feng Yan Zhe (doubles) will have their taste of major event competition at the senior level.

Thais Balance Youth and Experience

Thailand will be without Ratchanok Intanon, who suffered a personal crisis recently with the death of her mother. However, the Thais still have sufficient resources in women’s singles in the form of Pornpawee Chochuwong and Busanan Ongbamrungphan.

The Thais have a good mix of youth and experience. While they have reliable names like Dechapol Puavaranukroh/Sapsiree Taerattanachai (mixed doubles) and Rawinda Prajongjai/Jongkolphan Kititharakul (women’s doubles), they also have upcoming youngsters like the 19-year-old Benyapa Aimsaard – who plays all three categories; 20-year-old Phittayaporn Chaiwan and three-time world junior champion Kunlavut Vitidsarn.

The Thais haven’t had significant results in men’s doubles lately, and will hope that players like Supak Jomkoh, Kedren Kittinupong, Tanupat Viriangkura and Natthapat Trinkajee can deliver.

Finland are the lightweights in the group, but they will hope to put up a good show on home soil. The Finns will be led by No.67 Kalle Koljonen, who was semifinalist at the European Championships in May. s

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