Five countries in hunt for Thomas Cup
By Primastuti Handayani
KUALA LUMPUR (JP): The Thomas and Uber Cups are not merely badminton's premier men's and women's team events, but also symbolize which countries are literally calling the shots in the sport.
This year's cups, staged at the Putra Indoor Stadium, are set to play out in two markedly different scenarios. Five teams carry an equal fighting chance for the Thomas Cup, but the Uber seems to be a case of guessing who will be the losing finalist.
Thomas Cup defending champion Indonesia will find it tough to bring home the trophy for the 12th time since 1958.
It will have its work cut out for it in facing another favorite, China, which is drawn in its yellow group in the round- robin format and looking to take its fifth Thomas Cup.
On paper, China has the advantage of several young players who defeated Indonesia's shuttlers in top tournaments earlier this year. It has the psychological edge from Xia Xuanze's victory in the All England, where he beat Taufik Hidayat in the final and Hendrawan in the quarterfinals.
Indonesia is more powerful in both doubles pairings, with world number one Candra Wijaya and Tony Gunawan eager to create another piece of history. Second doubles Ricky Subagja and Rexy Mainaky also want to contribute another victory to their illustrious career before they retire.
Despite Indonesia's poor performance in singles events earlier this year, China is not taking its opponents lightly.
"Indonesian shuttlers have positioned themselves as underdogs for the event and it gives them a chance to play really well," said Chinese men's singles coach Tong Sin Fu.
China also worries that its inexperienced singles players may not be able to withstand the pressure of the event.
In the blue group, 1998 runner-up Malaysia must struggle against Denmark and South Korea to earn a place in the semifinal.
Malaysia, aiming to lift the trophy for the sixth time and in front of its home crowd, will rely on world number four Wong Choong Han in the singles and veteran Ong Ewe Hock. Third singles is Roslin Hashim who has been known to cause upsets. In the doubles, it is relying on Choong Tan Fook and Lee Wan Wah, number five in the world.
Denmark, aiming to become the first non-Asian country to win the Thomas Cup, will depend heavily on world number one Peter Gade Christensen and veteran Poul-Erik Hoyer-Larsen in the singles and the fourth-ranked pair of Jens Eriksen and Jesper Larsen. They are trying to regain their stamina after playing in the European Championships three weeks ago.
The dark horse is South Korea, which will count on its superb doubles teams of Kim Dong-moon and Ha Tae-kwon, world number two, and Lee Dong-soo and Yoo Yong-sung, ranked third, to win vital matches. Victories by them would mean one singles win, likely to be accomplished by Ahn Jae-chang, would be enough to take most ties.
In the Uber Cup, defending champion China is a class above its opponents. Singles Gong Zhichao, Dai Yun and Ye Zhaoying are the game's top singles players and the doubles team of Ge Fei and Gu Jun is probably the greatest in the sport's history.
Its toughest contender will be Denmark, also coming off the strain of the European Championships. Relying on talented but erratic Camilla Martin in the singles and Helene Kirkegaard and Rikke Olsen in the doubles, Denmark hopes to reach the final.
"Indonesia and Japan can give us trouble. Besides, we are too tired after competing in the championships. We only had one week's rest," said Martin.
Despite her appraisal, Indonesia, without the singles strength of Susi Susanti, South Korea and Japan are unlikely to cause major surprises.