Indian men eye consistency in Thomas Cup title defence, women too look to shine in Uber Cup

Chengdu (China), 26 Apr: Star singles players will aim for a consistent run as Indian men embark on a tough journey of defending their title at the Thomas Cup, while a young women’s team, sans the peerless P V Sindhu, will look to punch above its weight when it begins its campaign in Uber Cup here on Saturday.
Just two years ago, India had sent shockwaves across the badminton world when they clinched their maiden Thomas Cup crown, considered the team world championship for men.
Without the burden of expectations, India went on to dismantle the world’s best teams to script an unprecedented chapter in the history of the sport, and now they return to the 33rd edition with the arduous task of once again showing their might against the top echelons of the sport.
However, the underdog tag won’t be there this time. In fact, all the teams will be gunning for the defending champions, who have retained the core of the 2022 side which had made history in Bangkok.
India will count on the experience of last edition as they have been put in the ‘Group of Death’, featuring multiple-time winners Indonesia, Thailand and England in Group C.
Indian men will begin their campaign against Thailand, who boost of reigning world champion Kunlavut Vitidsarn and young Panitchaphon Teeraratsakul.
But the most formidable will be third-seeded Indonesia, who have the likes of Jonatan Christie and Anthony Ginting — the two played the finals of All England in March –, and world No. 7 pair of Muhammad Rian Ardianto and Fajar Alfian.
“It will be tough this year. Based on current form, there are lots of teams with three strong singles and two doubles (players) like China, Denmark, Chinese Taipei, Japan, and Indonesia,” HS Prannoy told PTI.
A lot can happen in two years’ time and none of the Indian players coming to China this week are the same.
Prannoy, who had delivered the goods under pressure in the deciding fifth singles, is coming into the tournament after struggling in the first half of the season, owing to a chronic stomach disorder which returned after troubling him in the past.
His 90-minute marathon battle en route to a morale-boosting win over China’s Lu Guang Zu, however, showed he is close to recovery and will carry the onus of giving the team a good start as he is the top-ranked singles player at world No. 9 now.
Lakshya Sen has found his mojo just in time with successive semifinal finishes at the French Open and the All England Championships after enduring a difficult 2023 and early 2024.
Kidambi Srikanth, who had won all six matches in 2022, has blown hot and cold in the last two years. He also endured tough losses in the team championships final at the 2022 Commonwealth Games and 2023 Asian Games.
Another player who could be entrusted with the third singles is young Priyanshu Rajawat, who was part the team which won the epic title in Bangkok, and since then has gone on to claim his maiden Super 300 title last year in Orleans.
While the rest had an inconsistent run, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty have looked unstoppable and are coming into the prestigious event with four straight finals on the World Tour. The duo will be the spearhead of India’s campaign.
Dhruv Kapila and Arjun MR, who will play the second doubles, have weaved a few title wins at the Uganda International Challenge and Orlen Polish Open, besides signing off with a quarterfinal finish at the Spain Masters in March.
“As a team we have evolved in the last 2-3 years. Everybody has been able to keep aside their individual problems for a one-week time and has been able to push through emotional challenges in a much better way during the team events,” Prannoy said.
It is likely that Prannoy and Srikanth could be rotated during the event, putting the onus more on Sen and Rajawat to deliver. There is also Kiran George, who has been in decent touch.
In Uber Cup, Ashmita Chaliha will lead a young Indian team with all the big guns skipping the tournament after competing in a series of tournaments to qualify for the Paris Olympics.
The greenhorns will look to test their mental and physical fortitude against the top international players when they open their campaign against Canada in Group A.
Top seeds and multiple-time winners China and Singapore are also in their group, making it improbable for the young women’s team to go past the group stage.
Besides Ashmita, national champion Anmol Kharb, who was the star performer for India en route their maiden Asia Team Championships title, will also look to test their wares as will Isharani Baruah and 15-year-old Tanvi Sharma.
India, who have reached the semifinals of the Uber Cup thrice in 1957, 2014 and 2016, will also be served by the doubles pair of Shruti Mishra and Priya Konjengbam, and Simran Singhi and Ritika Thaker. PTI